Friday, May 14, 2021

Sand stretch far away

I had a day off this week to do some jobs but also decided on a nice long walk to clear the cobwebs and get some exercise. One of the joys of middle age is sciatica and a good dose of exercise helps with keeping it under control. So I headed northwards towards the coast and struck out along the paths through the dunes, saltmarsh and beach between Thornham and Brancaster.

The weather was glorious and I deployed the baseball cap to avoid sunburn as I walked along checking for beetles in amongst the dunes. All the usual suspects were there including Phylan gibbus and Aegialia arenaria.

There were also lots of Philopedon plagiatum plodding along the sand or sat on vegetation.

I walked back along the beach looking under the tideline debris at various points, hoping to find some staphs but there was very little there. The most common stuff was Sitona lineatus and Oulema sp., presumably blown from further inland. Under one pile something different caught my eye and I managed to grab and pot it before it managed to burrow back into the sand. A quick look with the hand lens and I could see it was a male Bledius and one of the ones with the impressive pronotal jewelry!

Look at the pronotal horn on that!

It turned out to be Bledius spectabilis and is a species I've wanted to see every since seeing its image in the Lott guide. I've no idea what the horn is for but only the males have it. A spectacular looking beast.

I then decided to take a look at some of the salt marsh that lines some of this coastline to see if I could find any carbids kicking about. It was hard work and resulted in very little of interest.

I then spotted this old towel that some one had left to slowly die and gave it a lift to see what was underneath. Loads of carabids, that's what, all taking shelter under this piece of rotting cloth. Amazing.

There were a couple of species of Amara, Bembidion, Pogonus chalceus, Philonthus cognatus plus a whole new carabid species for me. Dicheirotrichus obsoletus.

Deciding that lifting bits of rubbish was obviously the way to find beetles I then found another piece of material alongside one of the creeks that riddle this area. More Amara plus this Broscus cephalotes, lurking waiting to take a careless child's leg off.

I decided to head inland and stop somewhere on my way home and decided to visit Ringstead Downs, somewhere I'd never actually been before. Parking the car and starting the walk in I was met with a trail of death and destruction.

Here, hare, here

In the warmth of the day there were loads of all the usual carrion and clown beetles plus a healthy selection of staphs and others. I had remembered to bring some gloves with me and so was able to have a proper rummage around inside and get a proper look at what was feasting on these remains. I also potted some Aleochora for further study. There was a new carrion beetle for me though in the form of Thanatophilus sinuatus aka the Smooth Death-lover.

Here it is on the right in a comparison shot with T rugosus. You can see the lack of wrinkles around the edges of the elytra and also the small notch at the shoulder that distinguish this one for its close relative. It is also appears hairier underneath.

Having only seen my first a couple of months ago I also stumbled upon a fair few Black Oil-beetles as I walked the paths including this rather fat female who I guess was just about ready to lay her eggs.

All in all a pretty good trip out and nice to see the insect life emerging after the end of the dry spell. Just need it to get a couple of degrees warmer and we'll be away. 

The blog title is a nod to this mighty song with its accompanying video of 80s pomp. I wonder what the Jordanians made of Particia Morrision!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

It would sparkle like a jewel

It's almost hawthorn time. 

I spent the darkest days of the winter dreaming of the warmer, longer days, the flowering hawthorn and me and my upside down umbrella and a big stick. It isn't quite here yet, but I have managed to find the odd branch on the cusp, to get an early fix.

Beating some earlier in the week gave up 4 or 5 of these amazing small wasps. I have to admit that I initially potted one as I thought it was a soldierfly but under the microscope I was pretty sure it was a wasp.

This shows the 3 ocelli on the top of the head

I really had no idea where to start so stuck it up on Twitter and Facebook asking for some pointers. Both quickly gave convergent answers. This is a chalcid wasp in the genus Perilampus.  I found an out of print Ent.Soc key and was pleased to find there were only five species to chose from.

These are hyperparasites, meaning that they parasitise other parasites. Some of this genus have been found on ichneumons and tachinids. Pretty fascinating stuff when you start reading about their life history.

So which species have I got?

I really can't work it out. I have eliminated one species which leaves me with 4 but beyond that I'm stuck. No confidence that I'm taking the right steps through the key. I suspect that this needs to be seen by someone who knows what they are doing!

The post title reference comes from Cranes, one of my favourite bands in the early 90s, I loved their mix of heavier guitars and ethereal voice plus I had a massive crush on the singer.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Circle in the sand

A tea time dash across the border into Suffolk had me on my hands and knees again looking under countless rosettes of Common Storks-bill. Lifting each with a fork or pen knife to peer beneath for a particular beetle.

There were a phenomenal number of ants and every leaf lift seemed to scatter 10s of the things which meant I took a few attempts at getting my eye in to spot the non-ants. I found more Cardiophorus asellus plus Harpalus anxius and Amara aenea before spotting something I didn't immediately recognise.

I brought this one home with me to have a closer look as it was only 1.5mm in size, a really tiny beetle. It turns out to be a new histerid for me, Kissister minimus. A rather smart looking albeit minute beetle.

After peering under a fair few rosettes I eventually spotted something sitting very still on the sandy ground looking very much like it was trying to pretend I wasn't there. I had found my quarry, the rather large weevil Hypera dauci. At a smidge over 6mm this is one of the larger weevils I've encountered.

I thought that these amazing looking weevils were a Breckland specialty but a look at the NBN map shows that they have a rather split UK distribution, with coastal Welsh populations too. I assume Storks-bill and sandy, dry soils are a prerequisite though.

Having looked for these a few times previously it was rather pleasing to finally find a couple and I will now see if I can find them this side of the border at a couple of possible sites in Cambridgshire. 

A rather apt post title inspiration from the mighty Belinda Carlisle from a time before the massive coke addiction took hold!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Breckland beetles

I've managed a couple of small trips into Suffolk Breckland over the last couple of weekends. The first was a moth trapping trip which yielded only a few moths, although there was a lifer in the form of Great Prominent. There were also a few night time beetles including this new carabid, the incredibly leggy Leistus ferrugineus.

This weekend I visited a couple of sites around Lakenheath and spent a pleasant hour or two on my hands and knees grubbing around under rabbit-cropped vegetation looking for ground beetles and weevils.

The ground is very sandy with a fair amount of slightly larger pebbels and is continually disturbed by rabbits and a fair number of dog walkers judging by the amount of dog shit I had to contend with.

I was using a fork to lift up the plant rosettes that hug the ground, in order to spot any beetles that might be hiding underneath . I think the most numerous beetle was the click beetle, Cardiophorus asellus. They seemed to be present under most of the larger patches of vegetation and larger stones. This is a species that I've only ever seen once before, at the Lodge RSPB reserve. I was initially excited to see one again before rapidly finding them everywhere I looked! Still a nice beetle to see and a family that has rapidly grown on me having initially dismissed them.

I did manage to find a few new species but numbers of individuals weren't large plus I dipped on my main target of Hypera dauci, so will have to keep looking for that particular weevil.

Cassida prasina - only just reaching 5mm 

Ablattaria laevigata

Harpalus pumius - the smallest in this genus at 5mm

Strophosoma faber - has bristle like erect scales and an incomplete eye ridge

Melanimon tibialis - Always love to see a new tenebrioid!

The ground was so unbelievably dry so it's a relief to have some rain turn up tonight and I do hope we get a half decent amount as my water butts are empty and my pond is very low indeed and could do with a top up.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Take me to church

It's all been a bit quiet again. I keep sieving my heaps and doing the odd bit of suction sampling but natural history has been confined to the garden of late so there's been nothing much to blog about. 

In an effort to do something ever so slightly different today, I went to church for my lunchtime walk. However, I didn't venture inside but had a wander round the small graveyard to look for any inverts that might be trying to warm themselves in the sun. The air was cool but in the many sheltered sunny spots the temperatures were fairly decent.

The back of the churchyard is overrun with both Ground elder and Alexanders and the latter, just coming into flower, was home to several species of ladybird

There were a handful of Cream spots warming themselves in the sun

I reckon there were upwards of 100 of these 7 spots scattered over quite a small area

And a couple of Pine Ladybird + a single Harlequin.

I also found this very cool looking moth resting on the back of a bench. It's an eriocraniid and I think only a couple of species are doable from photos and pretty sure this isn't one of them. The slightly purplish tinge to the wing is an artifact from the TG6's photo stacking, rather than the moth's actual coloring.

There were a large number of flies loafing about on gravestones and so I employed my poor net skills to pot a couple for further examination. I took a couple of metallic green looking ones hoping that they would be calliphorids and therefore there would be an excuse to use the new key that arrived a few weeks ago.

However, it wasn't to be and I quickly worked out that they were in fact both muscids and so posted them on the Diptera FB group hoping to get confirmation that I was in the right ball park and get some help locating a key. I was given an ID of Eudasyphora cyanella and I then managed to locate a key. In fact it turns out Mike Hackston (he of the oft used free online beetle keys) has also done a whole load of diptera keys. Result. And good to know.

Monday, April 12, 2021

But I'm on fire when he's so cold

Crikey, it's cold at the moment. Heavy frost in the garden this morning and not much insect life about until later on and even then... 

The last few days haven't afforded much natural history and so I have been resorting to some reference collection maintenance and cataloging. I recently bought a printer and so am in the process of sorting out new fancy labels for my specimens, and also re-carding some beetles that are on tiny cards,. Could take a while.

Despite the sub zero temperatures I did however get a new beetle today. A neighbour texted to say they had found some weevils in some old flour and was I interested in seeing them? I popped over to have a look and found a reasonable number of these small beetles having a fine old time in some Tesco's flour.

They are Tribolium castaneum aka Red Flour Beetles, probably one of the most widely distributed stored product pest species in the world. Dependent on warmed human habitation I don't think they can survive in the wild in the UK. There aren't huge numbers of records on NBN or iRecord but suspect that's just a case of being under recorded rather than any comment on their rarity.

And pleasingly another one seen from my second favourite beetle family, the Tenebrionidae.

The post title inspiration is double linked, once through the lyrics used as a title and also a more tenuous one, but suspect Seth or Skev will easily clock it...

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A larval tick and half a beetle

Whilst out and about today I decided to check some fallen poplar timber for a rather odd beetle, the very flat histerid Hololepta plana. First recorded from the UK in 2009 from several individuals found in Norfolk, this species has since spread widely in the south-east of England. It's been found in Ely and other places nearby so thought it was worth a shout.

Unfortunately I didn't find it but I did find two of these...

Basically the middle section of the beetle I was after. So it's a biological record (which is obviously good) but I had hoped to see one of these in the flesh. But at least I know they are in the vicinity. Plus there were lots of the lovely Bitoma crenata to look at

My new beetle of the day came in the form of a long-expected larval tick under some weathered bark of a standing poplar tree. My first Cobweb beetles Ctesias serra

These distinctive larvae feed on insect remains in spiders webs and the long hairs apparently help defend against attack from spiders. The adult beetles are rarely recorded but I wonder how easy it would be to keep and raise the larvae at home. Could easily find dead insects, I guess it would be getting the other bits right that might prove tricky.