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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.

Pan-species listing at Knepp

The Knepp Estate in Sussex is my new favourite place in England. This is a landscape of woodlands, copses, rambling hedgerows, veteran trees, streams, ponds and lakes with herds of Longhorn Cattle and Exmoor Ponies wandering throughout. A place without fences, where a naturalist can wander through beautiful habitat to the accompaniment of Nightingales, where a picnic may be interrupted by a hungry Tamworth Pig coming grunting out of the undergrowth, where you can dream of what England would have been like in centuries past.

I was there on 1st and 2nd June, for a recording weekend organised by Penny Green of the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, and to which the pan-species listers were invited. Inspiring company in an inspiring place and superbly hosted by Charlie Burrell, whose vision it was to “re-wild” Knepp.

Pan-species listers are, by definition, interested in all wildlife. But somehow on this occasion it all gravitated towards invertebrates on dung and carrion – luckily somebody brought some latex surgical gloves! Respite was provided by some lovely beetles on log-stacks and veteran trees, as well as some rare fungi.

With the field season in full flow, I’ve not had time to identify everything yet but this post is just to show a few photos. The rest may have to wait until calmer times!

Hedobia imperialis (formerly Ptinomorphus imperialis), a distinctive and very memorable beetle from the woodworm family. Nationally Scarce (Nb).

Coleophora on Blackthorn. The possibilities seem to be coracipennella, prunifoliae and spinella: hopefully it will rear through to adult.

Lateral view of the same Coleophora.

Putoniella pruni galls on Blackthorn Prunus spinosa. A gall that's not in the first edition of the FSC galls book but was identified for me via the pan-species listers' facebook group.

Korynetes caeruleus. Always good to see a clerid. This one was beaten from a flowering Field Maple near a red-rotten oak; a Nationally Scarce (Nb) saproxylic. We also saw a few of the similar Necrobia violacea on carcasses (and Sarah and Jon had also found N. violacea on a dead Fox at Denbies Hillside the day before).

Calambus bipustulatus, another saproxylic beetle beaten from flowering Field Maple. This is also Nationally Scarce (Nb) and I'd only seen it once before - at last year's PSL meeting at Parham Park.

Peter Hodge discovered several Pyrrhidium sanguineum on a stack of oak logs in the car park. It’s a red longhorn beetle newly arrived in Sussex from its historic range on the Welsh borders and was one of the highlights of the weekend. Torchlight searching of the log-stacks and surrounding tree trunks was productive with several Dromius agilis (an uncommon carabid), a single Corticeus unicolor (Tenebrionidae) and a single specimen of “Xyleborus species A”, a recently arrived bark-beetle (from the Orient?) discovered in Richmond Park by Peter Hammond and also known from Cowdray Park (discovered by Graeme Lyons and myself).

Corticeus unicolor. The second Sussex record of this Rare (RDB3) beetle after it was discovered at Cowdray Park by Graeme Lyons and myself in 2011.

Dromius agilis, a tree-climbing "ground" beetle associated with ancient parkland and wood-pasture. This one was found by Neil Fletcher.

After a disappointing catch of moths on Sunday morning, most of the pan-species listers took the opportunity to join a fungal tour with Ted Green and Jill Butler. I think Ted quickly got the measure of his audience and showed us some extremely rare species.

Ye Olde Greene Man, a.k.a. Phellinus robustus. On oak. One of about 20 trees known to support this fungus in Britain.

Phellinus populicola on poplar. Another rarity with an important population at Knepp. Especially happy to see this as it was one Jo gripped me off on in Buckinghamshire a couple of years ago.

Ted Green and Phellinus populicola

Agathidium nigripenne: one of the delectable leiodids. This was one of three tapped from dead poplar branches. It has no conservation status but I'd only seen 5 singletons prior to this.

Really enjoyed a weekend binging on biodiversity in fab weather and great company. I could do it every weekend, if only I could spend all week identifying specimens and photos and making sense of my notes! I learned so much from other people. My main regret is of having taken hardly any photos of people and landscapes … but it’s nice to have a reason to return.

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

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

Jenny Taylier

It is a line that many budding entomologists fear to cross. Even some of the established figures in British entomology are not prepared to go there. I’m talking about dissection, gen-detting, whipping their nadgers out … genitalia dissection.

True, most of the time it’s just a bit of a chore. But it makes identification of many beetles much quicker and much more accurate than making difficult judgements about, say, the relative breadth of the pronotum.

Occasionally, dissection reveals structures that really are a marvel to behold. I well remember a lunchtime conversation in a busy pub nearly 20 years ago with Brian Eversham and an aleocharine staphylinid expert: let’s call him “Mike”. I think I was probably expressing disbelief that anyone could find the will to try and identify such horrible little beetles, let alone dissect them. Mike’s response, delivered for all in the bar to hear, was “But under the microscope THE FEMALE GENITALIA ARE ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!!” The next few moments were mortifying but gradually the hubbub of bar conversation returned.

Gyrophaena is a genus of 19 British species of small aleocharine staphylinids that breed in rotting fungi. The male genitalia are truly extraordinary in this genus. I look at these and wonder why all these hooks, corkscrews and knobbles have evolved and what function they perform? I guess they must make it difficult or impossible for a male of one species to mate with a female of another, like trying to fit a key into the wrong lock. All four of the Gyrophaena species pictured below were found in a single tuft of oyster mushrooms.

Gyrophaena joyioides aedeagus

Gyrophaena manca aedeagus

Gyrophaena gentilis aedeagus

Gyrophaena affinis aedeagus

Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering about the title of this blog … when I told my wife I was writing a blog about genitalia, she said “Jenny who?”

Barbies in Beds

Natural history takes you to some strange places. I spent several hours underground on Saturday, carrying out licenced monitoring of bats in various hibernacula in Bedfordshire with Bob Cornes and members of the Beds Bat Group. Our first site, an old icehouse, had no bats on this occasion but two Buttoned Snouts were hibernating on the walls – a new moth for me and the first hibernation record of this species for Beds (VC30).

Buttoned Snout hibernating in an icehouse

We saw a few hibernating Heralds during the day too.

Herald in hibernation

We found five species of bat, a typical result for these sites. Two Pipistrelle sp. which I didn’t photograph, numerous Natterer’s Bats, several Daubenton’s Bats and Brown Long-eared Bats and, best of all, Barbastelle. I think there were 6 Barbies in total, a new bat for me. About 90 individual bats in total!

Daubenton's Bat, typically well-concealed.

Natterer's Bat, sleeping hammock-fashion!

Brown Long-eared Bat: my favourite photo of the day.

Barbastelle: it's unusual for them to hang free on the ceiling like this. Which is a shame as they look really cool - I like the shadow too.

Barbastelle: note the ears touching in the middle of the head, a diagnostic feature of this species.

Barbastelle, showing the peculiar and distinctive semicircular flap of skin protruding from just behind the outer margin of the ear.

Many thanks to Bob for the opportunity to see these bats, and to Andy and Melissa Banthorpe for identifying Buttoned Snout from the photo.

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and a Jersey Tiger are dead

male Jersey Tiger

This male Jersey Tiger was fatally attracted to the bright lights of London’s West End. I found it last night, dead, in the foyer of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Although it was appropriate to the existentialist theme of the night’s performance, it seemed an unlikely place to find one. It is a new 10-km square according to the Atlas but, as this map shows, it’s not far for a moth to fly from the extensive green space of St. James’ Park/ Green Park/ Buckingham Palace Gardens.