Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A quick trip to the heath

Yesterday, I was on child care duties and so I proposed a trip out to Cavenham Heath in Suffolk. Previous trips here with the kids had been a success as they enjoyed trying to catch grasshoppers in pots.

Yesterday's trip was much less of a success with #1 son being a fun sponge and #2 suffering from a cricked neck, so our trip was cut short to avoid excess arguments!

We did come across a couple of the beetle Trycocopris vernalis which is the second time I've seen it here.

More exciting were my first Beewolfs (or is it beewolves!) Philanthus triangulum. They were provisioning burrows with bees.

I also pootered what I assumed was going to be a Bembidion beetle but when I looked at it under the hand lens I could see it was a very small hemipteran. Turns out it's Plinthisus brevipennis a relatively common ground bug.

Just need a return trip either on my own or with more amenable children.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

White spot on Elm street

Have recently returned from an amazing 2 weeks in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain. Butterflies galore and dung with concentrations of beetles like you wouldn't believe!

Anyway, a trip out last night with fellow moth-er Bill to an isolated stand of old elms near Ely. Generally a quiet night but we did get three of our target moth to the light. 

White-spotted Pinion, a species that was massively impacted by Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s. A new one for me and a rather smart moth. Thanks to Bill for the pic.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A rather big surprise

Last Sunday I got up early to check the moth trap and was greeted with a rather unexpected sight....a Bedstraw Hawkmoth.

This was my 10th hawkmoth species for the garden and one that I'd not expected to see. I also thought I'd be trapping for years more before hawkmoth number 10 fell. But therein lies the wonder of mothing.

There had apparently been a small influx to various south and east coast locations. Even more surprising was that people even wanted to twitch the moth.... #fridgetick

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A first and second for the garden

Last night's overnight temperature didn't dip below 20 degrees so I put the MV moth trap. I was greeted at 4am to a sizeable haul of moths, many of which did a bunk as soon as I opened the trap. Such is the downside of warm nights.

300 moths of 70+ species but in amongst the usual suspects was the first Golden Plusia Polychrysia moneta for the garden and the second and third records of Lunar-spotted Pinion Cosmia pyralina.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A quick jaunt to the Gower

What seems like an age ago now but was in fact only a month past, the family and I managed a long weekend on the Gower peninsula.

I had not been to south Wales since an undergraduate field course to Pembrokeshire in 1995 so a return trip has been long over due.

My wife had work commitments in Swansea so we met up with her, picked her up and carried on to a cottage that we'd booked on Air B'n'B.

My main target for the weekend was to see the strandline beetle Eurynebria complanata. This is found on either side of the Bristol channel and during the day lives under tideline debris like drift wood and more recently, bits of plastic.

With a bit of gen from the Pan Listing Facebook group, we spent most of the first day visiting Whiteford sands. The weather was sunny but with a cool wind but basically absolutely gorgeous.

There was no one else around and we only saw 2 or 3 other people all day. We dumped our bags on the edge of the dunes and then started searching.

We quickly found a couple of Broscus cephalotes under a piece of wood. Interestingly these were the only ones we saw.  There were also plenty of staphs and what appeared to be Aphodius spp. too.

After about 10 mins we turned a log and were greeted with this sight.

In total we saw about 50 Eurynebria along a mile stretch of beach, under many of the bits of debris that were up near the high tide mark.

We also saw plenty of Dune Tiger beetles. What I noticed is that the sand has to be firmer with a higher number of small pebbles embedded for this species to occur. It's similar in Norfolk too. You can be wandering about looking for them in what seems like good habitat and you don't see any, but it just takes a small change in the substrate and suddenly they are everywhere.

There were loads of other goodies too. Some of which I'm still identifying.....

Onthophagus nuchicornis

Harpalus neglectus (left) and tarda (right)

Underside of Harpalus neglectus

Dicheirotrichus gustavii

Aphodius (Liothorax) plagiatus

Aegialia arenaria 

Cafius sp. (still not quite sure which!)

Pogunus chalceus

All in all everyone had a good day out and the weather held. I really want to get back for another visit to that part of the world ASAP!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jewel in the ....


A new family of beetle for me today, Buprestidae. The Jewel Beetles. A colleague noticed some of these beetles on a honeysuckle bush (correction: apparently snowberry) and took one for checking.
Turns out they are Agrilus cyanescens, an introduced species, I think from North America but do correct me if I'm wrong.

There were a fair few of these sat on leaves or flying around the honeysuckle this lunchtime. Very bluish when the sun hits their metallic exoskeleton.
Not too many records from the UK that I can see but apparently spreading quickly.
Despite being an alien they were rather lovely........

Monday, May 29, 2017

Assassin's Creed

I was out checking the moth trap last night. It was a very warm and muggy evening and there was lots of general insect activity. As I turned to come back in the house, a sudden movement from the wall of the house caught my eye.

It looked quite big and my first thought was that it was a longhorn beetle.

I potted it and soon realised it was a hemipteran (a true bug) with its piercing mouthparts.

A quick search revealed it to be Reduvius personatus, one of the Reduviidae otherwise known as Assassin Bugs. These are predominantly a tropical group of insects but there are 7 species that can be found in the UK.

Reduvius personatus is found around human habitation and feeds on a range of associated insects such as bedbugs, silverfish, booklice and flies.

Can't quite believe that I've never knowingly seen one before!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A new arrival...

This turned up in the post today

I have about 10 species of spiders on my list so this may go some way to inspire me to look a little more closely at some the easier ones to identify.

This book is good at pointing out the limitations of field ID of many/most species but it could help in getting to family or genus for many spiders that you'd potentially find.

Having said that I have enough on my plate trying to get to grips with beetles so I suspect this may only make brief appearances from the shelf over the coming months.

We will see. Looks very nice though.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What a difference a week makes...

I was recently chatting to a fellow beetler who reminded me of a section in the Coleopterists handbook about how to attract species of beetles that utilise the various stages of decaying carcasses. The idea implanted and I decided to have a go. What's the worse that could happen?

The perfect receptacle seemed to be an old Cambridgeshire Council recycling box filled up with about 4-5 inches of sand (courtesy of B&Q).

All I needed now was a body.....any body.

Over the following few days I came across lots of dead badgers and a couple of muntjac, all of which were just too big for the box. What a I really needed was a rabbit......

But just when I really needed one, rabbits at the perfect point of death were non existent. However fate was at hand as I drove to the tip one Saturday and saw what appeared to be a dead duck by the side of the road.

On the return trip (much to the embarrassment of my son) I stopped and examined the freshly dead female Mallard. The apparent victim of hit and run. In to the car she went and once home, she was lovingly placed on the bed of sand. 

I then covered the box with some plastic chicken wire and attached it firmly to the box to prevent any foxes or badgers making off with my hard won quarry!

All that was left to do was wait......

A week went by and the temperatures weren't too high. I went to check the duck which had now been christened 'Donald' despite the obvious sexual misnomer.

A few blowflies were on the carcass but when I turned it a small beetle tried to hide in the sand (what appears to be a histerid(?) but need some further work to ID). This was potted and the duck was returned to its resting state.

A week later (today) and on returning home after 3 rather lovely days on the Gower peninsula in south Wales (more on that later) I decided to check on 'Donald'.........

Wow, almost no flesh left and a writhing mass of thousands of maggots.

A bit of a more thorough investigation revealed 3 (possibly 4) species of staph which have now all been collected to put under the 'scope for IDing. Let's hope that goes better than some of my previous goes at staphs......

Just to give you the full immersive experience. Here's a short video (plus guest appearing staph)!!

Friday, May 5, 2017

A big pile of sh*t

Picture the scene, a family walk through the Suffolk Sandlings, Willow Warblers singing and the sun beating down on our heads (well that last bit is an exaggeration).

Suddenly there in the middle of the bridleway is a fresh, steaming pile of horse manure. What to do?

Grab a small stick and start poking about, that's what!

Quickly found this fella, a male Onthophagus similis. 

Before I could find much else there was the call of 'snake!' from the kids up ahead. So put the stick down and had to go marshall the viewing of an adder!

Alexanders the not so great

I spent last weekend in the glorious count of Suffolk. We were based a fair way inland but seemed to gravitate coastwards most days.

I took my actinic moth trap which proved pretty much a waste of time apart form a record of what surprisingly appears to be a lifer, Lunar Marbled Brown Drymonia ruficornis

I even had a go at identifying some plants (shock horror) as I've been really slack at recording these and consequently have no real idea of how many I've even seen in the UK.

By far the easiest was Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum an invasive member of the umbellifer family. It was on every road side verge as we walked near Orford and was attracting a fair number of flies and hovers. This plant apparently originates from the Canary Isles and is slowly spreading west and north as the climate gets warmer.

Its original name meant ‘Parsley of Alexandria’ which was changed to Alexanders at a later date. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans, as its stems, leaves and flowers are 'apparently' all edible (raw or cooked) and have a flavour not unlike celery.

Spring time spectacle

Work took me on a trip to Snettisham RSPB reserve last week to do some filming. Situated on the Wash, it's not somewhere I know very well so I was rather looking forward to it.

The first 3 hours involved standing in the p*ssing rain and it was also very cold, especially given it was the end of April. Pretty miserable. The rain eventually cleared and we were treated to some exceptional 'big skies' and spectacular cloud formations.

There was also lots of wildlife. Med Gulls and Short-eared owl were nice to see but it was the waders that really delivered. Thousands of Knot, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit interspersed with several other species gradually amassed as the tide came in before making the hop over our heads on to the safety of the pits to roost.

The following video doesn't quite do the spectacle justice!

Monday, April 17, 2017

The benefits of a collection

In a recent post I was struggling with some comparative features of a Xantholinus rove beetle. From the keys it seemed like gallicus was the best fit but as I had limited-to-zero experience with that genus, I took the specimen down to the NHM when I visited earlier this month for the weevil workshop.

Max Barclay kindly got out the examples from the NHM's British collection of that genus and once I had them all lined up it was clear that my specimen was a linearis the most regularly encountered member of the genus.

The NHM's British specimens of Xantholinus
gallicus. These looked distinctly different to my specimen,

This reinforced the importance of being able to compare things to a well curated reference collection as many of these features only become clear when you can compare 100s of individuals side by side. Later in the day this was even more relevant as we looked at Sitona weevils!!

I also had a look at a few light-trapped Amara that I have kept hold of and compared them to similar species in the NHM collection.. I think they are consularis but this genus seems particularly subjective so I'll hang on for further specimens to compare to!

A selection of Amara

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fear no weevil

I've not really delved much into weevils apart from the glaringly obvious ones. I collected a few last year but had ended up putting them in the box of unidentified beetles.

This all changed on April 1st when I attended a weevil workshop run by Mark Gurney (Weevil scheme organiser) and hosted at Natural History Museum by Max Barclay.

The two main things I learned (apart form lots about weevils) was
1. I need a better microscope
2. having a range of specimens to compare to is invaluable.

It was a great day and I learned a fair bit. It was great to have someone there to help you spot your mistakes and by the end of the day I had managed to put a name to all the weevil specimens I had brought with me.

Max also gave us a tour of the beetle collection at the NHM which was an unexpected bonus and impressive in its scale.

Also met some other folk with similar interests which is always nice.

All in all a grand day out.

Check out Mark's free guides to the British weevils here.

Exapion ulicilis. Only 3 or 4 of millimetres. Rather pleased with my carding! 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Long time no see

When we first moved into our house in 2011, I would occasionally find myself in the kitchen in the middle of the night. Along with mice and slugs the other nocturnal residents included a few Cellar or Churchyard Beetles Blaps mucronata. We subsequently gutted and renovated the property and whilst I still see the occasional slug and mouse I'd not seen a Cellar Beetle again until this morning.

I think they they are our biggest tenebrioid beetle and they are very distinctive with pointed ends to their elytra. They used to be fairly common in homes where they would live below floorboards and scavenge any crumbs which fell through the gaps (which is exactly what they do in my house). But they have apparently declined quite drastically in recent decades.

So nice to see that they cling on in this part of Cambridgeshire.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Struggling with staphs

So I've been trying to ID a bunch of staphs that I have left over from last season and I must admit to having mixed success. They certainly aren't easy. Well at least for me!

Take this one for instance

I think this a Xantholinus sp. At 8mm and with microstructure (but not too strong microstructure) it keys out as Xantholinus gallicus - but there aren't many records on NBN and I guess I'll need to wait and compare to some known specimens in a collection somewhere.

Someone somewhere reading this will be asking what the $%£@ is microstructure?

So glad you asked.....

You can make it out at about 40x magnification but it's the very fine structure (in this case) on the pronotum

Microstructure of Xantholinus gallicus (credit 
Pretty nifty when you see it well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not on my radar

I put the MV trap out on Friday evening as the temperature had picked up a bit. When I checked it first thing the next morning there was a moth sat just below the bulb that immediately had me scratching my head.

I soon worked out that it was a Small Eggar Eriogaster lanestris, a moth that I'd never really expected to see in the garden. It's now a reasonably scarce species and the larvae are more likely to be encountered in one of their communal silken tents. However, they do come to light every once in a while and a perusal of various Facebook moth groups has turned up a few records over the weekend.

It was a lovely moth. I wonder how long it will take to trap another?


Monday, February 20, 2017

What's that on your coat?

In the office last week and a colleague picked something off her coat and brought it over for me to look at, knowing that I had a thing for things with 6 legs.

A quick glance and even a novice like me could tell it was one of the Aphodidae dung beetles, but which one?

I went to the rather wonderful Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project or DUMP for short (d'ya see what they did there?) and had a crack at the key.

And came unstuck.


It eventually took a post to the Beetles of Britain and Ireland Facebook group and an answer from Darren Mann (Mr Dung Beetle UK) to put me straight.

Aphodius (Nimbus) obliteratus

I then figured out where I had gone wrong with the key. It was all down to a few hairs on the clypeus that I had missed.

You live and learn!

Out with the experts

I've been rather slack in blogging partly because I've not really been doing much natural history apart from finishing going through last year's beetles.

However, just over a week ago I had the opportunity to meet up with some folk for some valuable beetling experience. A trip to Wicken Fen with Mark Telfer, Steve Lane, Tim Hodge and Bill Mansfield was an invaluable experience and also added a good few new beetles to my list.

It was an opportunity to see two of the UK's top beetle experts in the field and having them to filter the IDs and explain the various ID criteria was a huge plus.

We spent most of our time sieving a couple of the big piles of cut-reed debris and turned up a good number of staphs and carabids plus some other bits and pieces. Nothing out the ordinary and we are still finalising the list but Mark recorded (I think) a new species for the Wicken list. Best looking beetle I think had to be Lordithon lunulatus.

It was a cold day and even snowed as we made our way back to the car park. What was a good lesson to learn was only to collect a manageable number of beetles. I now have a set of lovingly carded beetles added to my reference collection.

Also a reminder of how good it is to get out with people who really know their stuff. You just sort of learn by osmosis (plus copious listening and question asking).

Thanks all