For those who don’t follow The Ponking Chronicles, “ponking” is what Wil Heeney and John Lamin do when they go out in the field trying to identify as much wildlife as they can across all the groups. I met Wil and John through facebook and last Sunday I drove up to Lincolnshire to meet them in person, having been invited to come and look for an extremely rare beetle. I also got to meet Rowan Alder for the first time, another fellow coleopterist and pan-species lister.
I wasn’t actually blind-folded but after weaving through the country lanes of Lincs behind John’s car, I’m not really sure where we ended up. I was taken to the tree – a single standing dead oak of no more than 6 inches in diameter, shaded out by surrounding oaks and larches in a bit of ancient woodland that was cleared and replanted in 1959. It really doesn’t look like a very special place but it is one of only two modern localities for Platydema violaceum, a violet-coloured darkling beetle. We didn’t find it on this first tree but we did find one on the third tree we checked and it is a stonker!
There may only be three suitable trees in this bit of wood – I certainly didn’t see any others. And finding Platydema requires pulling bark off so it would be all too easy to destroy a significant proportion of the habitat. So if you want to see this beetle for yourself, and you do, you need to find your own somewhere else. Look under very loose bark, curling away from the trunk&hellip ... read the rest
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&hellip ... read the rest
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.
&hellip ... read the rest
Common mistakes of the newbie naturalist, and how to avoid them! Test yourself: there are six common mistakes listed here. How many did you already know about?
1. This is a scientific name: Homo sapiens. Loads of people would call it a “Latin name” and many scientific names are derived from Latin. However, because scientific names may be derived from other languages both ancient (Greek, Sanskrit) and modern, then you are showing your ignorance by calling them Latin names.
2. A scientific name has two words, e.g. Pterostichus madidus. The first word is the name of the genus, Pterostichus in this case, and the second word is the specific name, madidus in this case. The generic name is always spelt with an initial capital letter, and the specific name is never spelt with a capital letter. Ok, so the rules were different a long time ago but specific names are never spelt with a capital letter nowadays. Journalists, for some unfathomable reason, will routinely capitalise all the specific names in any article!
3. If you are the sort of person who likes to insert foreign words into your writing, to add a certain je ne sais quoi, then you may be familiar with the convention of italicising foreign-language words. When writing names, only names of genus rank and below are considered to be foreign-language words and italicised: thus Amniota, Diapsida, Archosauromorpha, Archosauria, Dinosauria, Theropoda, Coelurosauria, Tyrannosauroidea, Tyrannosauridae, Tyrannosaurinae: Tyrannosaurus rex. Italicising names other than genus, subgenus, species, subspecies (and other infraspecific taxa like varieties) is probably the single best way to get the experts to snigger at you!
4. The names of taxonomic groups of genus-level rank and above should be given an initial capital letter. So one of the commonest British beetles is Amischa analis,&hellip ... read the rest
What on earth are these invertebrates?!? I haven’t got a clue – a situation which is exciting and frustrating in equal measures!
I found four specimens on Wednesday from a wetland site on the edge of Pevensey Levels, East Sussex. I didn’t see any in the field but started noticing them as I was identifying my beetle specimens. The first was loose in a tube with two Datonychus melanostictus and I assumed it was bycatch, rather than a parasite of the weevils. But I then found one attached by its mouthparts to the mid-femur of a Protapion fulvipes, and two more attached to the hind femur of a Sitona lepidus.
I don’t think these things can be common or I’d have noticed them before. Maybe I’ve seen them before with eyes blinkered to all but beetles and just disregarded them? For the time being I will call them Weevil-thigh Lice. I would dearly like to give them a scientific name and unlock whatever knowledge exists about them. But the only way I can think to go about identifying them is to stick the photos up here and ask – do you know what they are?
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.
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&hellip ... read the rest
Jeremy Richardson found a very striking longhorn beetle on Hackney Marsh on Wednesday and identified it as Stictoleptura cordigera, apparently new to Britain. Jeremy emailed me his photos and I was able to offer my agreement with his identification the next morning. I suggested it might make a good day out for Bradley and I on Monday and we arranged to meet up. News came in from Max Barclay at the Natural History Museum that a single S. cordigera had been recorded in “July 2007, collected by Les Wilson on thistles in Hackney Wick”. What had looked like a one-off imported individual at the time, now looks more like the fore-runner of an established population.
I hadn’t given us more than a 50:50 chance of seeing S. cordigera, so I was delighted to lay eyes on it, especially after a long and gruelling journey backpacking Bradley into London on the train. In the end we saw at least four, probably six. But as if that wasn’t enough, the same thistle patch yielded another totally unfamiliar longhorn beetle, which Jeremy instantly recognised as Paracorymbia fulva!
Another of Jeremy’s discoveries at this site is the stunning fly Myennis octopunctata. I’d drooled over his photos in Dipterist’s Digest last year so when Jeremy said he could show me some on a nearby stack of poplar logs, I was buzzing. And there they were! In life, they almost seem to be mimicking Salticus jumping-spiders. I had three more ticks on the same pile of logs: the groundbug Rhyparochromus vulgaris, the&hellip ... read the rest
“I will be lurking around the Cassiobury Park entrance at ten thirty. I will be able to stay until midnight which should be plenty of time.
I had never met Dave Murray of the Watford Coleoptera Group before. He has been working Cassiobury Park and Whippendell Woods for beetles for several years and, as I found out on Friday night, knows the place and its beetles like the back of his hand. After meeting up at the appointed lurking place, Dave took me straight to a lime snag in the Park, I flicked my headtorch on and there was Uloma culinaris!
Uloma is a smart, polished mahogany beetle that the WCG discovered and is still only known from Watford, and from an old record by G.B. Alexander: “Bushy Hall, in rotton wood, 20.vii.1950″. We saw at least six individuals, all on this one trunk, along with a few other saproxylic beetles: loads of Endomychus coccineus (Endomychidae), 1 Triplax aenea, 1 Dacne bipustulata (both Erotylidae) and a few Lesser Stags Dorcus parallelepipedus (Lucanidae). Uloma culinaris is not regarded as a native species, at least not by Alexander et al. (2014). I can’t really disagree, except that it would be nice to think that Uloma has been lurking in the darkness on Watford’s ancient trees since way back, until Dave and co. shone a light on it.
Achopera alternata is another startling discovery by the WCG. It’s an Australian weevil, certainly not native to Britain that was first found at Erddig in Wales by John Bratton (see Beetle News of May 2012). Rowan Alder made an online discovery of a second Welsh locality (apparently photographed somewhere near Llangollen). But the place to see this&hellip ... read the rest
This grasshopper has climbed to the top of a Wild Carrot stem, then hugged it tight with all six legs and waited to die. Grasshoppers never normally do that but this one was zombified by a fungus: Entomophaga grylli. Once infected, the fungus somehow made it climb and cling before killing it in a nice high spot from which it could disperse its spores. The fungus fruits from between the segments of the insect and in this photo, the fruiting is over and the fungus isn’t very obvious. But the position and pose of the grasshopper is diagnostic. And as far as I know, E. grylli is the only entomophagous fungus that infects British Orthoptera.
I saw this a lot when I was doing my PhD on Chorthippus brunneus so I’m pretty sure this is a common fungus. However, officially there are only 5 British records but I think it is just massively under-recorded: http://www.fieldmycology.net/FRDBI/FRDBIrecord.asp?intGBNum=47709
I still think this is one of the most fascinating biological interactions I’ve ever heard of. How does the fungus get the grasshopper to do that, when it is not even something in the normal behavioural repertoire of grasshoppers? Imagine if there were human infections which could change our behaviour like that …
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.
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.
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