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Into the Valley of the Millipedes, part 2

Part 1 tells the story of 3 hours in the field with Chris Owen and Dave Gibbs. This story begins at the microscope a week later, keying out some millipedes from the beech wood.

Firstly, by sieving just a couple of handfuls of leaf-litter, I not only found Lithobius tricuspis (which is what I was after) but 30 or more small whitish millipedes. They must be very abundant at this site. I pooted 11 to give myself a good chance of getting an adult male, and Dave took a few as well. I guessed they were a species of Melogona in the field but under the microscope it was clear they had blunt paranota (bumps at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock) on the body segments rather than being smoothly cylindrical. Unfortunately they were all immature so I put them aside and moved on.

Secondly, I had found a single specimen of what I thought was Craspedosoma rawlinsii under a log. I’d called Dave and Chris over to see it before pooting it for later checking. As well as being one of the few species with blunt paranota, and quite a strikingly patterned species, C. rawlinsii is quite a scarcity, occurring in wet, shaded habitats. There were loads of the little whitish immatures under the same log so I guessed they were the same species.

That “Craspedosoma rawlinsii” turned out to be an adult male. It keyed out as Craspedosoma rawlinsii but the gonopods and paragonopods (the highly modified 8th and 9th pair of legs used in mating) looked completely different to the pictures. I only had two female rawlinsii in my collection for comparison but they were bigger animals (my Bargoed specimen is just 10 mm long) and clearly different in other respects. What else could it be? It clearly wasn’t Nanogona polydesmoides and I could rule out Anthogona britannica and Anamastigona pulchella from the gonopod illustrations in BMG Bulletin 12.

So I arrive at that “Eureka moment” – I’ve discovered a millipede new to Britain! But in reality, rather than leaping around my study punching the air, a large part of me is thinking I’ve probably just made some daft mistake – after all, I’m no expert when it comes to millipedes. It is time to seek advice. Next day, Steve Gregory confirmed it was something new to Britain and recommended asking Des Kime in France if he could put a name to it. Des replied straight away suggesting genus Rhymogona and that I send my photos to Jörg Spelda in Munich. Jörg too was incredibly prompt and helpful, and after I’d carefully dissected the specimen and photographed and sketched the gonopods and paragonopods, he was able to recognise it as Ceratosphys confusa Ribaut, 1955, currently regarded as a variety or subspecies of Ceratosphys amoena Ribaut, 1920. Time to punch the air!

Ceratosphys amoena male. Montage image taken at the Hope Dept of Entomology, Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Ceratosphys amoena male

Here’s Chris’s video of Ceratosphys amoena.

Though it was brilliant that a pan-species listers’ field meeting had resulted in a first for Britain, and brilliant to get it named so quickly, I couldn’t help feeling gutted for Chris, who’d had a first for Britain pinched from right under his nose. But while all this was going on, Chris was busy returning the favour …

Chris recognised that those abundant whitish immature millipedes were not Ceratosphys amoena but ANOTHER millipede new to Britain! Something so mind-fryingly improbable that I hadn’t considered for a moment that they were anything other than immature Ceratosphys. I think only one millipede (Brachyiulus lusitanus) has been added to the British list from outdoors (i.e., excluding greenhouses) since 1996 so to turn up two firsts for Britain in one day is simply incredible!

By checking his reference specimens, Chris found that he’d seen both Ceratosphys amoena and “Chris’s millipede” a few times in his area but had identified them all as Craspedosoma rawlinsii, having never seen the true rawlinsii! He soon located some adult males and enlisted the help of Steve, Des and Jörg to try and name it. This one was more difficult and whereas we’d had a name for Ceratosphys amoena within a few days, this time we had to wait a couple of weeks. I even started to wonder whether “Chris’s millipede” could be new to science. After all, the Ghost Slug was discovered new to science in the same part of the world. Why not a millipede?

In the end, Des recognised “Chris’s millipede” from Steve’s drawings and photos as Hylebainosoma nontronensis Mauriès & Kime, 1999. So not new to science but quite a recently described species. Jean-Paul Mauriès has also seen the images and has written: “C’est magnifique de retrouver cette espèce au Pays de Galles!”

Hylebainosoma nontronensis male

Hylebainosoma nontronensis male

We’ll be writing a paper on these two millipedes new to Britain in due course. Chris has found both of them in several more sites since but also drawn a blank at a few other sites further afield: map here.

Keep an eye on the Pan-species Listing website for news of a return visit to the Valley of the Millipedes in 2015.

Into the Valley of the Millipedes, part 1

It is a tradition of the Telfer family to hold a biennial gathering in the Brecon Beacons. The naturalist in me wishes that this family tradition had come to be based in a hotspot for wildlife like Purbeck or the New Forest. But the pan-species lister in me knows that I can find species I’ve never seen before wherever I go. Last time I tackled the whitebeams of the Brecon Beacons. This time I got in touch with Chris Owen to see if it might be possible to meet up and look for two of his local specialities: the Ghost Slug Selenochlamys ysbryda and the harvestman Sabacon viscayanum. Chris gave it the thumbs up and I’m so glad he did because the three hours we had in the field on Sunday 28th September will be long remembered.

Jo, Bradley and I pulled in to the car park in Bargoed to meet Chris for the first time. Dave Gibbs was there too which was a nice surprise and made it a proper pan-species listers’ gathering. In emails, Chris had mentioned a few other highly desirable species that he might be able to show us and after dropping down the valley into a jungle of Japanese Knotweed we were soon seeing one of them, the flat-back millipede Propolydesmus testaceus, in good numbers. Ghost Slug took a bit more work, turning logs and stones and rummaging in leaf-litter but Dave eventually found a tiny one, before Chris located a couple of adults. They are uncannily like shelled slugs but from an unrelated family, with an extremely reduced shell and with a bizarre narrow foot like a monorail train. Bradley got this one on his “Poked it!” list.

Ghost Slug Selenochlamys ysbryda, the only species with a Welsh scientific name? Described from Wales in 2008 but thought to have been introduced from the Crimea.

Chris is very good on his slugs and also showed us presumed individuals of Arion distinctus, hortensis and oweni which gave Dave and I some dissection work for later. But with no sign of Sabacon, Chris decided to take us on to a nearby woodland where he was more confident of finding it. We just rolled a couple of logs and there it was! It’s one of the more unusual harvestmen and one with a restricted range.

The harvestman Sabacon viscayanum under a log showing the extraordinary pedipalps. They're well camouflaged and they kept absolutely still for a long time after the log was rolled over.

Deeper into the wood, we searched in beech leaf-litter for the Lemon Slug Malacolimax tenellus and the centipede Lithobius tricuspis. We saw both species in some numbers. Dave and I were reeling with all these new species in such a short space of time, and all the while Chris kept mentioning other highly desirable species we might find: the three-pronged bristletail Dilta chateri, the slugs Arion cf. iratii and Arion cf. fagophilus (both recent additions to the British list) and the nemertine worm Argonemertes dendyi. My limited time was running out but I already knew that Chris’s patch was worth a much longer visit and that I’d be back to do it justice.

Driving home, I reckoned Chris had shown me 7 or 8 ticks, and I was well pleased with that. I had a few specimens to confirm or identify but no inkling at this stage that my tubes contained two species new to Britain! Read on in part 2.

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.

A weekend in the rainforest

Back when flights were cancelled all across Europe because of the Icelandic ash cloud, I went to the tropical rainforest for a weekend, and popped into the Mediterranean for a few hours on Saturday afternoon! Of course, I was at the Eden Project. Following a very interesting visit on 17th April 2009 with the British Myriapod and Isopod Group (BMIG), I arranged for a return visit on 17th-18th April 2010 for myself and Jo, along with Steve Gregory (woodlouse expert), Darren Mann and Clive Turner plus friends and partners.

The two biomes

The two biomes

In the Rainforest

In the Rainforest

You might say that studying the wildlife within a greenhouse is a trivial thing, and not nearly as interesting as studying the native wildlife outdoors. But for me this is about as close as I have come to my unattainable dream of being the first naturalist to step ashore on some undiscovered land, seeing species that no-one has laid eyes on before. And yes … I have seen undescribed species.

Identifying the species that I and others have found in the biomes at the Eden Project is a slow business, and I am reliant on the help of the top experts in Britain and abroad, whose time and expertise is greatly appreciated. This blog gives a summary of work-in-progress.

Thanks to Marc Mappley and colleagues for allowing us to study the invertebrates in the biomes.

The Rainforest Biome: Woodlice

Gabunillo

Gabunillo

Prior to the 2009 visit, only two species of woodlouse were known from the Rainforest Biome: the pill-woodlouse Venezillo parvus (discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project) and Trichorhina tomentosa (known from several other tropical glasshouses in Britain). Steve Gregory has now got records of a further 12 species detailed below: 4 aliens new to Britain (of which 2 new to science), 6 known glasshouse aliens, and only 2 native British species.

1. A species apparently new to science and probably in the genus Gabunillo. I found 13 (all females) of these small pill-woodlice on 17th April 2009, mostly in the bamboo litter of the Malaysia zone. Steve Gregory passed them onto world expert Stefano Taiti, who commented “Most probably a new species of Gabunillo Schmalfuss & Ferrara, 1983. The only species known in the genus, G. coecus, was described from some caves in Gabon. Your specimens differ in the lobes of the schisma and presence of the single reddish ocellus. For G. coecus males are known”. Several more were found in 2010 but although about 50 examples have been found so far, still no males. It may be a parthenogenetic species.

2. A species apparently new to science in the genus Pseudotyphloscia (a genus close to but distinct from Burmoniscus). Steve had 2 males of this philosciid from soil samples collected in the Rainforest Biome in 2004 and 2005 by the Natural History Museum and extracted by Tullgren funnel. He sent them to Stefano Taiti in March 2010 and Stefano commented: “This is a new species of Pseudotyphloscia Verhoeff, 1928. Up to now the genus includes only one species, P. alba (Dollfus, 1898) with a wide distribution in southern China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Philippines.” On our visit in 2010, Steve located this species in good numbers (including many males) associated with wooden pilings and shorings near the stream.

Pseudotyphloscia

unknown pill-woodlouse

3. An unknown pill-woodlouse new to Britain. I collected a single specimen on 18th April 2010. It is similar to ‘Gabunillo’ but smaller, yellowish, with dark tapered bristles (rather than colourless clubbed scales), with differently shaped outer margin to first pereonite, and with different uropods, excavated to accommodate an appendage. Steve and I would still like to get Stefano Taiti’s opinion on this one. However, Steve suspects it is just an immature Venezillo parvus.

4. Another philosciid species was collected by NHM in 2003 but just a single female and in a very poor state of preservation. It is coloured chocolate and white, 3.5 mm long. It may not even be possible to determine to genus but is something new to Britain.

5. Reductoniscus costulatus, a small bumpy pill-woodlouse, known from Kew Gardens since 1947. Common in the Rainforest Biome in 2009 and 2010, its second British locality. More recently, Steve has found two specimens from soil samples collected by the NHM in 2003 and 2005.

6. Agabiformius lentus. Once thought to be the most widespread alien woodlouse in British glasshouses, the 3 specimens I found in 2009 (det. SJG) were the first British records since before 1980.

7. Nagurus cristatus. Recorded from Northumberland in 1965 but not since (Gregory, 2009). I found 2 in 2009 and Darren found it in 2010 (all det. SJG).

8. Nagurus nanus. Steve had lots (males and females) of this species (identification confirmed by Stefano Taiti in March 2010) from samples collected by NMH in 2004 and extracted by Tullgren funnel. New to Britain but there is one Irish record of a single specimen from a heated glasshouse in Belfast Botanic Gardens in 1911.

9. & 10. On 17th April 2009, Helen Read found a female styloniscid woodlouse, possibly Cordioniscus stebbingi (det. S.J. Gregory). There is also a single female styloniscid from the NHM soil samples in 2004 which appears to be a different species. There are three styloniscids on the British list, all hothouse aliens. Males are needed to determine which, if any, of these are present in the Rainforest Biome. However, our visit in 2010 didn’t turn up any styloniscids.

11. & 12. In 2009 I found a few specimens of Haplophthalmus danicus near the edge of the Rainforest Biome. This is a common pygmy-woodlouse outdoors in Britain. The NHM samples also contained Armadillidium nasatum, a common greenhouse species in Britain but also fairly widespread outdoors.

The Mediterranean Biome: Woodlice

Armadillidium ?assimile?

Chaetophiloscia sicula

Lucasius pallidus

The Mediterranean Biome is not quite so well-stocked with exotic invertebrates but in 2005, Tony Barber recorded three species of woodlouse, two of them new to Britain: 8 females of an Armadillidium sp. new to Britain (males needed for identification), a single female ?Chaetophiloscia? (again, males needed) and Porcellio scaber (perhaps the commonest British woodlouse; also present in 2010).

In 2010, Steve Gregory was keen to try and find males of the Armadillidium and the ?Chaetophiloscia? He succeeded in finding a male of the Armadillidium which he has provisionally identified as A. assimile.

Steve’s searches also turned up an unfamiliar porcellionid which he identified within the week as Lucasius pallidus, new to Britain, a woodlouse of Mediterranean France and Spain.

Steve kindly showed me the spot where he’d found what turned out to be Lucasius pallidus, and by heaving over a large and deeply-embedded rock, I found some of the ?Chaetophiloscia?, including a single adult male. I have confidently identified this as C. sicula but will get Steve to check it in due course.

Millipedes

The Rainforest Biome had been better worked for millipedes prior to the 2009 BMIG visit, with five species recorded, including the superb Paraspirobolus lucifugus which was discovered new to Britain from the Eden Project and was common in 2009 and 2010.

Amphitomeus attemsi and 2 Reductoniscus costulatus

I didn’t pay as much attention to millipedes as I did to woodlice on the 2009 visit (nor the 2010 visit for that matter) but I did find 12 specimens of a tiny white pill-millipede that seemed likely to be new to Britain. Helen Read also found one on that visit and quickly pinned it down as Amphitomeus attemsi, new to Britain (Barber et al., 2010).

Siphonophorida sp.

close-up of horn

Better was to come in 2010 though when I found a single small, white millipede by digging down at the side of some damp, rotting, wooden pilings. Now I love the instant thrill of discovering a rarity that you instantly recognise, like the Bee-eater that came and flew about overhead one fine June day on the Deal sandhills. But I also love the feeling of staring at an invertebrate in a state of complete bafflement. Under the microscope, this millipede was like nothing I’d ever seen and after consulting every book in my possession and googling everything I could find, I was still not even entirely sure it was a millipede! Description here. Fortuitously, Helen Read recognised it as a millipede of the Order Siphonophorida, a pantropical group in which she is something of an expert. This is a new Order for Britain, and maybe a new Order for Europe! Unfortunately, they are a taxonomist’s nightmare and the chances of being able to identify my specimen to species are very small. No-one knows what they feed on or what the narwhal-like head-spike is for.

Cylindrodesmus hirsutus is a millipede known from the Palm House at Kew and from a tropical butterfly house in South Yorks as well as from the Rainforest Biome. This and/or a comparable species were found in 2009 and 2010: whitish specimens lacking paranota which seem to be C. hirsutus as well as pinkish-terracotta coloured specimens with distinct paranota which seem to be a different species. Steve is trying to figure this out with advice from Henrik Enghoff.

Anthogona brittanica is an outdoor millipede, described new to science from a male specimen collected at Slapton Ley, South Devon by Steve Gregory in 1993 (Dick Jones had also collected a specimen there in 1983) and still believed to be a British endemic. Lee (2006) mapped it from four contiguous 10-km squares of South Devon. I collected one specimen in 2009 near the edge of the biome and although it is a female, it is probably A. britannica (Steve Gregory, who described the species, tentatively agrees!). It would be good to find a male and clinch this as it would be a significant record of a rare, endemic invertebrate.

Of the three other species known from the Rainforest Biome prior to 2009, Oxidus gracilis was fairly common in 2009 and 2010 but neither Poratia digitata nor Rhinotus purpureus was seen. Later in 2009, after the BMIG visit, Tony Barber discovered Pseudospirobolellus avernus new to Britain and in fact a new family (Pseudospirobolellidae) to Europe (Barber et al., 2010). There is some evidence that species in the biomes change in abundance and it is possible that some have established only temporarily and now died out.

Beetles

Disappointingly, there are very few beetles in the Rainforest Biome. In fact, I have only found two species, though one is quite an unusual species: the silvanid Cryptamorpha desjardinsii (common in 2009 but less so in 2010). The other was Harpalus rufipes, a very common carabid beetle.

I have found several species of beetle in the Mediterranean Biome but all are common species of outdoor habitats in Britain.

Other invertebrates

A short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.

There are lots of other invertebrates in the biomes, and with the need to screen everything carefully as a potential new to Britain or even new to science, it is quite difficult to record across all groups. However, some of the highlights are:

  • Australian Cockroach Periplaneta australasiae
  • Surinam Cockroach Pycnoscelus surinamensis
  • a jumping spider Hasarius adansoni
  • a short-tailed whip-scorpion Schizomida sp.
  • 5+ species of ants including Hypoponera punctatissima
  • big earwigs, probably a species new to Britain
  • 4 known species of centipede: Mecistocephalus guildingii, Tygarrup javanicus, Cryptops doriae and Lamyctes caeculus.
  • several species of snail including Subulina octona and Striosubulina striatella

There’s sure to be a lot more to be found, and I know there’s a lot more still to be identified from Darren and Clive’s samples. It would be interesting to have a look round the biomes at night!

Reference
Barber, T., Gregory, S. and Lee, P. (2010). Reports on the 2009 BMIG Spring Meeting in Cornwall. Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 24, 65 – 74.