Tuesday, December 31, 2019

We're a decade down...

It seems like yesterday that I was getting ready to celebrate the millennium. I can't quite believe that all that time has passed and that life has changed in so many unexpected ways, and some expected ones.

I'm 20 years older than then, and that has consequences (cue squeaky knee). I suspect that this New Year's Eve I'll be lucky to even see in the New Year  and will probably venture up the stairs to Bedfordshire long before the bells ring it in. These days, a post midnight bedtime, irrespective of any booze intake, induces a similar next morning feeling to a hangover. That's age for you!

So all the other blogs I read are either making plans for 2020 or just talking about others making plans for 2020s and the rights and wrongs of this. There is also a tendency to look back at the past year and pick out specific highlights.

I'm not going to do much of the latter except to say that three visits north of the wall to Scotland were a particular high. Just being out and away from lots of people was incredibly good for the soul. I did see a few cool things including a non-stakeout Pine Marten, but for me the highlight there was just walking through the Caledonian Forest at either ends of the day, taking in the landscape and feeling rather insignificant.

So what about next year...

No massive plans, I want to keep plugging away at beetles. There's definitely been a shift in my ability to recognise and ID things this year. Luckily it's a shift in a positive direction!

I'm getting through specimens far more quickly and my carding has improved. I'm also enjoying getting all my records entered to look at where I've been/might visit. So with that in mind I've decided to try to make 2020 the year that I visit and record beetles from all 40ish 10km2 squares in Cambridgeshire.

Some of these will get filled easily through many of the regular trips but many, especially at the northern end, will need to be specifically visited. I seem to only have done any biological recording from about half of these squares previously so there will be some new places to visit. But many will be flat arable deserts with very little to offer but it will still be interesting to see what might be there to find. It will also mean I venture to some differing habitats. From saltmarsh (yes! I know, who'd have thought) in the north to some chalk grassland in the south. Plus a few rich fenland sites in the middle.

So that's my only real plan for next year. That and the aleochs.

I've made a stab at identifying some of the of the aleochs that I've collected over the last year and whilst being bloody difficult I'm keen to soldier on. Some of the details of tarsi number and other features on small individuals are a struggle for my microscope so I'm going to purchase a cheap compound to try and elucidate some of this detail. Anyway wherever I get to it will keep me out of trouble, I hope. At least it should give my brain temporary respite from politics and the current state of the planet.

So best wishes for 2020 and the New Year of wildlife. And remember to be kind. We need more kindness in the world!

Aleochora cuniculorum. One that I've already identifiied, albeit with a fair bit of help. Found in a MV trap at the Lodge RSPB reserve earlier this year.

Friday, December 27, 2019

A bit of winter tussocking

A day off a couple of weeks ago meant that I could get out and do a bit of beetling. The weather has been atrocious of late, with wave after wave of heavy rain. The ground is sodden with large areas under water.

Linking up with fellow beetler, Bill we headed out to a site adjacent to the River Cam with lots of Deschampsia tussocks to search for beetles. The method is to cut the tussock at the base then place it upside down over a sieve and bucket. Then whack the **** out of it.

All the inverts spending the winter in the tussock should be evicted and come to rest at the bottom of your bucket! You can then stick the tussock back in the hole you took it from and it should regrow...

There were literally thousands of beetles and other inverts in the few tussocks we whacked. Beetle-wise it was almost entirely carabids (Pterostichus, Acupalpus, Bembidion, Clivina, Badister, Demetrias, Amara) and staphs (Stenus, Philonthus, Quedius, Tasgius, Rugilus, Xantholinus, Tachyporus, Aleochs).

There were only a couple of hemipterans including this Tingis ampliata which was a new species for me.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thank god for birthdays!

The pretty much only thing that's good about getting old is not really wanting anything for Christmas and birthdays anymore. Obviously I'm lucky enough to have pretty much everything else I need in life: a job, a roof over my head and food on the table. And I'm not one for just buying stuff apart from one thing.

Books. Absolutely love everything about them. Cook books, biography, fiction. The lot. I can't get enough. And let's be honest, once the lights go out and the endarkenment happens having hard copies for everything will be incredibly useful.

At least that's what I tell myself.

Anyway, I recently had a birthday. Not a big one. And all I asked for was books. Ask and you shall receive. Well something like that!

Come the big day I happily unwrapped a quartet of new beetle books, and boy was I a happy lad.

The two French books are supplements by Coulon to the original Carabid book by Jeannel. The original can be found in two parts here. My French is passable but there are still lots of technical words to look up and learn. There's so much info here and most (if not all) the UK fauna is covered, plus some that may make an appearance one day. The supplements are particularly useful for groups such as Bembidion and there are lots of good drawings of the naughty bits to aid ID.


The other I got given are the two water beetle atlases. But they are so much more than just maps.
There's stuff on ID and taxonomy, life-cycle alongside sections on habitat and distributions. And then there are the maps. Every species gets one and the records are broken into pre and post 1980 plus also sub-fossil.


Just an amazing labour of love by Garth Foster et al. 

There's plenty here to keep me occupied through the cold, dark winter nights whilst dreaming of warmer days looking for beetles...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A flash of red

I managed 30 minutes outside at lunchtime today and found myself looking in and around several bits of dead wood in various stages of decay.

The best find was this Aphanus rolandri, overwintering in a small gap in a piece of well rotten larch. A new species of bug for me.

It's really distinctive and likes dry, sheltered and well-drained habitats which have a layer of leaf litter present. (EDIT: according to Tristan Bantock it likes plants in the family Fumariaceae to eat. It can sometimes be found in arable margins under Fumitory and there are some garden records possibly associated with Yellow Corydalis.)

(EDIT: according to Simon Knott on Twitter there a good story behind this species scientific name.)

The map on NBN shows it has a southerly distribution with a few scattered records elsewhere, especially around the Brecks. Well drained dry habitats and all that...

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Bembridge beetle and the Coleopterist

Back in May 2018, I was away with the family on a short break in coastal Suffolk. One of our favourite walks, especially when the kids were small and so weren't up for one of the longer walks we take them on now, is a loop from Walberswick through some woodland, then a cut through Dingle marshes and then finishing along the shingle. There's a good mix of habitat and there's always a good chance of seeing an Adder to get the boys excited. 

On this particular day we got to the shingle bank overlooking the sea and stopped for some lunch. Whilst the kids practiced their stone-throwing aim with a game of hit the pile of stones, I went down to the landward side of the bank to have a poke around in some of the degraded saltmarsh and brackish pools. 

There were quite a few hydrophilid beetles feeding around the muddy edges of the largest pool, mainly around the margins but also diving to a depth of a few centimetres. I potted a couple of individuals and took them away for later identification. The specimens sat in my fridge until August this year. Under the microscope they keyed easily to Paracymus aeneus aka the enigmatically named the Bembridge Beetle.

But when I looked at distribution maps online it was evident that these were a fair way from previous records which all centered around south coastal Essex, with a single sub-fossil record from the Humber Estuary from under a Bronze Age boat. It turns out that this beetle gets its common name from the town of Bembridge on the Isle of Wight where it was first discovered.

I posted the images on the Beetles of Britain and Ireland Facebook page and quickly got confirmation of the identification from Garth Foster who also informed me that it was the first record for Suffolk. Garth also I suggested I write a short note for the Coleopterist.

Fast forward to yesterday and the latest issue landed on my doorstep, my short note on the Bembridge Beetle included and my first public pronunciation on beetles. Hopefully more to come.

If you don't subscribe to the journal you should as it's amazing value and full of interesting articles. More here.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

What's in a name?

I'm a curious person. I like facts and like learning new ones. I'm interested in how things acquire their names and the reasons for them.

The fact that someone recently informed me that the town of Baldock gets its name as a derivation from the Old French name for Baghdad: Baldac, gave me immense satisfaction. I mean who knew?!
Well obviously lots of people, but I didn't.

So over the last couple of weeks I've been trying to put names to the remaining beetle samples that I still have in the fridge and also a box of carded ones that I failed to name at the time.

This staph I collected from Wicken Fen last year, was one of the latter. I can't remember why I couldn't identify it at the time, especially as it is a male, but when I took another look it keyed easily to Lathrobium geminum. The aedagus was a match to the drawings too. So one down and quite a few still to go.

I then started wondering why the specific name was geminum. Geminum is latin for twin or double.

When I looked closely at the aedagus I found a possible answer, a pair of ridges with accompanying pits on the median lobe.

Could this be the 'double' this species is named for? I've no idea but I like to think so.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A frosty trip north

I've just returned from an absolutely glorious few days in Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms. I was there back in the late spring and things this time were quite a bit different. We were mostly lucky with the weather but the clear skies meant plummeting temperatures. It did drop to below -7 degrees one night and it made getting up in the morning at the hunting lodge we were staying at all the more difficult!

There was a good smattering of snow on the higher ground and hard frosts most mornings. I have to say I don't mind the cold when the air is as crisp as it was. It was exhilarating and the perfect antidote for the ongoing political clusterf*ck.

A random, dead Chrysomela aena on a bridge!
I was there to help on BBC Autumnwatch as a lot of the stuff was being filmed on RSPB land and we were there to support the local team. It involved long days but it was pretty magical and so no complaints from me. The weather more than made up for any tiredness.

On Thursday morning I got up early and hiked up through the forest up the hill to where the trees thinned out. My feet were numb for the first wee while but  eventually got the blood flowing. It was spectacular with lots of ice and frost.

Even when the temp is around freezing things are flying. I first flushed two male Black Grouse from beside the track. They flew in a semi circle around me before landing further back down the track. I then noticed this moth on the wing. Appears to be an Epirrita species, but without a good look of its upperwing and genitals it will remain at genus level.

Beetling was hard going with very little reward for the time spent looking. I beat a lot of juniper bushes, figuring that some of the overwintering  adults would be holed up in here. Spiders....yes! Lots of spiders but very few beetles. A single Altica sp. and a few of these Stenus impressus,

Loch Garten was looking fine in the winter light. This photo was taken on our first night just as we arrived. 10 mins later and we would have missed it. Calm as a mill pond with impressive clouds. Later in the week we came across people swimming across the lake!! Nuts!

Looking through leaf litter and rotten logs I found a single Phosphuga atrata and a few of these weevils. Not one I had seen before and appear to be Rhyncolus ater which appear to be pretty much restricted to this part of the world with the odd record elsewhere.

The only other staph I found was this Quedius lateralis.

At an 11 hours drive each way, you get to appreciate the distance of these isles. I do hope to get back at some point. Maybe even for WinterWatch in January. Who knows!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mushroom beetles

A walk round the work reserve this week revealed lots of emerging toadstools. The Fly Agarics Amanita muscaria were just coming out and were looking rather resplendent with their smart colours.

There were several other patches where numbers of toadstools had emerged.

Most were relatively fresh but there were a few that had started to go over and had attracted a number of flies and beetles to the rotting flesh.

There were a few of these rather prettily marked Lordithon trinotatus, one of five species of Lordithon found in the UK. The only other species I've seen so far is lunulatus

There were also lots of Proteinus, another genus of staph. This one is P. brachypterus but I have a few others to look at. You can just make out the red first antennal segment below. At just under 2mm these are really small beetles.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Boxing club

Finally joined the Box Tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis club yesterday. When I went to clear the traps in the evening it was sat on an egg box. I must have missed it when I was going through the trap in the morning.

Whilst in the Pyrenees this summer, this was the most commonly encountered moth. A fairly depressing state of affairs. Let's hope it doesn't happen here. 

Famous last words...

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Royal midget?

So last week I decided to have a go at rearing some leaf mines. 

Now I had actually been looking for weevils associated with Salix spp. but I found these mines on a large weeping willow and thought they looked about right. So I picked a few leaves.....

I wrapped them in some damp paper towel, put them in and old ice cream tub and then waited....

Yesterday this moth emerged. Not the beetle I was expecting....

I got it down to a species of Phyllonorycter but that was as far as I could get. Cue Facebook Micromoth page help request.

So it appears to be Phyllonorycter pastorella, and quite possibly new for Cambridgeshire and VC29, so not too bad given it wasn't a beetle.

This species was found in west Norfolk in 2018 so probably no surprise to find it here now.

And as part of the plan to give all moths an English name, this has been blessed with the moniker of Royal Midget!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Brash Americans

I managed only a quick 20 minute break break at lunchtime today and went and peered at some small ponds. I noticed this bug sat on some of the aquatic vegetation. Not exactly where I had expected to see it but its food plant was nearby, a species I've been meaning bump into for a while Graphocephala fennahi or the Rhododendron Leafhopper.

This species is native to the USA, and was introduced to Europe in the early 20th century. Both adults and larvae feed on Rhododendron sap, and it is one of the few insects to use this invasive plant as a foodplant. It's rather pretty too.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A tropical interloper

Last night I notice a small beetle crawling on the inside pane of the kitchen window. I potted it and had a quick look under the microscope. It was about 3mm long and had a couple of abdominal segments exposed beyond the elytra.

It was as I had first assumed one of the Nitidulidae or pollen beetles and it keyed easily to Carpophilus marginellus, another new beetle for me. It's not one I can find much info on and it's not covered in the RES Pollen Beetles book by Kirk-Spriggs. All I can find is that it was introduced from tropical areas to Europe and is pretty reliant on humans and their stored products.

So I'd better go and check the biscuit tin!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

It's time to get some bembid heaven

So, this day in the field seems like another life time ago now but I've finally got round to ID'ing some of the trickier beetles I found on this day back in June. Whilst working up at Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms I managed a few hours exploring the river shingle on the River Feshie.

I was really lucky as the weather was dry and warm and was a vast improvement on the previous days' rather patchy weather. This wasn't a habitat that I'd ever looked at before and despite all the interesting looking plants I decided to stick to beetles. Specifically I wanted to see if I could find a selection of Bembidion species that I wouldn't necessarily have encountered elsewhere.

There was a real mix of substrate types to search through, from really fine sandy sediment through to large rocks intermixed with gravel. There was also fast running river water and smaller areas of standing water left over from spring meltwater.

There were also good numbers of Dingy Skippers on the wing seemingly flying up every few metres as I walked the banks- cue crap photo alert!

One of the beetles I had hoped to bump in to quickly gave itself up, 5-spot ladybird Coccinella 5-punctata. This species is a river shingle specialist and I found them in small patches of vegetation around the edges of the river. Easy to see as they moved along the ground.

5-spot ladybird Coccinella 5-punctata

There were also a few of these Amara fulva under stones in some of the areas with smaller gravel.

Click beetles came in the rather robust form of Hypnoides riparius. 6.5mm but built like a brick shit house.

As for Bembids well the most noticeable was Bracteon litorale. There were loads of these beetles scurrying around on sand patches when the sun came out. They're a reasonable size at around 6mm and an easy one to ID with the four 'mirrors' on the elytra.

Bracteon litorale
 The next most commonly encountered one was Bembidion tibiale.
Female Bembidion tibiale
 This proved a bit more difficult to key out as I was questioning how straight the base of the pronotum was.  Finding a male made the identification much easier and the aedagus fits tibiale nicely.
Aedagus of Bembidion tibale to confirm
There were also lots of these guys and girls which will probably turn out to all be Bembidion tetracolum but I reckon that some might actually be B. bualei. The characteristics are subtle enough that I'm going to need to compare with some known specimens to make doubly sure.

Whatever they turn out to be it was an amazing few hours in a stunning part of the world and I'd really like to get back for a further look.

And here's the track that inspired the title....