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Where there’s muck …

On a visit to Langley Park on 24th March, I was tempted to have ‘a quick look’ at a heap of stable waste; a mix of hay, woodchip and horse dung. It was an unseasonably hot and sunny day and the heap was swarming with beetles. I tried to be selective and not create too much homework for myself but even so, there were a lot of good things: five beetles I’d never seen before and several more which I’ve seen only once or twice.

Some highlights, illustrating how many recently arrived species can be found by searching in muck-heaps of various sorts.

Edaphus beszedesi (Staphylinidae, Euaesthetinae) was discovered new to Britain c.2006 by Peter Hammond from two heaps near Windsor, and published by Lott and Anderson (2011). I found it at a stable in south Bucks in 2008 but it still doesn’t seem to have been turned up by many other people.

Euconnus duboisi (Staphylinidae, Scydmaeninae). This was new to me and had me really puzzled. Given the very real chance of discovering beetles new to Britain in this sort of habitat, I was already thinking along those lines when I couldn’t key it to any of the known British scydmaenine genera. But in discussion with Peter Hammond, I’m pretty satisfied that it is E. duboisi. This species was added to the British list in 1945 (too late to be included in Joy’s keys) and is not included in Freude, Harde and Lohse vol. 3.

There don't appear to be any other images of Euconnus duboisi on the internet, and it is quite a perplexing species to identify with the usual literature. So hopefully this photo will help others who may come across it.

Cryptophilus integer (Erotylidae). At the time, this species had the cachet of being the sole British member of the family Languriidae but the 2012 checklist has lumped it in with Erotylidae. It is an extremely dull little brown job, resembling a Cryptophagus. It was discovered new to Britain c.2007 but has been found quite widely in London and surrounding area, mostly in woodchip heaps.

Hypomedon debilicornis (Staphylinidae, Paederinae) was discovered, new to Britain, in Northamptonshire in 1989 from solidified farm slurry. It was next reported from a manure heap in North Hampshire in 1996. I know of more recent records for Surrey, Norfolk, Bucks and Berks and I think it has become more widely established.

Mycetophagus quadriguttatus (Mycetophagidae) is a Nationally Scarce (Na) saproxylic found in association with fungi and mouldy debris of old broad-leaved trees. However, it also occurs in synanthropic situations such as food-stores, granaries and stables (in mouldy hay). Seems to be turning up more frequently in recent years.

Clambus simsoni (Clambidae) was added to the British list in 1997 and has become a fairly regular feature of woodchip piles.

Sericoderus lateralis (Corylophidae). A single female was the first I’d seen since 2004 of this once common species which appears to have been largely usurped by the Australian S. brevicornis (as discussed here).

My species list, with the ones I’d not seen before in bold.

Order Family Species (scientific name) Quantity Sex
Coleoptera Carabidae Syntomus obscuroguttatus 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Hydrophilidae Cryptopleurum minutum 2 not recorded
Coleoptera Histeridae Carcinops pumilio 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Histeridae Atholus bimaculatus 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Scydmaenidae Euconnus duboisi 1 male
Coleoptera Scydmaenidae Scydmaenus tarsatus Common not recorded
Coleoptera Scydmaenidae Scydmaenus rufus Common not recorded
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Micropeplus fulvus 5 male
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Trichiusa immigrata 2 not recorded
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Edaphus beszedesi Several not recorded
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Astenus pulchellus 4 not recorded
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Hypomedon debilicornis 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Philonthus discoideus 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Bisnius sordidus 1 male
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Leptacinus pusillus 1 male
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Phacophallus pallidipennis 1 male
Coleoptera Staphylinidae Gyrohypnus fracticornis 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Clambidae Clambus pubescens 8 not recorded
Coleoptera Clambidae Clambus simsoni 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Monotomidae Monotoma bicolor s.s. 26 not recorded
Coleoptera Monotomidae Monotoma brevicollis 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Monotomidae Monotoma spinicollis 4 not recorded
Coleoptera Monotomidae Monotoma testacea 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Cryptophagidae Atomaria apicalis 1 female
Coleoptera Cryptophagidae Atomaria lewisi 2 not recorded
Coleoptera Cryptophagidae Atomaria testacea 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Cryptophagidae Ephistemus globulus 1 male
Coleoptera Languriidae Cryptophilus integer 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Cerylonidae Cerylon histeroides 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Endomychidae Holoparamecus caularum 12 not recorded
Coleoptera Corylophidae Orthoperus aequalis 1 male
Coleoptera Corylophidae Sericoderus lateralis 1 female
Coleoptera Latridiidae Enicmus histrio 1 female
Coleoptera Latridiidae Cartodere nodifer 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Mycetophagidae Mycetophagus quadriguttatus 1 not recorded
Coleoptera Tenebrionidae Alphitophagus bifasciatus 3 not recorded
Dermaptera Labiidae Labia minor (Lesser Earwig) Several not recorded
Isopoda Porcellionidae Porcellionides pruinosus Common not recorded

 

No longer Housebound

The House Longhorn Hylotrupes bajulus is something I never thought I’d see. Until very recently, I thought it was a very rare indoor pest in a few houses breeding in old timbers, with only a single post-1970 dot in the cerambycid atlas. I’ve actually been contacted a couple of times with reports of possible House Longhorn infestations but they’ve turned out to be outdoor longhorns emerging from firewood.

So when I heard that House Longhorn could be seen outdoors, on some standing dead pines on a Surrey Heath, I thought I’d better mobilise and go to take a look. I was told that on a sunny day I’d be able to see them without having to peel any bark off, and so it proved on Sunday last weekend. I found one on the third tree I looked at, and saw three in total, all active in the sunshine.

House Longhorn Hylotrupes bajulus

I wish it well in its bid to colonise the British countryside.

Olibrus norvegicus new for Britain

Discoveries begin with bafflement. I thought I was reasonably familiar with all the British species of Olibrus; I’ve certainly seen all 7 of the species on multiple occasions. But I found myself baffled when trying to identify some Olibrus specimens collected at Sandwich Bay on the night of Friday 31st August going into the early hours of Sat 1st September.

The key to Olibrus species relies heavily on the presence or absence of microsculpture on head, pronotum and elytra. The microsculpture can be hard to see when it is present, so it is often difficult to be sure that it is absent. So ‘route one’ for me is to dissect, hoping for males, and match up to the genitalia drawings in the RES Handbook. I had four specimens and when I dissected them on Tuesday, they all turned out to be female, clearly of two species, and could not be identified by matching to the genitalia illustrations alone. So I keyed them out and they all came to Olibrus affinis. Bafflement begins. Presumably I’ve made some mistake somewhere, perhaps failing to see microsculpture? I put them aside to come back to on the following day.

I must admit that even on Tuesday evening I was wondering whether I might have found a species new for Britain. But this is a guilty thought – the proper response is to investigate every other possibility first. Am I even sure it is an Olibrus?! Is there any chance it could just be an aberrant individual of one of the other species? After a few hours on Wednesday morning comparing my Sandwich specimens to dissected and confirmed specimens of all the other British Olibrus species, I was sure I had affinis and one specimen of something new to Britain. But what?
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .

Olibrus norvegicus (on the right) is very similar to O. affinis (on the left) but smaller, with metasternal puncturation resembling O. flavicornis, and with different genitalia. Better pics to follow once I've been to the museum at Oxford.

Ideally, it would be good to have an identification guide to the Olibrus species that occur on the near continent in northern France and the Low Countries. But in such situations, the best thing available is usually “FHL” (Die Käfer Mitteleuropas by Freude, Harde and Lohse) covering Germany and environs. And using FHL, I reckoned the only thing that fitted my specimen was Olibrus norvegicus. This species was added to the Mitteleuropas list sometime between 1967 (FHL volume 7) and 1992 (FHL volume 13) and was added to the Dutch list in 1985 but whether it was overlooked before or has recently colonised these areas I don’t know. Either way, it sounds like the sort of species that might be expected to turn up in Britain.

At this point, I decided I needed a male specimen to be certain, so I drove back to Sandwich Bay yesterday afternoon. After bumping into Paul Brock and chatting for a bit, I spent a couple of hours sweeping the grassland and dunes here. I reckon I saw many more Olibrus at night but this trip yielded 104 specimens, mostly affinis but with one male and two female norvegicus. The male is a good match to the genitalia illustration of norvegicus in FHL, so I’m now pretty confident that’s what it is. But I’d still like to compare it to confirmed norvegicus specimens, and/or get an expert opinion. If you can help, please get in touch.

It has to be said that bafflement is a pretty frequent feeling when I’m trying to identify beetles. Mostly the investigation just reveals that I’ve made a mistake, or occasionally that the author of the keys has made a mistake. But I love making discoveries so I’m always hoping that a bit of bafflement will lead to something like this!

This part of Sandwich Bay is a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve and permission to collect invertebrates on the site (which is a SSSI) can be obtained from them. Thanks to Greg Hitchcock of KWT for arranging permissions for attendees at the Coleopterists’ Meeting.

Beetling Sandwich

Left to right: Jo Hodgkins (+1), Mark Telfer, Simon Horsnall, John Paul, Tony Allen, Kevin Chuter, Roger Booth, Grant Hazlehurst, James McGill, Peter McMullen, Julie Collier, Martin Collier, Graham Finch and Eric Philp.

Fourteen coleopterists assembled at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory for the Coleopterists’ Meeting on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd September, with many people (including Jo and I) having traveled down on the Friday.

The weather stayed dry and mostly sunny for us throughout, which is not how most of the summer of 2012 will be remembered. Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory was a great base for the meeting and I will definitely be back there in future. The social side of entomology is something I miss during the field season so it was great to spend time with other like-minded folk, in the field as well as in the rather good Indian and Thai restaurants of Sandwich village. So I really enjoyed myself and I think everyone else would say the same. As the leader I was relieved that the meeting went off without serious mishap, though not entirely without misfortune – there’s a notebook and a good pair of reading glasses somewhere in Kent, and a blowy exhaust on my car thanks to some monstrous sleeping policemen.

But if you were wondering whether you should have been there, or whether you should attend the next coleopterists’ meeting, I should really let the beetles speak for themselves. So here’s my list for the Sandwich Bay area.

128 species
18 Nationally Scarce
1 Near Threatened
2 Insufficiently Known (RDBK)
1 New for Britain
11 ticks for me (a few of which I have seen in trap samples before but not alive)

Family Species: scientific name Conservation Status
Carabidae Leistus ferrugineus None
Carabidae Notiophilus aquaticus None
Carabidae Trechus obtusus None
Carabidae Trechus quadristriatus None
Carabidae Calathus cinctus None
Carabidae Calathus erratus None
Carabidae Calathus fuscipes None
Carabidae Calathus melanocephalus None
Carabidae Calathus mollis None
Carabidae Olisthopus rotundatus None
Carabidae Amara aenea None
Carabidae Amara curta Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Carabidae Amara familiaris None
Carabidae Amara ovata None
Carabidae Amara bifrons None
Carabidae Amara apricaria None
Carabidae Amara fulva Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Carabidae Curtonotus convexiusculus None
Carabidae Harpalus affinis None
Carabidae Harpalus anxius None
Carabidae Harpalus rubripes None
Carabidae Harpalus serripes Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Carabidae Harpalus tardus None
Carabidae Harpalus rufipes None
Carabidae Ophonus ardosiacus Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Carabidae Ophonus puncticeps None
Carabidae Ophonus rufibarbis None
Carabidae Bradycellus verbasci None
Carabidae Panagaeus bipustulatus Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Carabidae Masoreus wetterhallii Nationally Scarce (Na)
Carabidae Demetrias monostigma Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Carabidae Paradromius linearis None
Carabidae Philorhizus melanocephalus None
Carabidae Syntomus foveatus None
Carabidae Syntomus truncatellus None
Hydrophilidae Berosus affinis LC
Hydrophilidae Hydrophilus piceus NT
Hydraenidae Hydraena riparia None
Hydraenidae Ochthebius minimus None
Silphidae Silpha laevigata None
Silphidae Silpha tristis None
Staphylinidae Omalium exiguum Nationally Scarce
Staphylinidae Metopsia clypeata None
Staphylinidae Megarthrus denticollis None
Staphylinidae Megarthrus prosseni None
Staphylinidae Sepedophilus nigripennis None
Staphylinidae Tachinus rufipes None
Staphylinidae Oxypoda haemorrhoa None
Staphylinidae Gnypeta carbonaria None
Staphylinidae Amischa decipiens None
Staphylinidae Alaobia trinotata None
Staphylinidae Philhygra elongatula None
Staphylinidae Philhygra palustris None
Staphylinidae Microdota liliputana None
Staphylinidae Atheta graminicola None
Staphylinidae Atheta triangulum None
Staphylinidae Mycetota laticollis None
Staphylinidae Dimetrota atramentaria None
Staphylinidae Chaetida longicornis None
Staphylinidae Coprothassa melanaria None
Staphylinidae Aleochara bipustulata None
Staphylinidae Aleochara verna RDBK
Staphylinidae Aleochara tristis None
Staphylinidae Cypha pulicaria? None
Staphylinidae Drusilla canaliculata None
Staphylinidae Oxytelus laqueatus None
Staphylinidae Anotylus nitidulus None
Staphylinidae Paederus littoralis None
Staphylinidae Philonthus cognatus None
Staphylinidae Philonthus varians None
Staphylinidae Tasgius morsitans None
Staphylinidae Megalinus glabratus None
Staphylinidae Xantholinus linearis None
Staphylinidae Xantholinus longiventris None
Malachiidae Anthocomus rufus None
Phalacridae Phalacrus fimetarius None
Phalacridae Olibrus aeneus None
Phalacridae Olibrus affinis None
Phalacridae Olibrus millefolii Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Phalacridae Olibrus norvegicus (TBC) New for Britain
Phalacridae Stilbus testaceus None
Cryptophagidae Cryptophagus denticulatus None
Cryptophagidae Cryptophagus puncticollis None
Cryptophagidae Atomaria atricapilla None
Cryptophagidae Atomaria testacea None
Cryptophagidae Ephistemus globulus None
Endomychidae Endomychus coccineus None
Coccinellidae Rhyzobius litura None
Coccinellidae Coccidula rufa None
Coccinellidae Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata None
Coccinellidae Coccinella septempunctata None
Coccinellidae Hippodamia variegata Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Latridiidae Corticaria crenulata None
Latridiidae Corticarina curta None
Latridiidae Cortinicara gibbosa None
Tenebrionidae Phylan gibbus None
Tenebrionidae Xanthomus pallidus Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Tenebrionidae Cteniopus sulphureus None
Anthicidae Notoxus monoceros None
Anthicidae Anthicus antherinus None
Anthicidae Omonadus floralis None
Aderidae Aderus populneus Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Chrysomelidae Cassida nobilis Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Chrysomelidae Timarcha goettingensis None
Chrysomelidae Chrysolina banksi None
Chrysomelidae Chrysolina haemoptera Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Chrysomelidae Gastrophysa polygoni None
Chrysomelidae Phyllotreta nigripes None
Chrysomelidae Aphthona euphorbiae None
Chrysomelidae Longitarsus parvulus Nationally Scarce (Na)
Chrysomelidae Longitarsus pratensis None
Apionidae Malvapion malvae None
Apionidae Protapion assimile None
Apionidae Protapion dissimile Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Apionidae Protapion fulvipes None
Apionidae Protapion nigritarse None
Apionidae Protapion ononidis None
Apionidae Perapion hydrolapathi None
Apionidae Holotrichapion ononis None
Curculionidae Otiorhynchus ligneus None
Curculionidae Neliocarus faber Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Curculionidae Sitona humeralis None
Curculionidae Sitona lineatus None
Curculionidae Lixus scabricollis RDBK
Curculionidae Ceutorhynchus obstrictus None
Curculionidae Trichosirocalus troglodytes None
Curculionidae Tychius tibialis Nationally Scarce (Na)
Curculionidae Mecinus pyraster None

Pan’s progress

All my consultancy fieldwork is now finished for the 2012 season and the next few months will be spent working through and identifying my samples of invertebrates, as well as writing up reports. These samples contain many specimens which received little more than a glance in the field before being pooted, in the knowledge that they’d need microscopic scrutiny or dissection to be identified. So there’s plenty of potential for surprises, as my sample from an Oxfordshire site on 14th June proved …

This blog profiles the 9 ticks I’ve added to my pan-species list between Friday 24th August and setting off for the Sandwich Bay Coleopterists’ Meeting on Friday 31st (more on that later!). Dave Gibbs has been posting photos of each of his ticks on the Pan-species Listers facebook page which I’ve been following with interest. His 9,967th tick was the Short-billed Dowitcher yesterday at Lodmoor. So here is another instalment of my personal progress through the massive biodiversity of Britain …

Gyrophaena joyi (Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae), 1 male, Alfoxton Wood, Somerset, 19th Aug 2012.
From quite fresh Dryad’s Saddle brackets. A Nationally Scarce species. Dave Boyce has already found it on several occasions in Somerset.

Gyrophaena joyi

Aloconota sulcifrons (Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae), Dorset, 22nd August 2012.
Grubbing in wet woodland clearing. A common species, or at least one with no conservation status. No faffing about keying this out – it is one of the Athetini that has a diagnostic pronotal hair-pattern, confirmed by dissection.

Aloconota sulcifrons

Ptenidium laevigatum (Ptiliidae), Dorset, 22nd August 2012.
I’ve trapped this species on numerous occasions using subterranean traps at tree roots but a singleton suction-sampled from a tussock-sedge pedestal was the first I’d seen alive. Carding 1.1 mm long beetles doesn’t always end up as well as this!

Ptenidium laevigatum

Orthonevra nobilis (Syrphidae), 1 male, Newlands, Heanor, 28th August 2012.
Sweeping in wet woodland. A fairly common wetland hoverfly.

Orthonevra nobilis

Psenulus pallipes (Crabronidae), 1, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012, det D.J. Gibbs.
Beaten off Lime branches in parkland. A fairly common wasp.

Psenulus pallipes

Elodes tricuspis (Scirtidae), 1 male, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012.
Now this was a big surprise! Elodes tricuspis is Britain’s rarest scirtid and Garth Foster’s (2010) Water Beetle Review was able to list all the known British records: Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire in the 19th Century; Windsor Great Park in 1934; Frensham, Surrey, in 1954; Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire in 1981; Parham Park, West Sussex in 1996 (twice); and Mid-west Yorkshire in 1999. So this was the 8th British record and the first for Oxfordshire. It is regarded as Vulnerable. Map here. This one was swept under wet woodland canopy in a parkland.
The four British species of Elodes are only really separable by dissecting males so on this occasion the odds fell in my favour.

Elodes tricuspis male

Lonchaea mallochi (Lonchaeidae), 1 female, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012, det D.J. Gibbs.
Pooted off a fallen poplar trunk in wet woodland. A readily recognised family of flies with many saproxylic members. There is also a good new RES Handbook for their identification, though I still turn to Dave Gibbs for help.

Lonchaea mallochi

Scaphisoma boleti (Staphylinidae: Scaphidiinae), 1 female, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012.
Pooted off a fallen poplar trunk in wet woodland. A Nationally Scarce (Nb) saproxylic beetle associated with fungi.

Scaphisoma boleti

Rhadinoceraea micans (Symphyta), larvae, Oxfordshire, 14th June 2012.
I’ve seen these sawfly larvae munching on Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus leaves before but never attempted to identify them. The name Rhadinoceraea micans comes up on google if you enter “iris sawfly” but the clincher for me was a comment on iSpot by Martin Harvey with the assurance that Rhadinoceraea micans is the only sawfly that feeds on Yellow Flag.
No photo from me but here’s one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonhaas/3369939919/

Recent ticks … and a tragedy

Nearly at the end of my field season so I should be able to reactivate my blog now. I’ve recently swapped my Panasonic Lumix FZ-38 superzoom camera for a FZ-48 so that I can fit it with a macro adapter. After some truly neanderthal attempts to use my new kit, I eventually sussed it out with help from Mark Skevington, so here are some of my ticks from the last fortnight.

Lopus decolor: a common mirid bug of grassland but the sort of drab mirid I've tended to ignore in the past. Seen in Luton on 14th August.

Lygus pratensis. Still officially Rare (RDB3) but it has spread and become much commoner. My first meeting with it was in Luton on 14th.

Calosirus terminatus. A Nationally Scarce (Nb) species of Wild Carrot. Found by suction sampling, Luton on 14th.

Paralaoma servilis (aka Paralaoma caputspinulae and Toltecia pusilla). I actually ticked this snail in Kent earlier in the year and then found it again in North London on 16th. The ribbing is reminiscent of Vallonia costata but that species is creamy white. First recorded in Britain from a plant nursery in Luton in 1985, and I think still establishing.

Isochnus sequensi. One of the hopping weevils (Rhamphini) but without conspicuously fat hind femora, though it can still hop. Disovered at Canterbury in 1952 and given Insufficiently Known (RDBK) status in 1992, it has spread across much of the south-east on Crack Willow and is on its way to being common. Seen in North London on 16th.

Killarney Fern gametophyte in the deep, damp shade of a rocky stream gully in Alfoxton Wood, Somerset on 20th August. It's the green felty stuff.

Great Scented Liverwort Conocephalum conicum sensu stricto, a common species. At the Killarney Fern site.

Corizus hyoscyami. I have been waiting to see this species for a while but it wasn't until a visit to Salisbury Plain on 21st August that I finally connected, thanks to Dave Gibbs who swept it and called me over.

In a 1972 paper on British ground beetles (Carabidae), Carl Lindroth predicted that Harpalus griseus could occur in Britain, perhaps as a migrant, but could be overlooked as a small Harpalus rufipes. And in July 1995, Lindroth’s prediction came true when a single specimen of Harpalus griseus was found at a moth trap in Wimbledon. And then in 2008, Marcel Ashby found three by pitfall trapping in an arable field margin on Croxton Hall Farm, Thetford. I was working nearby in 2009 so I spent quite a bit of time revisiting this field margin, as did Marcel, but despite finding a load of other interesting beetles, including Ophonus laticollis, Norfolk’s first Zabrus tenebrioides for over 100 years, and Norfolk’s second record of Xantholinus laevigatus, there was no further sign of Harpalus griseus. But this year James McGill decided to check it out again and found a single Harpalus griseus on the night of 20th August, the 5th British individual. On a fairly warm Thursday night, Dave Buckingham, Andy Schofield and I joined James to take another look. We did find another singleton Harpalus griseus but tragically it was dead.

Harpalus griseus, aka "The Brazilian"

The pronotal shape is a good character to separate from H. rufipes, which has slightly concave pronotal side-margins towards the base, and more distinct, less blunt, hind-angles. On the underside, the last three abdominal segments provide the clincher: whereas rufipes is punctate and pubescent at the sides but smooth and hairless in the middle, griseus has a stripe of pubescence down the middle only. Or to put it another way, it has a Brazilian.

Harpalus griseus underside by James McGill, illustrating the medial pubescence on the abdominal segments

Harpalus rufipes underside by James McGill

I am pretty gutted to have only found one dead griseus on the night, despite collectively checking what must amount to well over 100 Harpalus rufipes. But at least we know that it has been established in that field for at least five years now.

Sunshiners, Shortspurs and Starlets

One of my best jobs this year has been a four-day survey of Orford Ness for the National Trust under an EU LIFE programme. The main aim of the survey was to survey invertebrates in and around saline and brackish lagoons, including some which have recently been created as well as some older examples.

I’d never been to Orford Ness before and I was soon wondering why on earth not. The range of habitats is excellent, including some amazingly natural and undisturbed transitions from saltmarsh through to shingle. And although there’s a good list of invertebrates for the site, it still feels massively under-worked for somewhere that is clearly a nationally important site for invertebrates. Despite some dreadful weather in late June, I kept hard at it in the hope of making some good discoveries.

The best spot.

This was the best spot on the whole survey. There were several Saltmarsh Shortspurs Anisodactylus poeciloides under the wood when I turned it over, scattering in all directions. Grubbing about at the roots of the Marsh Foxtail, I also found a single Great Trident Sunshiner Amara strenua.

Saltmarsh Shortspur Anisodactylus poeciloides

Great Trident Sunshiner Amara strenua

Thinking that this was a very good spot indeed, I looked harder still and spotted a tiny (1 mm), globular, shiny, black insect. It could have been a mite but it moved like a beetle so I got a lens on it and realised it was an Orthoperus (Corylophidae). I managed to get it safely into a pot along with a second individual but couldn’t find any more despite an hour spent searching within the red ring above. I was instantly hopeful that an Orthoperus in such habitat might turn out to be O. brunnipes, a Rare (RDB3) species that I had attempted to find at Murston Marshes, north Kent only three weeks earlier. On that occasion, not only did I fail to find O. brunnipes but I found a large new industrial estate on the site, and after searching around the remnant bits of marsh, returned to find I’d got my car locked in for the night. So to bump into it unexpectedly on Orford Ness was a real highlight for me. Also here was my first Peritrechus nubilus (a ground bug). Corylophidae once seemed such an impossibly difficult family to me, so it is encouraging to know that I have now found all the British species except for O. atomarius, the one that usually occurs in wine cellars. Now if anyone knows of a wine cellar that I could poke about in, preferably with plenty of mouldy old wine casks, do get in touch!

Starlet Sea-anemone Nematostella vectensis. A tiny delicate species in shallow, saline lagoons.

Sea Pea on the outermost shingle ridge. We saw a possible Bombus humilis foraging on the flowers but it eluded confirmation.

NT lent me a golf buggy: my new favourite item of entomological equipment!

This was the only lagoon where I found Common Goby Pomatoschistus microps. Everywhere else was a Goby desert.

Barn Owls were frequent by day, and I also got good views of Little and Short-eared Owls.

Helops caeruleus. Several of these beauties seen under old timber sleepers.

Porcellionides cingendus, a common woodlouse in the SW but reaching its NE limit at Orford Ness (where it has been known since Jon Daws visited in the early 90s).

Clicks, ricks, bumbles, damsels, beauties and lovers

I returned home on Sunday night from a four-day entomological expedition to The Mullet, County Mayo. Thanks to Dave Allen for including me in the team for this trip and thanks to The Heritage Council (Ireland) for financial assistance. After a 5-hour drive from Belfast, we arrived on Thursday in a land of machair grassland, lakes and hay meadows. Relatively few entomologists have worked this part of the world but it is already known as the only area in Ireland for the click beetle Selatosomus melancholicus, and a stronghold for the sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa, otherwise known in Ireland only from The Raven, Co. Wexford. What else awaits discovery out there?

I have been to The Mullet once before, on a similar expedition in late June 2007. On that occasion, resident naturalist Dave Suddaby guided us to a couple of the best spots for the click beetle, only to find the dunes littered with their corpses. This is a beetle which emerges in considerable numbers but doesn’t live for very long. I was, quite frankly, gutted. Fingers were crossed that the earlier dates of this year’s trip (7 – 10 June) and the late spring would give us a better chance of seeing them alive.

The first one I found at Annagh dunes on 7th in pouring rain … was dead. But then Sudds found a live one, and there was rejoicing.

One of the survivors: a living Selatosomus melancholicus.

We eventually tallied 21 dead click beetles to 4 live ones. This beetle does not occur in Britain, and in France it is restricted to the Alps and Pyrenees. Whether the population on The Mullet is native, or an ancient introduction is unclear – but either explanation is pretty mind-boggling.

Despite the rain, sand wasps were still out and about, hunting caterpillars.

Sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa is fairly common in England but a Mullet speciality in Ireland.

Belted Beauty Lycia zonaria caterpillar. These are abundant in the dunes and provide the main prey for Ammophila sabulosa.

We endured some terrible weather for the first couple of days though it did blow in a summer plumaged Long-tailed Skua. The wind and rain eased on Friday evening and Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. Sudds found a Great Yellow Bumblebee Bombus distinguendus on Red Clover in the garden of our B&B (Léim Siar, highly recommended), which was to be the first of many. Though I never succeeded in photographing any of them!

We worked some meadows near Termoncarragh Lough, with more Bombus distinguendus, and a fly-past from a pair of Chough. A Marsh Pug here was probably the best macro-moth discovery of the trip. Roy Anderson decided to try sieving one of the hay-ricks which turned out to be seething with Atomaria, ptiliids and all manner of other beetles. Bells started ringing in my head about the hay-rick beetle fauna – there are several species which were seemingly common in the days before combine-harvesters and silage but are now extinct or vanishingly rare. Maybe they could survive out in west Mayo, where Corncrakes and Great Yellow Bumblebees also cling on? Well I filled my pooter with a lot of LBJs but it will need several winter days at the microscope before I know what I’ve caught!

Hay ricks full of beetles

We ended the day listening to Corncrakes after dusk in beautifully still conditions.

Sunday’s fieldwork plans were mucked up by a slow puncture on Dave’s truck but when we did collect the moth traps, there were still very few moths. I was pleased to see an adult Pod Lover Hadena perplexa capsophila and Red-shanked Carder Bee Bombus ruderarius before we set off back.

Pod Lover

A terrible photo of Bombus ruderarius but it does at least show the red hairs on the pollen basket.

Just after breakfast I grabbed some photos of a bumblebee in the garden of our B&B. At the time I thought it might be one of the cuckoos (formerly in genus Psithyrus) as it looked quite shiny. On examining the photos back home I thought it was probably a Shrill Carder Bee Bombus sylvarum, which would be a good find. However, Mike Edwards reckons it is just a worn individual of one of the brown carder bees (pascuorum or muscorum) and that the apparent black hair-band across the thorax is just a bald patch.

Bombus sylvarum lookalike

Bombus sylvarum lookalike

Last stop before I was dropped at the airport was Cullentra Lough, a beautiful little lough just off the main A4 road east of Fivemiletown at H 476 474. It’s a good spot for Irish Damselfly Coenagrion lunulatum (and the only place I’ve ever seen it). We found just the one on this visit after checking through loads of Common Blues Enallagma, Variables Coenagrion pulchellum and Azures C. puella.

Irish Damselfly Coenagrion lunulatum

Salisbury Plain again: Broomrape, Toadflax and ground-huggers

Another fine day on Salisbury Plain on Thursday with Dave Gibbs. Added a few more scarce insects to our list from the first visit, including the red-tailed cuckoo-bee Bombus rupestris, and the weevil Protapion filirostre (a new beetle for me). The suction sampler also turned up another individual of Ptomaphagus varicornis, the Red Data Book beetle I recorded here on 11th May, and this time I was able to show it to Dave in the field. With Knapweed Broomrapes pushing skywards, Small Blues on the wing, and a Quail quick-lick-licking from a nearby field, it reminded me of a few happy weeks surveying invertebrates on Salisbury Plain in 1997, my first job after finishing my PhD.

Knapweed Broomrape

A surprise record from 11th May was a single individual of Rhinusa collina, a weevil which develops on Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris. This is a Nationally Scarce (Na) species with a single previous Wiltshire record. I hadn’t even noticed any Linaria on 11th May but on Thursday, we made a specific search for the plant and eventually found a small patch of a few sprigs up to about 5 inches high within an area of about two square feet. The first sprig I looked at had four elongate cylindrical weevils on it of a species I’d never seen before! My first thought was Baris but I soon found a match in Mecinus janthinus, Nationally Scarce (Na) and another one new to Wiltshire. I suction sampled the entire population of the host plant, which only took a few seconds, and produced one more Mecinus janthinus, three Rhinusa collina, two Rhinusa linariae (Nationally Scarce (Na); one previous Wiltshire record) and the pollen beetle Brachypterolus linariae.

Mecinus janthinus

I don’t know whether anyone else has come to the same conclusion but I think the way to find both the two scarce Rhinusa species is to look at Linaria when it is just a mere few inches high. By the time it is in flower, all I ever find is the common one, Rhinusa antirrhini. My dates for the three species are as follows:

  • linariae (Na) 17th May to 5th June
  • collina (Na) 31st May to 2nd June
  • antirrhini (Common) 9th July to 14th September

So if anyone is out and about now and sees Linaria, it would be interesting to know which weevils you find. As Thursday’s observations show, even a tiny patch of the plant can support the scarce species.

The suction sampler is turning up a lot of interesting beetles for me but, unexpectedly, the flies in the suction samples have been very interesting too. There are a few species with very reduced wings that are clearly adapted to a life on foot. But there are also some species which look perfectly capable of flying off but choose a ground-hugging way of life, running about in the bottom of the tray and seeming reluctant to even climb up the walls to escape. Amongst Thursday’s samples Dave has already identified two Nationally Scarce species, Geomyza apicalis and Geomyza breviseta, with more specimens still to be looked at. I guess these flies would be recorded more often if more dipterists used suction samplers – they’re probably not so scarce, just very good at eluding capture by nets!

The making of the Autokatcher

Be warned: Using an Autokatcher involves some risk of damage to your vehicle, some risk of causing accidents for other road users (especially on horseback), and possibly other risks.

My inspiration for making an Autokatcher was this photo and this text. First, I bought a pair of steel roof-bars from the RAC (£64.99 including delivery). Then I found a local metalworking outfit that could make up an iron frame to my specification. John Sayer at JGS Metalwork & Son made a really nice job of it for £40. They’ll happily take further orders and can have frames delivered by post/courier. Finally, B&S Entomological Services made up the net for me for £34.45 including delivery, and again would be happy to take further orders.

The frame is made from 3mm thick iron, 17mm wide. There are two pieces to the frame: (i) a straight bottom piece which is the same length as the roof-bar (1120mm), and (ii) a top piece with a semicircular curve and lugs at each end for fixing to the roof-bar.

Plans for the Autokatcher frame

The two pieces of the frame are bolted onto the roof-bar at each end. I also got JGS to drill two holes in my roof-bar.

Detail showing the bolt fixing both pieces of the frame to the roof-bar. These are 10mm nuts: conveniently the same size as the nuts for fixing the roof-bar onto the roof.

The net was designed by B&S Entomological Services to my dimensions and is absolutely perfect! The toe of the net is attached by velcro and it was quite easy to peel it of, poot up the beetles and reattach it.

The Autokatcher net

I’d been worried that something would break but having given it a test run at up to 30-ish mph it all seems perfectly robust. It could probably withstand a lot higher speeds but I think I only need to go fast enough to billow the net out and so there’s nothing to be gained by driving faster than about 30.

Scaring horses is known to be an issue with Autokatchers (read here!) and that’s probably only one of several potential misadventures that await. I’m still debating whether to use the Autokatcher on the public roads – it seems like a guaranteed way to get pulled over by the police!

I think it would reveal a lot about our fauna if British coleopterists started using Autokatchers. It would certainly add to the body of knowledge from flight interception traps and light traps about which species actually take to the wing. But more interestingly to me, there is the potential to record those species which, when they’re not dispersing by flight, spend all their time in very inaccessible habitats: high in the tree canopy; deep inside veteran trees; or underground in mammal burrows, at tree roots or in truffles.