Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Three new bugs

A trip into Suffolk today was hard work. The change in weather and cooler temperatures meant that beetles were few and far between. Sheep dung ended up being the most productive with five species of Aphodius beetle.

To compensate I found three species of hemiptera that were new for me. There were lots more that were almost certainly new for me but I decided not to collect any of the myriad groundbugs that the suction sampler was pulling from the heath.

First up was this brute which I think is Alydus calcaratus, the sole UK representative of the Alydidae. The larvae apparently look a bit like ants. 

Second was this Rhombic Leatherbug Syromastus rhombeus. A species that I think is spreading northwards a bit.

Finally, this tiny lacebug which I think is Acalypta parvula. A really rather lovely looking thing with the most amazingly sculptured body. Would love to know why!

Friday, October 8, 2021


I ran both traps last night as the temperature didn't dip below 15 or 16 all night. There were 22 species of moth in the trap this morning plus a couple of Acossus rufipes

Highlight of the catch was a Gem Nycterosea obstipata, which was a new species for the garden and a species I've only seen once before, at the RSPB The Lodge under a security light in October 2018. 

Blogging has taken a bit of a back seat recently. I'm still going through all the beetle samples from this year and will try and get round to posting some of the highlights.

Everyone else's blog seems to either be on permanent hiatus or that late Autumn lull before year end summary and new year hopes and dreams. Anyway, hope everyone's OK....

Sunday, September 26, 2021

And the animals I've trapped

I've not managed a day out beetling for a couple of months and was starting to get withdrawal symptoms. The garden compost heaps and light traps haven't been delivering much beyond the usual suspects and so the opportunity this week to visit a Breckland site in north Suffolk was too good to miss. 

Wednesday was really warm and sunny and I stupidly hadn't packed any sunscreen. Who needs that in late September, I said to myself whilst packing my gear. I did have a hat which averted the worst effects but by the end of the day I certainly felt that I had overdone it on 'the rays'.   

The site was a mixture of habitats. Some typical grazed and rabbit strewn Breckland heath with areas of different ages and vegetation type. The numerous large stones meant lots of crawling around on hands and knees and flipping these over in order to spy the carabids associated with this habitat. The vacuum sampler also got an outing and was employed frequently, delivering the best beetle of the day. There was also some water features, which whilst mainly steeped banked (and so less good for beetles) did have the occasional less steep, sandy margin which provided a few wetland beetles.

It was reasonably hard going at the total list won't be massive but there were numbers of ground beetles, 3 or 4 species of Calathus (need to check the melanocephalus/cinctus to be doubly sure).  Calathus ambiguus was a new species for me and I initially mis-IDd thus as C. mollis but the shape of the pronotum is different with sharper corners and a straighter hind edge.  

I was pleased to see the ground beetle-like tenebrioid Crypticus quisquilius againI've only recorded this once before from a site in coastal Essex back in 2016.

There were lots of Harpalus pumilus hiding under the stones in areas with more bare ground and less developed vegetation. I must have found 15-20 of these during the course of the day, easily identified in the field on their small size and pale appendages.

Another new species for me was the weevil Trachyphloeus scabriculus a rather scrutty looking thing with bent antenna and spatula-like erect scales on the elytra. Not hugely common but locally common in the Brecks and found at the base of plants.

The aforementioned sandy water margins yielded around ten individuals of the weird carabid Omophron limbatus after a bit of liberal water splashing. Only the second time I've encountered this species after first seeing them in Norfolk earlier in the year.

However, the best beetle of the day was found in a suction sample from assorted low lying Breckland plants. When I saw it crawling around the tray I was confused, as it looked similar to an Agrilus jewel-beetle but was really tiny. My memory said that the small buprestids, like Trachys were more rounded. I had forgotten there was a genus of small ones called Aphanisticus, comprising two UK species. This one was from the more common of the two, although still pretty uncommon, A. pusillus. It apparently feeds on Black Bog-rush Schoenus nigricans, although it wasn’t  found on that here. I've only seen two other species of jewel-beetle so it was nice to finally see another.

The post title link is to the final song from Nirvana's breakthrough album, Nevermind, which was released 30 years ago this week. Where has that gone? I vividly remember it coming out and someone bringing their copy into school on vinyl to play in the sixth form common room. Whilst never a huge fan, the album has stood the test of time and still gets the occasional play in the car, especially if the kids are with me... 

Monday, September 13, 2021

And I feel, so much depends on the weather

Just like Clifden Nonpareils, everyone seems to be recording Dewick's Plusia. Both have gone from being mysterious rarities, the things of south coast migration sites to almost common place in a very short time.

However, unlike a big blue beast I had yet to see a Dewick's Plusia. That is until I opened the trap this morning and there it was sat atop an egg carton in all its plush glory.

Like a tiny stealth bomber, come to feed on yer nettles.

In a more 'traditional' pose, with its bumps all showing

I suspect it will be the first of many but I doubt I'll ever get bored of them. I wonder what the next 'winner' species is going to be...... Answers on a postcard.

Post title link comes from Stone Temple Pilots, 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Some new staphs

Crikey, September. How did that happen? The weather has turned distinctly autumnal too. Blogging has taken a bit of a back seat as other stuff keeps getting in the way.

I just wanted to post some of the new (for me) staphs that I have encountered over the last couple of months from a variety of different places.

To start with are a couple of species that I found in rotting detritus at the edge of Slapton Ley back in mid July.

First up this Paederus species, obvious from it coloring and small peg-like ends to the maxillary palps.

First bit of the key gets you to look at the hind tibia and whether the the dark area extends from the joint to about a third of the way down as opposed to being absent or present as a distinct patch. This individual had the more extensive dark area, in fact the whole tibia is pretty dark, only being ever so slightly lighter in the last third.

The next couplet compares the length and breadth of the elytra compared to the pronotum, either much linger and wider or only just so. Looking at the first image I would say that they are both obviously longer and wider. This takes you to P. fuscipes.

Luckily I had a male so was able to whip out the aedeagus to confirm

 The slightly asymmetrical aedeagus tallies and has the parameres differing slightly in length. This seems to be mainly a coastal species mainly in the south west which is why I guess I haven't encountered it before.

Next up was a species of Philonthus

Counting the pronotal punctures and then comparing the aedeagus had me confused. There were 5 pronotal punctures but none of the diagrams in Lott matched. I then looked at other groups of Philonthus and still nothing seemed to match. I soon got some help on Twitter. The obvious backward pointing apex of the median lobe is diagnostic of Philonthus umbratilis but is only mentioned in the text rather than illustrated. (Note to self to read more of the species descriptions in future). This species is only supposed to have 4 punctures but my specimen seems to have an extra one towards the back back of the pronotum. Looking at the rather good Devon Beetles list online it would seem to be the first record for the county since 1979.

Another day in Devon and another new Philonthus species. This was found in numbers under horse dung and I didn't even need to key it out to put a name to it. Not often I can say that about a staph. The rather lovely P. marginatus, easily identifiable by the pale sides to the pronotum.

A couple more Devon beetles but this time both from the genus Aleochara, both from under rotting seaweed and both looking a little different from the other members of this genus I more regularly encounter.

Firstly there was Aleochara obscurella. As mentioned it didn't stand out as an Aleochara and I failed to run it through the key to genus, so ended up picture matching the aedeagus which was really distinct with what looked like a 'cock and balls' attached, but I can attest that it isn't described that way in the literature! 

Am I just seeing things?

Once I had worked out the above was a Aleochara, the next one fell much more easily into place and was the more commonly encountered (I think) A. grisea. I had collected a few individuals of each species so as to maximise the chances of getting a male and all the grisea were noticeably smaller than the obscurella

The next species was a by-product of some tidying. Over the last couple of years Pellitory-of-the-wall seems to have become the default plant of pavement cracks and unattended brickwork in our village. It's everywhere. It really gets into the mortar and so I was clearing it from the front of the house when a tiny staph popped out and made a run for it. Luckily I had a pot to hand. Turned out to be Sunius melanocephalus and the second of this genus to be found in the garden. 

Finally, for now. One more species of Philonthus. This one was found last weekend during a family walk in North Norfolk. I had stopped to poke at some cow dung much to everyone's annoyance and grabbed a single Philonthus, fully expecting it to be one of the common ones, but no. I was faced with a asymmetric paramere which nicely matched the images both in the book and online of P. parvicornis. Not too many records on NBN and according to the book - 'habitat uncertain'. Not now it's not. This one was hunting in cow shit!!

Still my favourite beetle family by a country mile. Lucky that's there are so many more to see!

Monday, August 23, 2021

A caddis interlude

A couple of months ago I picked up a copy of the RES's The Adult Trichoptera (Caddisflies) of Britain and Ireland, as I get a fair few caddis to light each year and I reckoned I should probably start having a crack at IDing some of the less easy species and put some dots on the map.

It arrived, I flicked through it and then on the shelf it went. However, last week I decided to have a crack at one of the low hanging fruit and look a little more closely at the all dark Mystacides species. These turn up in numbers to my garden light traps in August but are less numerous than M. longicornis. There are two possible species M. azurea and M. nigra, best distinguished by looking at the rear end. 


A quick comparison with the book showed that I had a female M. azurea wich was always going to be the most likely candidate as I think it's the most widespread and common of the two species.

Other recent species of interest to the MV trap were a new species for the garden in the form of a Crescent Helotropha leucostigma, which feeds on marshland plants such as yellow flag. A few have turned up locally recently so possibly a species having a good year round here.

A Hypera zoilus also appeared at the trap and seems to appear around this time each year to light. Usually only see it once by this method and then nothing until the following year so assuming these must fly in and aren't actually present in the garden as I never find them by sweeping or suction sampling.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Stay here and listen to the nightmares of the sea

Crikey. It's easy to lose track of time. You take a deep breath and then suddenly 3 weeks have passed since your last post. To be fair things have been busy with trying to entertain holidaying kids in between work plus the weather here has been mostly 'Meh'. It now looks like one of those hot summer evenings with its accompanying beetles is off the menu for this year.

I've also been pondering why I post stuff on here. It's certainly not for the views or comments (and of both there are very few). I think it is more of a record for myself of the the stuff I get up to and see whilst exploring my little corner of natural history. For me it takes the place of the traditional notebook. I have a love/hate relationship with notebooks. Few things excite me more than a brand, spanking new quality notebook (Alwych are my brand of choice), as I plan all the amazingly detailed notes that I will take. But I very soon descend into scrappy, scruffy, short form and eventually just an incomplete list of stuff. The self loathing then kicks in. I usually get through about half a notebook before giving up, getting a new one and starting the whole process again. In 40 years of notebooks I never seem to learn. 

It's probably something to do with a very short attention span. I think that's why I quite like this medium as a matter of record. Suits my brain. I can post something short and sometimes sweet. It's recorded and then I can move on.

Anyway, that being said I will do 2 or 3 quick short posts catching up on some of the natural history highlights of the past few weeks, then it's there and I can look back at it at some point as my digital semi-notebook.

Last week I was visiting ageing relatives in East Yorkshire and whilst there the Black-browed Albatross that had been gracing RSPB Bempton with its presence decided to return. I haven't really ever done much twitching, however as it was only 30 mins away a last minute decision on my final morning found me cliff side only to be told that it had left 20 minutes before. Luckily, after an hour  it was refound sitting immediately below us and viewable about 150 metres from the main gannet colony.

Here it is in all its glory!

It is in there. Honest!

I could see it well enough to ID it (although not enough to separate it from a Campbell's Albatross) through my bins and one of the other birders let me have a squizz through his scope. It was a UK tick for me (my second avian one of the year), having seen them before in Australia and South America.

Here's an only slightly better pic of one from the Beagle Channel in 2006 whilst on my honeymoon!

Giddy with my success I went a bit further south along the coast to meet up with family for a spot of fossil hunting at the soft cliffs of Mappleton. The clay here is a glacial erratic, dumped here during previous ice ages and containing thousands of small Devonian fossils that were originally formed elsewhere and have ended up embedded in clay in East Yorkshire. Each high tide erodes more cliff and it frequently falls revealing more fossils as the tide retreats. We found a few interesting bits including a small ammonite partially covered in Fool's Gold.  

East Yorkshire or the opening sequence of the film Inception.

I hadn't visited for a while and had been hopeful of a few beetles but there is a distinct lack of water seeps on this section of coast and so beetles were confined to a thin section of vegetated sand around the protected area of beach.

There wasn't too much to write home about but I did record Calathus mollis for the second time and looking at the maps it seems to be the first time it's been recorded between Bridlington and Spurn.

At 7mm this was a small individual and I initially thought it might be another species. 

However, the pronotum shape was pretty typical and more transverse than similar species.

The keys don't always convey the extent of the hook on the right paramere, compared with C. micropterus

...but the aedeagus is more elongate in mollis

The post title link is to this classic from Iron Maiden. Never a big metal or indeed Maiden fan I am however a fan of the album, Live after Death which I was bought on a whim for Christmas 1985 and have remained fond of ever since. Although Bruce D's Brexit championing and subsequent realisation of the effects for live music has somewhat dulled that fondness...