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… is a question I love to be asked but it’s quite a hard one to answer (and not because there are so many that I’ve lost count!). The reason it is difficult to answer is that discovering a first for Britain is usually a joint effort. The list of firsts where I was the first to find it, the first to recognise it was something new to Britain, and the first to put a name to it is quite short. But those pure discoveries are some of the great highlights of my time as a naturalist, and I’m really proud of having played my part in the joint discoveries too.
One of my first bird books was “Birds new to Britain and Ireland” which contains accounts of the discoveries of 83 species of bird new to Britain and Ireland from 1946 to 1980. I read this book over and over again as a schoolboy and dreamt of finding my own first for Britain. Sadly my chances of discovering a bird new to Britain are close to zero but studying beetles and other invertebrates has allowed me to fulfil those schoolboy dreams many times over!
In this blog, I’m going to describe the firsts for Britain that I’ve been involved with, and then offer some suggestions on how to discover your own firsts for Britain.
I got off the mark by writing up two ground beetles (Bembidion caeruleum and Ophonus subsinuatus) new to Britain in 2001 but both had been found and identified by others and I was just the one who stepped up to put these discoveries into print.
Telfer, M.G. (2001). Bembidion coeruleum Serville (Carabidae) new to Britain and other notable carabid records from Dungeness, Kent. The Coleopterist, 10, 1 – 4.
Telfer, M.G. (2001). Ophonus subsinuatus Rey (Carabidae) new to Britain, with a discussion of its status. The Coleopterist, 10, 39 – 43.
I was the first to identify Acupalpus maculatus from Britain but those first specimens had been found by John Paul at Dungeness. It later turned out that quite a few coleopterists had already collected Acupalpus maculatus at Dungeness and misidentified it as Acupalpus parvulus – and I was one of them!
Telfer, M.G. (2003). Acupalpus maculatus Schaum, 1860: another carabid new to Britain from Dungeness. The Coleopterist, 12, 1 – 6.
In the case of Xyleborus monographus I found it, figured out it was new to Britain and confirmed it as Xyleborus monographus at the Natural History Museum. Unbeknown to me, Peter Hammond had also found it and only a few days later he would pull out the same drawer of specimens at the NHM and come to the same conclusion. He let me write it up and take the glory!
Telfer, M.G. (2007). Xyleborus monographus (Fabricius) (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) new to Britain. The Coleopterist, 16, 41 – 45.
I then hit a bit of a drought for a few years though I did find 8 species of beetle new to Ireland in this period. It is not as difficult to add beetles to the Irish list.
Telfer, M.G. (2007) Macrorhyncolus littoralis (Broun) (Curculionidae) new to Ireland. The Coleopterist, 16, 118 – 119.
Telfer, M.G. (2009) Seven beetles new to Ireland, seven new to Northern Ireland and other noteworthy discoveries. The Coleopterist, 18, 121 – 129.
With Quedius lucidulus, I found and identified it myself. By the time I got it into print, it had been found three more times but my record from The Mens Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve in May 2010 still stands as the earliest British record.
Telfer, M.G. (2012). Quedius lucidulus Erichson, 1839 (Staphylinidae) new to Britain. The Coleopterist, 21, 129 – 131.
My next first, Olibrus norvegicus at Sandwich Bay, was another pure discovery which I both found and identified myself. It’s quite a difficult species to identify and it was amongst much larger numbers of commoner Olibrus. To the best of my knowledge it has been successfully twitched once but there have been no other British records.
Telfer, M.G. (2013). Munster, 1901 (Phalacridae) new for Britain. The Coleopterist, 22, 25 – 26.
In September 2013 I identified the first Soronia oblonga for Britain though it had been standing in my collection as S. grisea since I collected it in July 2005 at Langley Park. An earlier specimen collected by Peter Hammond in 2004 has since come to notice, and I found it again in September 2013 at Windsor.
Telfer, M.G. (2014). Soronia oblonga Brisout de Barneville, 1863 (Nitidulidae) new to Britain. The Coleopterist, 23, 144 – 148.
In April 2009 I set foot in the Eden Project biomes for the first time and returned in April 2010, both times targeting woodlice and myriapods. Both were group visits and the lengthy identification process has been carried out by Steve Gregory with help from other experts around the world. However, I found six species of woodlice which have now been added to the British list by Steve, plus a single specimen of another which Steve is still working on. At least one of these woodlice is also new to science. I also found the millipede Amphitomeus attemsi new to Britain which was subsequently identified by Helen Read and written up by Tony Barber and others, and a narwhal-headed millipede of the Order Siphonophorida which will probably never be named to species but is a new Order for Britain.
Gregory, S. (2014). Woodlice (Isopoda: Oniscidea) from the Eden Project, Cornwall, with descriptions of species new to Britain and poorly known British species. Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 27, 3 – 26.
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.
I played my part in the addition of Xylosandrus germanus to the British list, first found and identified by Peter Hammond.
Allen, A.J., Hammond, P.M. and Telfer, M.G. (2015). Xylosandrus germanus (Blandford, 1894) (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) in Britain. The Coleopterist, 24, 72 – 75.
I found Britain’s first Carpelimus nitidus in August 2010 but it was not until winter 2014/15 that I got the identification confirmed and submitted the paper. My Dungeness specimen remains the only British specimen, so far.
Telfer, M.G. (2015). Carpelimus nitidus (Baudi di Selve, 1848) (Staphylinidae): another beetle new to Britain from Dungeness. The Coleopterist, 24, 100 – 105.
It gave me great pleasure to discover my first bug new to Britain in 2013: Dicyphus tamaninii.
Telfer, M.G. (2015). Dicyphus tamaninii (Hemiptera: Miridae) new to Britain. British journal of entomology and natural history, 28, 71 – 74 and Plate 6.
After a pan-species listers’ gathering in South Wales in September 2014, I was the first to recognise the millipede Ceratosphys amoena as something new to Britain though it fell to others to put a name to it. On the same day I also collected immatures of Hylebainosoma nontronensis but completely failed to compute that they were another chordeumatid millipede new to Britain (I just assumed they were immature C. amoena). Fortunately, Chris Owen got to the truth of it.
Telfer, M.G., Gregory, S.J., Kime, R.D., Owen, C. and Spelda, J. (2015). Ceratosphys amoena Ribaut, 1920 and Hylebainosoma nontronensis Mauriès & Kime, 1999 new to Britain (Diplopoda: Chordeumatida). Bulletin of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group, 28, 15 – 30.
I still find it magical to think that in 2015 I discovered an insect in Ireland that was not just new to Ireland but new to the Palaearctic, previously unknown outside of Chile and Argentina! The barkfly Chilenocaecilius ornatipennis has swiftly become established across Ireland and Britain.
Lienhard, C., Telfer, M.G. and Anderson, R. (2017). Chilenocaecilius ornatipennis (Blanchard, 1851) (Psocodea: ‘Psocoptera’, Paracaeciliidae) in Ireland, first Palaearctic record of this South American genus and species. Entomologist’s monthly magazine, 153, 25 – 30.
In January 2016, I was the first to identify Amara majuscula from Britain, which Tim Hodge had found and first recognised as something potentially new.
Hodge, T.N., Telfer, M.G., Lane, S.A. and Skirrow, M.B. (2016). Amara (Bradytus) majuscula (Chaudoir, 1850) (Carabidae) new to Britain from East Norfolk, West Norfolk and Worcestershire. The Coleopterist, 25, 99 – 105.
This was to be the beginning of an amazing bumper year: the first of 11 species new to Britain in 2016! There is plenty of work still in progress on that lot. Three are published, one is in press, three have manuscripts in preparation, and three more are awaiting identification/ confirmation. This is a story to be continued …
So, based on these experiences, what’s the best way to find a first for Britain?
- Look carefully amongst existing specimens. A surprising number of firsts are discovered only after they’ve sat in a collection for a few years, or even a few decades, overlooked and misidentified as something else.
- Always be on the look-out for a potential first for Britain. It might just start with a specimen that doesn’t quite fit the key, or doesn’t quite match the pictures. Don’t assume you’ve found something common. Don’t squash a square peg into a round hole. Be dogged about identifying these misfits.
- Use unusual sampling techniques, such as nocturnal fieldwork (responsible for the discoveries of Xyleborus monographus and Olibrus norvegicus), vane trapping (Quedius lucidulus, Soronia oblonga and Xylosandrus germanus) or using light traps for groups other than moths (Amara majuscula).
- Target the coast of south-eastern England (especially Dungeness!) for new immigrants from the continent. And target highly urban and man-made environments for new importations from anywhere.
- There are lots of firsts for Britain to be found in hothouses. Identifying them can be extremely arduous but worth the challenge, and hothouse faunas are starting to get the attention they deserve.
- Be prepared for the unexpected and be lucky!
… 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!
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.
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|
|Pieris rapae||Small White||LC|
|Pararge aegeria||Speckled Wood||LC|
|Monacha cantiana||Kentish Snail||None|
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.
Just the ‘famous five’: Armadillidium vulgare, Oniscus asellus, Porcellio scaber, Philoscia muscorum and Trichoniscus pusillus/ provisorius.
Geophilus insculptus – a tick! Common and widespread species.
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.
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.
Leistus spinibarbis (Carabidae)
Notiophilus biguttatus (Carabidae)
Tachyporus hypnorum (Staphylinidae)
Lobrathium multipunctum (Staphylinidae)
Xantholinus linearis (Staphylinidae)
probably Tomocerus minor (thanks to Dr Peter Shaw)
Bryum capillare – leaves became “corkscrew-like” when dry.
Brings me up to a mere 117 species for my square.
On a visit to Langley Park on 24th March, I was tempted to have ‘a quick look’ at a heap of stable waste; a mix of hay, woodchip and horse dung. It was an unseasonably hot and sunny day and the heap was swarming with beetles. I tried to be selective and not create too much homework for myself but even so, there were a lot of good things: five beetles I’d never seen before and several more which I’ve seen only once or twice.
Some highlights, illustrating how many recently arrived species can be found by searching in muck-heaps of various sorts.
Edaphus beszedesi (Staphylinidae, Euaesthetinae) was discovered new to Britain c.2006 by Peter Hammond from two heaps near Windsor, and published by Lott and Anderson (2011). I found it at a stable in south Bucks in 2008 but it still doesn’t seem to have been turned up by many other people.
Euconnus duboisi (Staphylinidae, Scydmaeninae). This was new to me and had me really puzzled. Given the very real chance of discovering beetles new to Britain in this sort of habitat, I was already thinking along those lines when I couldn’t key it to any of the known British scydmaenine genera. But in discussion with Peter Hammond, I’m pretty satisfied that it is E. duboisi. This species was added to the British list in 1945 (too late to be included in Joy’s keys) and is not included in Freude, Harde and Lohse vol. 3.
Cryptophilus integer (Erotylidae). At the time, this species had the cachet of being the sole British member of the family Languriidae but the 2012 checklist has lumped it in with Erotylidae. It is an extremely dull little brown job, resembling a Cryptophagus. It was discovered new to Britain c.2007 but has been found quite widely in London and surrounding area, mostly in woodchip heaps.
Hypomedon debilicornis (Staphylinidae, Paederinae) was discovered, new to Britain, in Northamptonshire in 1989 from solidified farm slurry. It was next reported from a manure heap in North Hampshire in 1996. I know of more recent records for Surrey, Norfolk, Bucks and Berks and I think it has become more widely established.
Mycetophagus quadriguttatus (Mycetophagidae) is a Nationally Scarce (Na) saproxylic found in association with fungi and mouldy debris of old broad-leaved trees. However, it also occurs in synanthropic situations such as food-stores, granaries and stables (in mouldy hay). Seems to be turning up more frequently in recent years.
Clambus simsoni (Clambidae) was added to the British list in 1997 and has become a fairly regular feature of woodchip piles.
Sericoderus lateralis (Corylophidae). A single female was the first I’d seen since 2004 of this once common species which appears to have been largely usurped by the Australian S. brevicornis (as discussed here).
My species list, with the ones I’d not seen before in bold.
|Order||Family||Species (scientific name)||Quantity||Sex|
|Coleoptera||Carabidae||Syntomus obscuroguttatus||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Hydrophilidae||Cryptopleurum minutum||2||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Histeridae||Carcinops pumilio||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Histeridae||Atholus bimaculatus||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Scydmaenidae||Scydmaenus tarsatus||Common||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Scydmaenidae||Scydmaenus rufus||Common||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Staphylinidae||Trichiusa immigrata||2||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Staphylinidae||Edaphus beszedesi||Several||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Staphylinidae||Astenus pulchellus||4||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Staphylinidae||Hypomedon debilicornis||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Staphylinidae||Philonthus discoideus||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Staphylinidae||Gyrohypnus fracticornis||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Clambidae||Clambus pubescens||8||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Clambidae||Clambus simsoni||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Monotomidae||Monotoma bicolor s.s.||26||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Monotomidae||Monotoma brevicollis||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Monotomidae||Monotoma spinicollis||4||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Monotomidae||Monotoma testacea||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Cryptophagidae||Atomaria lewisi||2||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Cryptophagidae||Atomaria testacea||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Languriidae||Cryptophilus integer||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Cerylonidae||Cerylon histeroides||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Endomychidae||Holoparamecus caularum||12||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Latridiidae||Cartodere nodifer||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Mycetophagidae||Mycetophagus quadriguttatus||1||not recorded|
|Coleoptera||Tenebrionidae||Alphitophagus bifasciatus||3||not recorded|
|Dermaptera||Labiidae||Labia minor (Lesser Earwig)||Several||not recorded|
|Isopoda||Porcellionidae||Porcellionides pruinosus||Common||not recorded|
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.
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.
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!
The Top Snail Trochoidea elegans is one of the most distinctive British species, and one of the rarest. It inhabits chalk grassland where there is bare ground and chalky rubble, especially on steep slopes which help to maintain eroding, bare ground conditions. A dry, sunny microclimate will make it feel at home here, as it is an introduction from the Mediterranean, first recorded in Britain in 1890. Michael Kerney’s (1999) atlas shows 4 dots for it, in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
I have always wanted to see it and got a chance to look at Hawkshill Down (TR 3736 4981), south of Deal on Tuesday morning. It was another damp day with occasional drizzle which for once was absolutely fine with me – perfect weather for snails!
Unfortunately, I was only able to find empty shells, after a pretty thorough fingertip search. And none of them even look like they’ve held a living snail in recent years. In fact, most of them were in the spoil-heaps outside abandoned rabbit burrows which suggests they may have been dug up from down in the soil. I reckon Trochoidea elegans is extinct at this site, as already suggested by Ron Carr after a visit in 2005. Why has it gone? Well, there’s very little bare ground, no livestock grazing, the rabbits seem to have gone, and the scrub and coarse vegetation are moving in.
Should we care? I guess not, for a non-native species. Only it demonstrates a problem that many species face and shows how easily small populations can blink out. It wouldn’t take much management effort to restore the right habitat conditions to that bank but as for Trochoidea elegans – when it’s gone it’s gone.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone with news of the other British populations of Trochoidea elegans: Lydden, Kent; Chaldon, Surrey; and Denton, Sussex.
Compensation was provided in the form of my first Marbled Whites of the year, a superb Lapidary Snail Helicigona lapicida, some Porcellio dilatatus woodlice in debris down an old rabbit burrow, and at the edge of a nearby wheat field some Prickly Poppies and Alsike Clover (tick!). But searching suburban green spaces on hands and knees is a risky business and there was a depressing inevitability to my encounter with a dog turd.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.