Beetles, birds, general natural history. Britain, Ireland and abroad.

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Mediterranea and Victoriana

A miscellany from the last couple of days. Firstly a female Southern Oak Bush-cricket Meconema meridionale from south London today, one of many seen. These bush-crickets were discovered in Britain in 2001 having spread north from the Mediterranean. This is an adult, and the wings are tiny, so it clearly didn’t arrive in Britain by flight. But bush-crickets are sometimes found on parked vehicles and are amazingly good at clinging on at speed. It’s conceivable that it made it to London by just clinging on to some cross-channel traffic.

Southern Oak Bush-cricket female

I don’t normally pay much attention to spiders when I’m on a survey but this big girl certainly grabbed my attention: 13 mm long and looking like the sort of thing you’d see imported in a bunch of bananas, not under a log in London. It turns out to be Steatoda nobilis, and true enough this species “has been repeatedly introduced from the Canary Islands and Madeira with bananas”! In the Harvey, Nellist and Telfer (2002) Atlas it only has four dots in Britain but a look at the latest map from the Spider Recording Scheme shows that it has made itself firmly at home in southern England in the last decade. It is obligatory to mention that this is a species which can inflict a painful bite if suitably provoked.

Steatoda nobilis female

Finally, a beetle I could reasonably have expected never to see my whole life long: Oxytelus piceus. It lives in cow-pats and would not have been an unexpected sight to a Victorian coleopterist living in southern Britain. But the progress of the 20th century was tough on many dung-feeding beetles and by 1994 Hyman and Parsons were only aware&hellip ... read the rest

Micro-birding: 9 years working my patch

I almost never go birding any more but I can’t bear to let myself become a non-birder. So for the last 9 years I have been diligently working my local patch on an almost daily basis: my garden. It’s basically a bog-standard garden in bog-standard countryside but it’s been incredibly rewarding over the 9 years we’ve lived here. I’ll tell you why.

From the start, in August 2004, I’ve followed Graham Hirons’ advice and kept a list for each and every month. It gives me the impetus each month to record all the common species and means that I’ve always got my eyes peeled and my ears tuned. I don’t actually make a special effort to go birding other than to take my coffee-breaks in the garden, with my bins, and always to look out of the window while I’m on the phone in the office, again with my bins handy.

I was woken at a cruel hour this morning by the junior member of the household, so we sat out in the garden together while I drank a couple of pots of coffee. I added 6 birds to the August 2013 list: Bullfinch heard, Raven heard, Herring Gull over, Goldcrest, Chiff-chaff and best of all my second Tree Pipit heard going south. That takes this month’s list to 48, though there’s still a long way to go to match my best ever August tally of 57 in 2009.

Bird totals by month, cumulative over 9 years

The downside of choosing my garden as a patch is that nobody else is really that interested in what I see. Find a Slavonian Grebe at Tring Reservoirs and loads of people will go out of their way to see it. Find a Treecreeper in my garden and&hellip ... read the rest

Extinct no longer

The oldest book I own was published in 1839, and in it James Francis Stephens describes the distribution of Rhyssemus germanus with a few words: “Sandy coasts: near Bristol”. When the Canon Fowler wrote about it in 1890 he was able to add that it was “said by Curtis [who was active up until the mid-1850s] to have been taken near Swansea” but added that “I know of no recent captures”. This beetle was also recorded from South Lancashire in the 1800s but I don’t have any more detail on that record.

Rhyssemus germanus. The bumpy ridges on the elytra are the most striking difference from Psammodius asper.

The structure of the hind tarsi and hind-tibial spurs is a key distinction from other psammodiines.

It was a massive shock to identify a single specimen of Rhyssemus germanus from a nocturnal torching session at Dungeness RSPB Reserve on 15-16 June this year! There is a similar species of dung beetle which I have seen a few times before at Dungeness (Psammodius asper) and I had little doubt that this specimen would turn out to be another of those. But when, on Thursday, I lined this year’s specimen up against my reference specimens of P. asper, I got a shock. Definitely something else, and I pulled out the RES Handbook and had soon keyed it out to R. germanus!

Unfortunately, the thrill of rediscovering a long extinct beetle in Britain was fairly short-lived. Once I’d got in touch with Darren Mann, he told me that R. germanus was discovered elsewhere in south-eastern England a few years ago. The discoverer has yet to publish his find so I won’t steal any more of his thunder here.

R. germanus is a dung-beetle in name&hellip ... read the rest

My Ero

I caught a spider on the bedroom ceiling on Saturday and was about to chuck it out of the window when I noticed it had four pointy tubercles on its abdomen. There aren’t many spiders with abdominal tubercles so I thought I’d have a go at identifying it. Lucky I did as it turns out to be one of the pirate spiders Ero aphana – only the third record for Bedfordshire!

Ero aphana

The Atlas of British spiders (Harvey, Nellist and Telfer, 2002) lists about 11 sites for this species, all on the heathlands of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey. It is still a Vulnerable (Red Data Book 2) species but since the turn of the millennium it has ceased to be dependent on heathland and has been turning up in a wide variety of mostly dry habitats (houses, gardens, brownfield sites, etc.) and spreading as far north as Nottinghamshire. Map and further info on the Spider Recording Scheme webpage.

Many thanks to Ian Dawson for helping to identify this spider and for information on its status in Beds.

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

&hellip ... read the rest

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&hellip ... read the rest

May-hem

It’s been well over a month since my last blog (back on April 12th) but my excuse is that it is May, the best month to be a naturalist in the field in Britain, and a busy time for an entomological consultant!

I have actually posted a few blogs in recent weeks about my progress towards recording 1000 species in my home 1-km square here in Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire. For those who don’t know, the participants in the “1000 1ksq challenge” are attempting a pan-species total of 1000 for a 1-km square of their choice between 1st Jan and 31st Dec 2013. Click here to see all my posts. It is amazing how much wildlife you can see if you go really broad and stay really local, and amazing just how successful you can now be as a truly pan-species naturalist using online identification resources.

One of my recent highlights was this weevil, Bradybatus fallax. Roger Booth found one resting on his car roof in Merton Park, Surrey on 13 August 2011 but I’ve not heard of any more being found since so this could be the second British individual. It is associated with Sycamore and other Acer species. I found one by beating trees, including sycamore, in Middlesex on 9 May 2013.

Bradybatus fallax: second for Britain.

Final results: Sandwich Bay Coleopterists’ Meeting 2012

I wrote a brief blog about this sunny and sociable weekend in Kent shortly after the event: here.

I have now finished my identifications from the Sandwich Bay Coleopterists’ Meeting (31st August to 2nd September 2012) and have also received records from Eric Philp, James McGill, Kevin Chuter, Martin Collier, Peter McMullen, Roger Booth, Simon Horsnall and Tony Allen. Between us we recorded 273 species of beetle (and 36 species of other invertebrates, including spiders, millipedes, dragonflies, bush-crickets, bugs, flies, bees, wasps, ants, moths and snails).

One of the highlights for me was the discovery of the phalacrid beetle Olibrus norvegicus new to Britain, as well as an intriguing featherwing-beetle specimen of the genus Ptenidium. Another major discovery was of the dung-beetle Euheptaulacus sus which was found by Roger Booth (from a light trap), Tony Allen (by evening sweeping) and James McGill. It is many decades since this dung-beetle was recorded from Kent.

Amongst the beetles were 7 Red Data Book, 1 Near Threatened and 36 Nationally Scarce species. In total, 16% of the beetles recorded during the meeting have conservation status, a figure which is consistent with top sites of national importance for invertebrate conservation.

A spreadsheet containing a species list and a worksheet of all records from the meeting can be downloaded here.

To download the keys, left-click the link. This will take you to my Google Docs webpages where you can see an online preview of the document (in which the formatting and pagination isn’t great). From the File menu, select Download and Save the file to your computer to see it in its original form.

 
The meeting did not formally start until Saturday morning (1st September) but most people travelled&hellip ... read the rest

My first alexiid!

It is a rare event nowadays for me to see a new beetle family but yesterday’s highlight was finding Sphaerosoma pilosum for the first time, the sole British member of family Alexiidae.

Sphaerosoma pilosum, Britain's only alexiid beetle.

I knocked it off a log with a white crustose polypore fungus, lying on the ground in calcareous woodland near Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire. I have now seen 96 of the 103 families of British beetles. Of the remaining seven families, six are represented by single British species that are either rare, very difficult to find, or Scottish. The seventh family is the Bostrichidae with five species on the British list and it is high time I bumped into one of them.

Another exciting find on the same outing was this Anommatus duodecimstriatus, found under bark on the underside of an Elder log pressed into the soil. This is one of Britain’s 13 species of blind beetle, previously featured on this blog after some turned up in my garden. It did two remarkable things, for a beetle. One, it just turned round and round on the spot rather than running away (maybe being blind has its disadvantages when someone disturbs your hiding place). And two, it clung on to the log despite me dropping it from waist height!

Anommatus duodecimstriatus, one of Britain's 12 blind beetles.

Recent attempts at fieldwork have felt pretty futile so it is good to have finally found some decent beetles. Looking forward to spring really getting going now!

A Ptenidium from Sandwich Bay

I am no great fan of the featherwing beetles (Ptiliidae) but they are growing on me and I’ve been trying hard to get to grips with the genus Ptenidium and others, though still largely ignoring the dreaded Acrotrichis. This blog is just to put on record an interesting specimen of Ptenidium which might be a species new to Britain:

A male Ptenidium from Sandwich Bay, East Kent from an Autokatcher sample on 31st August 2012. It is an unusual specimen of P. pusillum (or maybe an additional species of the pusillum-complex?). Click for large photo.

It is closest to P. pusillum (probably the commonest British species of the genus) but differs most strikingly in having much deeper and more extensive puncturation on the elytra. In addition, it has slightly more elongate elytra with less strongly rounded sides, elytral hairs a little shorter, pronotum sides a little more strongly rounded and with slightly broader side-margins, and the antennal clubs a little darker than the average pusillum. Michael Darby kindly examined it and agreed that it could be a species new to Britain, but what?

I sent my photo to Mikael Sörensson in Lund, Sweden who is an expert on European ptiliids and got an excellent response. In fact, Mikael’s reaction was that this looks the same as specimens of P. pusillum which he sees from Sweden and continental Europe. P. pusillum is apparently highly variable in body shape, colour of body and appendages, and also length of the pubescence. Mikael was struck by the somewhat darkened last two antennal segments of my specimen but has seen such colouration before in occasional specimens. So the conclusion is that “your specimen is a mere variant of P. pusillum“.

However, Mikael stressed that “because of the external variation, the taxon&hellip ... read the rest