Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Who's your favourite beetle?

John, Paul, George or the funny one on drums?

Well after a couple of weeks in the south of France I think I can say so far it's Rosalia alpina, the Alpine longhorn beetle.

It all began when I had suggested to my 8 year old at the beginning of this particular walk that the beech and turkey oak forest that we were in might hold a particularly cool beetle. An hour late and I heard the words, "Dad what's that longhorn beetle?" as something flew in and crash landed on my arm.

What a beetle. 

It crawled around me for a bit before I put it on the ground (see crap video below)

I managed a few other longhorns during the trip too. Most just ended up flying into me whilst I was relaxing with a glass of wine. Wish beetling was that easy in the UK!

The weird Spondylis buprestoides which I initially couldn't even get to family

A road casualty Cerambyx species. Not sure which

Ergates faber
Chlorophorus glabromaculatus 

A female Monochamus galloprovincialis 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Moth-ing else matters

A recent post by fellow village moth-er, David had me almost running one evening to a small patch of Field Scabious along a footpath next to the drainage ditch that runs along our village.

The quarry was Nemophora metallica aka the Brassy Longhorn. I could only find a lone male sat atop one of the flowers, but what a moth! The larvae feed at first on seeds and later on leaves or leaf-litter, mainly of Field Scabious. 

There don't appear to be many records nearby so a good one to connect with and one to keep an eye out for in future years.

In other moth news, Short-cloaked Moth Nola cucullatella was a new species for the garden this week. One of those species that I can't believe I haven't recorded before. And then three turn up all on the same nigh!

In celebration of the Brassy Longhorn's specific name, here's a bit of a metal band exploring its slightly softer side and channeling a tiny bit of Stairway to Heaven.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Beetle bycatch

These days one of the best bits of moth trapping for me is the beetle bycatch. The summer months often turn up several species and some of these in good numbers. No two nights are the same and you soon realise that some beetle species seem to disperse, emerge or breed either under very specific conditions or over very small time frames.

A good recent example was from the moth trapping session at Wicken Fen mentioned in the last post. A couple of hour after sunset several pairs (and it did appear to be pairs) of small carabids began turning up at the traps.

I didn't immediately recognise them and assumed they were probably an Agonum species. I hadn't looked properly at the jaws. They have massive jaws.

They are in fact a Badister species and it was soon obvious that they were one of the dilatatus/collaris/peltatus trio. But which one? I'd assumed it would be the commoner dilatatus which I've recorded at Wicken before during the winter. I dissected a male and admittedly struggled a bit to clean the aedagus up, but it was then pointed out that the beetle was Badister collaris.

This appears to be a new species for VC29 and presumably for Wicken although others may have found it and the records haven't yet made it to recording schemes. It's a species that has been steadily moving northwards and so isn't an unexpected find. Assuming all the Badisters that evening were the same species then there were 10s of individuals around the traps.

The other new beetle that turned up was the rather lovely Phyllobrotica quadrimaculata, a chrysomelid and one that apparently feeds on skullcap.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Metal ingots and fenland felines

A couple of Sundays ago I and fellow moth-er Bill took a trip to Wicken Fen for a spot of trapping.

Armed with 3 mercury vapour Robinson traps we tried our luck in 2 different bits of habitat. One trap was in a bit of the woodland boardwalk section and the other two on the edge of a fen field.

The moth I really wanted to see turned up relatively quickly.

The rather lovely Silver Barred Deltote bankiana. This is a really restricted species, being found on Chippenham Fen and Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire.  There is also a colony in Sandwich, Kent, with another colony near Dover. It apparently feeds on Purple Moor-grass and Smooth Meadow-grass.

The other species I was there to see turned up too. Reed Leopard Phragmataecia castaneae another predominantly East Anglian specialty. These are quite odd looking moths with the abdomen extending beyond the wings and looking almost larval-like.

Another new moth was the rather lovely Cosmopterix scribaiella. My night time photography skills just don't do it justice! It was only discovered in the UK in 1996 and is restricted to the fens and a stretch of the south coast.

There were a good selection of other moths plus some beetles (see next post). Our list wasn't exhaustive as in the end we had to give up on trickier micros so that we could get home for some sleep before work!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Blue Sunday

Regular readers of this blog (and from the stats this appears to be an oxymoron) may remember that last year I unsuccessfully looked for the histerid, Saprinus viridescens. Well today I found one under a mat of Knotgrass, along the edge of an arable field about 5 miles from my home in Cambridgeshire.

This beetle was busy munching its way through the attendant Gastrophysa polygoni beetles, supposedly one of its main prey species. I only found a single beetle in 30 minutes of searching but suspect that it's only just appearing now.

They look much bluer in real life and really catch the eye when you see one.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


I love an island, me. Absolutely love them. I'm talking about smallish ones mind, not whopping big ones like the UK or even Australia, which is probably so big that it ceases to be an island in the traditional sense.

I like the feeling of being away from things, of being 'cut off' from most of the rest of you. There's just something a wee bit magical about sitting on the seashore watching the waves lap and knowing that you're pretty much on your own. I've been lucky enough to visit lots of islands over the years and even managed a 3 month stint on the Seychelles island of Cousin in the late 90s, studying birds and racing giant tortoises. Happy days.

Anyway why this lengthy preamble? Well I recently got to spend a week on the west coast Scottish island of Shuna. Where, I here you cry, is Shuna?

Red circle marks the spot. Isle of Mull to the north west and Jura to the south-west.
It was supposed to be a back to basics week for the family with some healthy walks and some sea kayaking, all of which we participated in but it was also an excuse to look at wildlife.

Best of all were stunning views of otters. Down to five metres in some cases. There was an adult with a pup that swam past the cottage each day and that were reasonably curious if you sat still. We watched them fishing and playing. A real joy to watch.

The island still has a lot of forest cover made up mainly of birch and oak, and when the sun was out it was glorious.

We did a wee bit of rockpooling at low tides and the best for me was a new species of starfish, Ophiocomina nigra.

Black brittlestar (Ophiocomina nigra) I think
 It was also nice to reacquaint myself with a few plants that I haven't seen for a while...
Butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris
Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia
...and others that I can't believe I hadn't seen or recorded before.
Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica
Beetle-wise, there were a couple of species that I was really chuffed to finally catch up with.
The first was the staph Dianous coerulescens, known (by me) as the waterfall rove beetle. Closely related to the genus Stenus, it shares that groups large eyes and distinctive shape, the main difference being the length of the temples (back of head, behind the eyes). It is found in the moss and vegetation next to water falls and that is exactly where I found mine. They were moving in and out of the moss in the splash zone, presumably looking for prey.

According to the NBN website there are only four records from Scotland and I suspect that it's just woefully out of date, as opposed my having found a rare species.
Map of Dianous coerulescens records
The second beetle was the shoreline carabid Aepus marinus. This one of two species of Aepus found around UK shores. This particular species lives under flat bottomed stones part-embedded in sand or fine gravel a little way below high water mark. This substrate means there are small air pockets that beetles can survive in when submerged by the rising tide. It's a pretty extreme habitat for a carabid so respect to them for going there. The other species, robinii seems to favour silt filled gaps in between stones, possibly even further down the beach. Many thanks to Seth for the info on habitat.

[EDIT: it's been pointed out that this is in fact robinii not marinus!! Seems like these didn't read the memo on habitat]

They are tiny, strange looking things but I'm pleased to have seen one after looking unsuccessfully in a few places.

All in all it was a great week, and would thoroughly recommend a visit.
Here's an appropriate track from the 80s from the mighty Mike Oldfield featuring a the ever-gravely-voiced Bonnie Tyler.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Two new ticks from the garden

It would be a lie to say that I've had mixed results with moth pheromone lures. Until this year I've never had any success at all except for a brief encounter with a Yellow-belted Clearwing down the bottom of the garden last year.

I now suspect that I may have had some duff lures as this year's new crop are performing much better. First up was the Emperor moth lure and recently I've been trying the others (with actual mixed results this time).

Yesterday, I tried putting out the CUL lure for Large Red-belted Clearwing and within 5 minutes had a clearwing come in and circle the lure. I netted and potted and the moth but when I looked at it more closely it was a Red-belted Clearwing, not it's larger cousin. God knows what will happen when I put out MYO lure for that species, might end up with a dodo....

Anyway, it was a new species for me and brilliant to finally get a good look at a clearwing.
A male Red-belted Clearwing

The other new species in the garden yesterday was one that I can't believe I haven't seen before, the pretty common, Malthodes minimus. One of the soldier beetles, it looks more like a parasitic wasp or fly on a cursory glance, with the wings and abdomen sticking out far beyond the tips of the elytra. Males of this genus are relatively straigtforward to key out if you examine the end sternites and tergites (final bottom and top bits of the abdomen).

Key to the genus available here