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Tales of the unexpected

Jeremy Richardson found a very striking longhorn beetle on Hackney Marsh on Wednesday and identified it as Stictoleptura cordigera, apparently new to Britain. Jeremy emailed me his photos and I was able to offer my agreement with his identification the next morning. I suggested it might make a good day out for Bradley and I on Monday and we arranged to meet up. News came in from Max Barclay at the Natural History Museum that a single S. cordigera had been recorded in “July 2007, collected by Les Wilson on thistles in Hackney Wick”. What had looked like a one-off imported individual at the time, now looks more like the fore-runner of an established population.

Stictoleptura cordigera at Hackney Marsh

Bradley pointed at it and said "Beetle", becoming the fourth person to see S. cordigera in Britain.

I hadn’t given us more than a 50:50 chance of seeing S. cordigera, so I was delighted to lay eyes on it, especially after a long and gruelling journey backpacking Bradley into London on the train. In the end we saw at least four, probably six. But as if that wasn’t enough, the same thistle patch yielded another totally unfamiliar longhorn beetle, which Jeremy instantly recognised as Paracorymbia fulva!

Paracorymbia fulva from Hackney Marsh

Another of Jeremy’s discoveries at this site is the stunning fly Myennis octopunctata. I’d drooled over his photos in Dipterist’s Digest last year so when Jeremy said he could show me some on a nearby stack of poplar logs, I was buzzing. And there they were! In life, they almost seem to be mimicking Salticus jumping-spiders. I had three more ticks on the same pile of logs: the groundbug Rhyparochromus vulgaris, the cranefly Gnophomyia viridipennis and the soldierfly Neopachygaster meromelas, this latter also a new species for Jeremy. This was one of those topsy-turvy places where it seems like everything you look at is a rarity. So much so that I mentioned there’d been a beetle added to the British list in recent years that is a specialist of poplar logs …

And there it was: Hololepta plana out on the surface! An incredibly flat beetle, well-adapted to living under the very tight-fitting bark of poplars.

Hololepta plana from Hackney Marsh

Hololepta plana side on!

Hololepta plana was discovered in the Norfolk Brecks in 2009 and I know it has been seen again in more recent years but I think this is the first occurrence elsewhere in the country. Really nice to find it for myself having dipped it at the original poplar tree in 2009.

Finally, Jeremy showed me the very rare tachinid Litophasia hyalipennis, one of the tiny minority of tachinids that lacks a sub-scutellum. It is officially “Extinct” but has obviously been resurrected!

Many thanks to Jeremy for the guided tour. As I said – he should charge!

A day in the life …

… of an entomological consultant. Yesterday was a pretty typical day, surveying a site which is proposed for development. I’m not able to reveal the location but it is a site with a mix of unmanaged grassland and secondary woodland. I spent a little over 6 hours in the field, concentrating my efforts on sweeping and beating. It almost goes without saying that I wore full waterproofs throughout though there was sunshine between the showers.

I worked yesterday evening and from early this morning to finish all the identification work and I’ve listed 102 species for the site. It is always my aim to record over 100 species from a day’s survey but I only just scraped over the line yesterday. I would expect more and I’m tending to agree with others who are saying that this is a poor spring for insects.

The list includes one Red Data Book species and five Nationally Scarce species, though, as is so often the case, some of these statuses are in need of revision for species which have become commoner and more widespread. But they are still useful species for assessing the conservation importance of the site.

I was really pleased to find the RDB hoverfly Rhingia rostrata: only the second one I’ve seen after Dave Gibbs showed me one last year. And there were two species which I got the camera out for. They’re just superb beasts and I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing them!

Centrotus cornutus, a treehopper

Attelabus nitens, the Oak Leaf-roller

Coproporus immigrans is a recent arrival in Britain, specialising in woodchip piles, and I’d only seen it on two previous occasions before yesterday. Here it was in quite an old woodchip pile with thistles growing out of it, though it favours fresh woodchip.

Coproporus immigrans, a distinctive tachyporine rove-beetle

It’s not my aim on survey work to look for species I’ve never seen before: it’s about playing to my strengths and giving the client best value for money, rather than trying to get ticks. But I usually manage a few new species and yesterday I cut open a currant gall on oak for the first time to see the larva of Neuroterus quercusbaccarum within. Also, the common mirid bug Dicyphus globulifer was a new one for me, from a group which I’m tackling more seriously since I acquired Suomen Luteet.

Species (scientific name) Species (English name) Conservation Status
Oniscus asellus Common Shiny Woodlouse None
Porcellio scaber Common Rough Woodlouse None
Nuctenea umbratica a spider None
Pisaura mirabilis a spider None
Glomeris marginata Pill Millipede None
Cylindroiulus punctatus Blunt-tailed Millipede None
Forficula auricularia Common Earwig None
Leptophyes punctatissima Speckled Bush-cricket None
Centrotus cornutus a treehopper None
Dicyphus globulifer a mirid bug None
Deraeocoris lutescens a mirid bug None
Liocoris tripustulatus a mirid bug None
Miris striatus a mirid bug None
Stenodema laevigata a mirid bug None
Harpocera thoracica a mirid bug None
Anthocoris confusus a flower bug None
Anthocoris nemorum a flower bug None
Kleidocerys resedae a ground-bug None
Pentatoma rufipes Red-legged Shieldbug None
Paradromius linearis a ground beetle None
Ptinella aptera a featherwing beetle None
Euplectus karstenii a pselaphine rove-beetle None
Tachyporus hypnorum a rove-beetle None
Coproporus immigrans a rove-beetle None
Stenus flavipes a rove-beetle None
Trixagus dermestoides a beetle None
Athous haemorrhoidalis a click-beetle None
Agriotes pallidulus a click-beetle None
Cantharis decipiens a soldier-beetle None
Rhagonycha lignosa a soldier-beetle None
Epuraea pallescens a beetle None
Meligethes carinulatus a pollen beetle None
Meligethes nigrescens a pollen beetle None
Byturus ochraceus a beetle None
Cerylon histeroides a beetle None
Rhyzobius litura a ladybird None
Exochomus quadripustulatus Pine Ladybird None
Propylea quattuordecimpunctata 14-spot Ladybird None
Coccinella septempunctata 7-spot Ladybird None
Cortinicara gibbosa a beetle None
Mycetophagus piceus a beetle Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Mordellochroa abdominalis a tumbling flower-beetle None
Nalassus laevioctostriatus a darkling beetle None
Ischnomera cyanea a beetle Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Oedemera lurida a beetle None
Pyrochroa coccinea Black-headed Cardinal Beetle Nationally Scarce (Nb)
Salpingus planirostris a beetle None
Anaspis frontalis a beetle None
Anaspis fasciata a beetle None
Anaspis maculata a beetle None
Bruchus rufimanus a seed-beetle None
Lochmaea crataegi Hawthorn Leaf-beetle None
Longitarsus luridus a flea-beetle None
Crepidodera aurea a flea-beetle None
Lasiorhynchites olivaceus a weevil Nationally Scarce (Na)
Tatianaerhynchites aequatus a weevil None
Attelabus nitens Oak Leaf-roller None
Aspidapion aeneum a weevil None
Protapion fulvipes White Clover Seed Weevil None
Protapion trifolii a weevil None
Perapion curtirostre a weevil None
Perapion hydrolapathi a weevil None
Apion frumentarium a weevil None
Ischnopterapion loti a weevil None
Phyllobius roboretanus Small Green Nettle Weevil None
Phyllobius pyri Common Leaf Weevil None
Sitona lepidus a weevil None
Magdalis armigera a weevil None
Rhinoncus pericarpius a weevil None
Ceutorhynchus typhae a weevil None
Ceutorhynchus obstrictus a weevil None
Trichosirocalus troglodytes a weevil None
Nedyus quadrimaculatus Small Nettle Weevil None
Anthonomus pedicularius a weevil None
Anthonomus rubi a weevil None
Curculio glandium Acorn Weevil None
Archarius pyrrhoceras a weevil None
Gymnetron pascuorum a weevil None
Neuroterus quercusbaccarum f. sexual Currant gall causer None
Biorhiza pallida f. sexual Oak-apple causer None
Lasius brunneus Brown Tree Ant Nationally Scarce (Na)
Lasius niger sens. str. an ant None
Myrmica rubra an ant None
Myrmica scabrinodis an ant None
Bombus hortorum Small Garden Bumblebee None
Bombus pascuorum Common Carder-bee None
Panorpa germanica a scorpion-fly None
Rhagio scolopaceus Downlooker Snipefly None
Beris chalybata Murky-legged Black Legionnaire None
Microchrysa polita Black-horned Gem None
Empis tessellata a dance fly None
Melanostoma mellinum a hoverfly None
Sphaerophoria scripta a hoverfly None
Rhingia campestris a hoverfly None
Rhingia rostrata a hoverfly RDB3
Neoascia podagrica a hoverfly None
Syritta pipiens a hoverfly None
Tephritis neesii a picture-winged fly None
Anthophila fabriciana Nettle-tap None
Pieris rapae Small White LC
Pararge aegeria Speckled Wood LC
Monacha cantiana Kentish Snail None

No stone unturned

With much less of my time available for natural history since 24th December, I’m making the best of it by staying local and broadening my taxonomic horizons. In fact, today I have spent the whole day studying the wildlife of our back garden and didn’t even make it down to the far end until just before dark! But I have literally left no stone unturned. I have been spurred into action by Andy Musgrove’s “1000 1ksq challenge“: the challenge being to find 1000 species in your chosen 1km square during 2013. It’s a pan-species challenge: invertebrates, vertebrates, plants, fungi, the lot.

I’ve been seriously impressed at how many species people have already racked up for their squares, with Seth Gibson topping the table at the end of January with a mighty 248 species. I’ve also been seriously impressed at the way so many of the participants are taking a truly pan-species approach and boldly tackling Britain’s biodiversity in its entirety. So, the 1000 1ksq challenge has aroused my competitive spirit, and shamed me into trying to identify things that I normally ignore (like lichens, mosses, earthworms, springtails, etc.). Here are today’s results.

First a few photos, then my species lists for today.

My first attempt at identifying a springtail. Originally named as 'probably Pogonognathus flavescens' but Dr Peter Shaw has kindly put me right (23rd Nov. 2015) that this is probably Tomocerus minor (very common), though the teeth on its jumping organ would need to be checked to be sure. Pogonognathus flavescens was way off the mark - it is a northern species, yellow-brown in colour.

Yellow Slug Limacus flavus

Deroceras invadens Reise, Hutchinson, Schunack & Schlitt, 2011. A new name for the species previously known in Britain as Deroceras panormitanum.

Tandonia sowerbyi

A terrestrial flatworm Microplana terrestris. This was a tick, but through administrative oversight: I'm pretty sure I've identified it before.

An overwintering Woundwort Shieldbug Eysarcoris venustissimus (was E. fabricii).

I did manage to identify three species of earthworm from the garden but this was one of at least two additional species that I failed to name.

Woodlice
Just the ‘famous five’: Armadillidium vulgare, Oniscus asellus, Porcellio scaber, Philoscia muscorum and Trichoniscus pusillus/ provisorius.

Millipedes
Polydesmus coriaceus
Cylindroiulus britannicus

Centipedes
Stigmatogaster subterranea
Geophilus insculptus
– a tick! Common and widespread species.
Lithobius microps

Terrestrial flatworms
Microplana terrestris – identified by comparing to Brian Eversham’s photos on flickr. Pretty sure Brian has shown me this species in the past but it wasn’t on my list, so a tick!

Earthworms: identified using the iSpot keys. A completely new group for me and I was amazed at how many species occur in the garden. I identified three but saw at least two others which defied confident identification.
Lumbricus castaneus Chestnut Worm
Lumbricus rubellus Redhead Worm
Eisenia fetida Brandling Worm. A banded worm, common in our compost bin, and curiously malodorous when handled.

Slugs: the MolluscIreland site is very useful for slug identification, with Roy Anderson’s expert ID tips and his photos.
Limacus flavus
Tandonia budapestensis
Tandonia sowerbyi
Deroceras reticulatum
Deroceras invadens (was panormitanum) – thanks to Christian Owen for bringing me up to date!
Arion hortensis/distinctus
– still not sure about these.
Arion rufus – with a bright orange foot fringe. Exhibiting a rocking response, which should be less strong than Arion ater though I’m in no position to judge that.

Snails
Oxychilus cellarius
Discus rotundatus
Lauria cylindracea
Cornu aspersum
Hygromia cinctella
Vallonia costata
Vallonia excentrica
Trochulus striolatus

Beetles
Leistus spinibarbis (Carabidae)
Notiophilus biguttatus (Carabidae)
Tachyporus hypnorum (Staphylinidae)
Lobrathium multipunctum (Staphylinidae)
Xantholinus linearis (Staphylinidae)

Bugs
Eysarcoris venustissimus

Springtails
probably Tomocerus minor (thanks to Dr Peter Shaw)

Mosses
Bryum capillare – leaves became “corkscrew-like” when dry.
Tortula muralis

Vertebrates
Common Frog

Brings me up to a mere 117 species for my square.

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).

Dogging in Bedfordshire

Today Jo and I have been to see the Prairie Dogs which roam wild and free in Bedfordshire. Although they would only peep nervously from their holes at first, they soon emerged to feed and gave really good views in the sunshine. There seem to be just three animals here on a sandy abandoned arable field off Gypsy Lane, Broom, near Biggleswade. I don’t know where they’ve come from but there used to be at least 6 Prairie Dogs at this wildlife attraction near Bedford which closed in 2010.

Pretty sure they are Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus.

It could be a scene from the prairies ... but for the oilseed rape field.

Nearby, a few miles up the A1, we dropped in to look for Firebugs Pyrrhocoris apterus at some dilapidated glasshouses in Beeston: a site which I heard about from this blog. We only saw two, both adults and both walking on the tarmac track where it passes between glasshouses on either side. Jo saw them at the Surrey colony soon after they were discovered in 1996 so it was high time I caught up!

Firebug Pyrrhocoris apterus

Christmas shopping entomology

I know for most people a Christmas shopping trip is a lost natural history opportunity. But for a pan-species lister, something good can turn up wherever and whenever. First up, this striking black-and-red Arocatus ?longiceps? bug found on the trunk of a Plane tree while browsing the Christmas market on the Champs Élysées, Paris on 20th November. My French specimen (on the left) looks quite different to the Arocatus longiceps I have previously found on London’s Plane trees (on the right, from the Natural History Museum’s wildlife garden), with paler appendages and reduced black markings on the body.

Arocatus from the Champs Elysees (L) and NHM garden (R)

The following weekend we visited Whipsnade Zoo with friends Rich and Sara and budding mammalogist Lucy. As well as doing some Christmas shopping in the gift shop, we found a couple of interesting insects in the Insect House but on the loose. There were trails of a miniscule ant which I think is a species of dolichoderine but doesn’t seem to be included in Bolton & Collingwood’s RES Handbook, or Skinner & Allen’s Naturalists’ Handbook.

Miniscule ?dolichoderine? ant from Whipsnade

And on the exit door, this Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae was making a bid for freedom. I’ve seen this species before in the Eden Project biomes.

Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae

Finally, our local Tesco in Leighton Buzzard still supports a population of the weevil Otiorhynchus crataegi in the car park, first found here in September 2008. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only Bedfordshire site for this weevil but I’m sure if more people looked it could be found much more widely. It was discovered new to Britain in Berkshire in 1980 and has since been reported from Surrey and Middlesex (map here, doubtless incomplete).

Every little helps (the beetle list)

Entomologising in car park shrubberies can be pretty good. Look out for feeding signs such as notched leaves. Whenever I get out my beating tray and start thwacking the shrubberies, I always imagine I’m going to be either set upon by security guards or ridiculed by crowds of jeering shoppers. But, in practice, everyone studiously ignores me, though I sometimes think mothers take a tighter grip of their children’s hands as they pass! Richard ‘Bugman’ Jones would advise wearing a hi-vis vest in such circumstances: it makes you look so much more official!

Notched leaves on this Euonymus are the first sign that weevils are present.

Otiorhynchus crataegi makes quite regular, semi-circular notches in the edges of the leaves.

Otiorhynchus crataegi: at a supermarket near you?

Happy Christmas shopping everyone!

 

Mistletoe Weevil Ixapion variegatum

Mistletoe: worth beating!

This photo was kindly taken for me by Tom at the Oxford Museum using their photo-montage kit. It seems a suitably festive (and rather beautiful) invertebrate, being completely dependent on mistletoe as its host plant. The Mistletoe Weevil was discovered new to Britain by Andy Foster of the National Trust on 11th August 2000 in Herefordshire. It has since also been found in West Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Monmouthshire. This one was in a fabulous orchard that David Gibbs and I surveyed in Herefordshire in July. On that survey, we also found the trio of mistletoe bugs: Pinalitus viscicola (the commonest one), Anthocoris visci (Nationally Scarce B) and Hypseloecus visci (discovered new to Britain by Dave at two sites in Somerset on 22nd & 30th July 2003). These were all new species for me in 2010: western orchards really are the best places to see this fauna, probably because there’s so much mistletoe growing within reach of the beating tray rather than in the crowns of big trees!

I’ve been to some superb sites in 2010 and seen a lot of good invertebrates. The downside to this is a very busy winter identifying them all and writing up reports. Doesn’t look like I’ll have a lot of time to expand this website but I will definitely post any additional staphylinid test keys as and when Derek issues them.