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Isn’t this a … ?

I don’t know if anyone’s heard this story before, but I once uttered the line “Isn’t this a White Prominent?” beside a moth trap in Co. Kerry, which was followed by a great deal of shouting, swearing, hugging, back-slapping and general euphoria. The answer to my question was yes – the first since 1938. I was able to hit the Bucks moth-ers with the line “Isn’t this Oxyptila pilosellae?” on Tuesday night, as I happened to be the first to spot one. It was on the sheet while I was crawling over it pooting beetles, and was the first of three that came to light. With no British record of the Downland Plume O. pilosellae since 1964, Colin Hart wrote that it “may now be extinct” in his 2011 monograph on the plumes. But the Bradenham area in Bucks has produced two singletons in more recent years and now three in one night. Colin himself was there to witness it. The foodplant of the Downland Plume is Mouse-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum, growing on chalk or limestone grassland.

Downland Plume Oxyptila pilosellae at Bradenham by Peter Hall

I focused on beetles rather than moths (though I still saw 8 new moths!) and recorded 33 species, including the whirligig Gyrinus paykulli and the saproxylic species Euglenes oculatus. I had been hoping to see the scarab Odonteus armiger, especially a male with its rhino horn, but it was not to be. This beetle is a familiar sight to the Bucks moth-ers when they’re light-trapping on chalk grassland and seems to be extremely difficult to find by any other means.

More pleasing than any of the beetles was this fly, pooted out of the bottom of one of the traps: the chloropid Camarota curvipennis. Jeremy Richardson and I had been talking about it only the day before, as one of a few curious species of fly that drape their wings around themselves and look like roosting bats. I’ve only recorded it once before but it’s probably common.

Camarota curvipennis with its bat-fold wings.

There’s a really good photo of Camarota here. And also check out this drosophilid which has even more of a roosting bat look to it.

Edible Dormice Glis glis were constantly woofling and squeaking in the adjacent woodland and we could even occasionally see them clambering about by the light of the moth traps. I’d only previously seen them by volunteering for box-checking.

Many thanks to Peter Hall, Martin Albertini, Dave Wilton and Colin Hart for allowing me to join them.

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

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/

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!

A day on Salisbury Plain

Dave Gibbs and I had three days’ fieldwork together recently in Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. For two days we took a drenching and struggled to find any but the most ordinary invertebrates. And then on Friday 11th May we had a dry day with just enough sun to get a few butterflies on the wing. Our survey site proved to be a very interesting place on a south-facing, rabbit-grazed slope of Salisbury Plain with a very friable, chalky soil. Two new beetles for me: Ptomaphagus varicornis (Leiodidae) is a rare species (RDBK) which to the best of my knowledge has only been recorded from Surrey and Wiltshire in the last 40 years; and Stenus ochropus (Staphylinidae) which has no conservation status but must be fairly rare and has not been recorded from Wiltshire before (Darby, 2009). Dotted Bee-fly is always a superb thing to see, and I even had to stop work briefly to admire one basking on my sieving equipment!

Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor

I also suction-sampled Geomyza breviseta (Opomyzidae), a Nationally Scarce fly mining grass leaves. Other scarcities on the day included the longhorn beetle Phytoecia cylindrica on Cow-parsley, the weevil Trachyphloeus aristatus*, the bee Osmia bicolor, a probable Hedge Rustic caterpillar**, the weevil Limobius borealis on Meadow Crane’s-bill, and Dingy Skipper. A single worker of the ant Stenamma debile s.s. looks like a good distributional record.

Couldn’t help but notice some big birds too …

Great Bustards

* previously determined as Trachyphloeus asperatus, re-determined and corrected on this webpage 7.vii.2012.
** Dave reared this and it was a Feathered Gothic.

When the hunter becomes the hunted

On 21st June 2010 I drove for 10 hours from home to get to Ullapool; the start of an 11-day entomological survey campaign in the west of Scotland. My survey site on 22nd was Rhidorroch Woods SSSI which turned out to be a couple of hours drive on dirt tracks up an increasingly beautiful glen. The weather was superb – a rare treat in NW Scotland – and I couldn’t wait to get into the field.

Rhidorroch Woods SSSI

This isolated veteran pine, above the modern-day treeline, was the best tree I found. Scarred by lightning strikes and ripped by the weight of winter snow, but still living, it was a magnet for saproxylic beetles.

On a fine, sunny day in Scotland, when big beetles like clicks, chafers and longhorns are buzzing past on the wing, there is no better place to be. As long as you’ve got a midge net (and are prepared to abandon all personal dignity and actually wear it)!

Undignified headgear

You also need to keep one hand free for swatting horseflies. And a little time is required each evening for tweezering off all the ticks!

It pretty much goes without saying, but the warning colours of this Bee Beetle Trichius fasciatus (a chafer) failed to frighten me. Very few of these Batesian mimics seem to be good enough at mimicry to fool the human eye.

Bee Beetle Trichius fasciatus

But, as I was investigating the hollow interior of a decaying birch, a bumblebee started harassing me at close quarters. I immediately backed off and legged it away for about 20 metres, reckoning I must have disturbed a nest. As soon as I stopped, I realised it was still buzzing round within a few inches of me. I carry an adrenaline injector with me at all times in case of bee stings: I’ve had a couple of bad allergic reactions in the past. But, even so, getting stung in such a remote spot could be difficult. I legged it back to the birch tree to grab my net, still with the bumblebee in pursuit, and netted it. Safe. Phew!!!

It was only then that I realised it wasn’t a bumblebee! The size, shape, flight and especially the buzzing tone were all spot on and had me completely fooled. But this was a fly, and like nothing I’d seen before. Much later, with help from Dave Gibbs and Andy Grayson I was able to identify it as Cephenemyia auribarbis.

Cephenemyia auribarbis

Cephenemyia auribarbis is a bot-fly (family Oestridae) and it was not looking to bite me or sting me but to lay eggs on me, so that its larvae could develop in either my nostrils, mouth or throat: a truly horrifying prospect! It should have been chasing after Red Deer, the usual host.

Acknowledgement

These observations were made during SSSI condition monitoring work for Scottish Natural Heritage.