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!