Saturday, March 28, 2020

Beetling in vane

Desperate times call for desperate methods.  So today, I decided to build a couple of flight interception traps (aka Vane traps) from used cordial bottles. I cut two windows out and used one of the cut pieces to create a baffle to intercept passing insects.

I hung them by dead or dying apple trees at the bottom of the garden. The idea is that beetles and flies flying in to investigate this dead wood, hit the baffle and then drop into the liquid at the bottom. In this case, water with a drop of washing up liquid. Given that I'm checking the traps every day or so, this should suffice. If I was leaving things for longer then I would pop some monopropylene glycol in instead.

The temperature is still very cold so probably not much chance of stuff at the moment but will hopefully deliver the goods over the coming weeks of isolation and lock down.

I also swept this beetle from grass just before giving it a mow. Looked different to the Bruchus rufipes I normally see. I find the key to this group really tough so ended up posting it for others to help with. It appears to be Bruchidius varius. This species was added to the British list from a single specimen found in East Sussex in 1994.  It is now widespread in south east England.

I'm still trawling through the backlog of 2019 beetles so will post some of the more interesting or novel (for me) records in a future post.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Click on this post

Another day, another beetle. The elaterid Kibunea minuta was out in numbers today. Climbing up un-mown grass in the garden. At only 6mm it's one of the smaller click beetles I've encountered.

The small second and third short and rounded antennal segments are a diagnostic feature for this species.

There was some confusion on my part as the species known here as Kibunea minuta  was transferred to the genus Limonius by Cate (2007). Leseigneur & Mertlik (2007) showed that two closely related species are present in Europe and can only be differentiated by the male genitalia and that all British material has so far proved to be poneliL. minutus appears to be a species with a more southerly distribution, although it could turn up in Britain.

Confused? I still am. For now we'll continue to call this Kibunea minuta !

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in

So I chanced a supermarket run early doors this morning and as I was driving, listening to the radio, the Manic Street Preachers' Motown Junk came on. I loved this song when it came out, I was 17 and I saw them play it in a small sweaty pub in Hull about a month later. I seem to remember it being a rather edgy gig.

It also furnishes this post with a title. I am doing my best not to get too bored whilst stuck at home. So late this afternoon had another poke around the garden.

First up was a quick sweep of a patch of Green Alkanet. It turned up this hairy fella. A quick glance at my recently acquired caterpillar guide and I'm reasonably sure it's a Ruby Tiger. Good to see as they appeared to have a poor year last season if my trapping data is anything to go by.

Next was a hoverfly sticking lowdown in the vegetation. There was a gap between the eyes making this a female and I think the grey spots on the abdomen make this Platycheirus albimanus.

Then there was this bug that I was pretty confident that it was a Drymus species but not beyond that. Apparently it's D. sylvaticus (thanks, Skev).

I also found a few staphs in some ejected rabbit nest material. These will need a closer look and dissection before I throw in the towel in and give up.

And here's the song that transported me back 30 years.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The first five hundred

Feeling at a loose end this afternoon I took 30 minutes to poke around the garden. I was struggling to find much of interest and my enthusiasm quickly waned.

A last ditch effort with the vacuum sampler turned up a few of the usual suspects but in amongst these was something I couldn't put a name to. I knew I hadn't seen it before and despite the small size was an easy one to identify.

The staph Metopsia clypeata. Adult beetles are active from March until October, and occur among decaying organic matter in tussocks, leaf-litter, dung and fungi and have been recorded nocturnally at sap and under bark. Mine was from a bit of my lawn with yarrow and other plants. Probably some decaying material in there too.

Entering the record I realised that this was the 500th species of UK beetle that I have identified (there are many others sat in the freezer waiting for a name...). My hope had been to try and see another 200 by the year end and hit the 700 mark. I've already seen about 50 new species so far this year and was hopeful of reaching that target.

I'm pretty sure that won't happen now as I'm obviously restricted to my garden for the forseeable. There is obviously still plenty to find I will just need to be resourceful.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Last chance saloon

Lock down is undoubtedly coming. Given the stupidity seen at various places this weekend, the government is going to have to act. You would have to be blind to not to see this coming.

So, all that being said I took the kids for a run around RSPB Lakenheath yesterday. 10 cars in the car park and everyone keeping their distance. Didn't get within 20 metres of anyone else.

The weather was cold but glorious, and the sun had real warmth and strength. And nature was on the move. This Pterostichus niger was walking along the main track and there were plenty of flies on the wing plus brimstone and peacock butterflies.

Poking about in fallen poplar logs I found a couple of Carabus granulatus getting ready to leave their winter hibernation sites.

There was also this Pied Shieldbug under one log looking rather resplendent in its monochromatic loveliness.

What are we all going to do whilst restrictions kick in? Firstly, find a way to live life with a restricted geography. All the grand plans for 2020 get ditched by default and new ones will have to be created. I suspect that I'll expand my horizons beyond beetles and look at other invert taxa and try out some new forms of trapping. Get a couple of vane traps out and try and pick some offal up from the butchers when I'm in for food to bait for carrion feeding beetles.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a reasonable garden and options up my sleeves. I suspect that my love of natural history will stop me going mad.

At least I hope so.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

My life sucks too now

Four years ago I saw this post from Graeme Lyons and never in my wildest dreams thought that it was something that I'd ever contemplate. Fast forward to 2020 and I have a Black & Decker GWC3600 L20-GB 36V Blower Vac suction sampler sat in the car and all ready to go. 

These are weird and confusing times but given that restrictions on personal movement are only going to get stronger I decided that I should get out for a walk and a poke about whilst I still could. I decided to visit the Devil's Dyke to the east of Cambridge. I only saw two other souls the entire time I was there and both of those were at a distance. 

This site is an ancient earthwork designed to restrict movements of people before the fens were drained. It runs from the village of Reach in the north to south of Newmarket. Unusually for Cambridgeshire, because of the height of the excavation, you also get a view.

The site has extensive chalk grassland with a mixture of areas with bare ground as well as some bits that have gone over to scrub.  Not something you find much of in Cambridgeshire (chalk grassland not scrub!).

Sheep graze much of it keeping the vegetation down to a low level. Work is ongoing in some places to clear the scrub to allow grazing to return. There are a few botantical rarities (for Cambridgeshire) here but my ability to ID on vegetative state only is too poor to have given that a go on this visit.

So given that it's so light and portable I decided to take the suction sampler with me and give it a quick whirl whilst there.
Locked and loaded. Ready to go (sans bag)
It was a joy to use. It found stuff that I would just never find by the usual direct method of grubbing around. Bloody loads of ants. No, loads. Really.

Most numerous beetles were Syntomus foveatus and Phaedon tumidulus but the best species was a few individuals of Mantura matthewsii. This flea beetle I think is a leaf miner on rock rose and is not that often encountered, probably because folk aren't out in the right place with a sucker....

I suspect  I will now just take this contraption with me everywhere now. Can't wait to let it lose on other plants and habitats.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A face only a mother could love

In amongst all the uncertainty, worry and stress of today I managed to grab a late afternoon walk at work. The sun was out and the blossoming trees were alive with bees and flies.

It's amazing how the mind resets as soon as it's exposed to nature. I can almost feel my blood pressure dropping as I take it all in. Sterling stuff.

I paid a quick visit to a favourite log pile in the hope of catching sight of a couple of species. I wasn't disappointed as on a first glance I clocked a Platyrhinus resinosus doing its best to look nonchalant.

What a beast. Just love their grumpy faces.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Beating the right bush

For the last couple of lunchtimes I've headed out with my sweep net and tray to target specific types of beetle. Many species have an association with particular species of plants and so by checking out these plants you can increase your chances of finding the beetles you are after.

Yesterday I went and looked at some of the Scot's Pines that blew over at the Lodge during the storms a couple of weeks ago. Using the handle of the sweep net to bash the tree's needles over my large plastic tray I soon found a selection of beetles. There were lots of Meligethes pollen beetles (presumably aeneus) and Pine ladybirds. I also found a couple of 18-spot Ladybirds Myrrha octodecimguttata which I don't appear to have recorded before.

There was another much smaller new ladybird for me which was Scymnus suturalis. There were lots of these on most of the branches I checked. Really hairy too.

This other beetle was obviously different but I couldn't for the life of me put a name to it in the field. It almost resembled an Aphodius dung beetle. A bit of sleuthing back at home soon got me to Bark Beetles in the subfamily Scolytinae. This one keyed to Tomicus piniperda aka the Common Pineshoot beetle which can damage commercial forestry and is an invasive species in North America.

Today, I focused on Gorse and Broom for my bush beating. Much of the gorse was in flower and every sweep resulted in tens of Meligethes falling out the flowers.

The second most numerous species was the Gorse weevil Exapion ulcilis. These are tiny little things that are a nice shade of silvery grey. There were dozens in every sample I looked at.

Another weevil that was less numerous on gorse but more so on Broom was Andrion regensteinense. You can see the erect scales at the end of the abdomen that make this quite distinctive. I last saw this one in the middle of winter on broom in the Cairngorms!

There was also a single individual of Exapion fuscirostre which was another new species for me. There's a pattern here. I seem to be racking up the new beetles this year, which is kind of the plan.

Also particularly numerous on gorse and another one that I haven't recorded before was Micrambe ulicis. These are really small beetles at under 2mm.

A productive way to spend 30 minutes. Now need to work out which plants to target next...

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The flood gates open... a little bit

Last night was the warmest it's been for a while so I stuck the actinic trap out and was rewarded with the first Oak Beautys, Clouded Drabs, Hebrew Character and Early Grey of the year. At work someone had put out a MV trap ovenight and on checking it we found 75 moths, almost two thirds of which were Small Quakers.

There was also a good selection of other rather lovely moths to remind me what I've been missing for the last few months. It's nice to have them back.

Yellow Horned

Pine Beauty
Oak Beauty
Twin-spot Quaker

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Early Doors

I ran the moth trap last night for only the second time this year, 2 Common Quakers were what awaited me at first light this morning. As I was up early and the morning was dry and warm I decided to have a quick jaunt up towards Ely to try my luck at some tussocking. The fields I was interested in border the River Cam and flood from time to time. They were certainly wet but more importantly covered in grass tussocks. 

There were a lot of beetles and other inverts in the samples and the trick was not to bring too many back with me, thus minimising 'homework'. I kind of managed it but there are still a fair few small staphs to get my head around, including some of the dreaded aleochs, but interestingly not a single Stenus

Most pleasing was finally catching up with Stomis pumicatus. I'd not seen this species before and had assumed I must have been looking in the wrong places for this supposedly common species. It turns out that although widespread, it isn't encountered too frequently with some experienced coleopterists only clocking up a few records. There were three individuals this morning in amongst the frequent Pterostichus strenuus.

This Lathrobium elongatum was also a new one for me, and a really nice looking staph. An easy-ish one to spot in the field with its 2/3 red elytra. There were quite a few of these in the tussocks I looked at.

I also finally found a new species of ladybird for me. One of the more common inconspicuous ones, Rhyzobius litura.  

I was back home by nine for a second cup of coffee and a spot of breakfast, before getting on with household chores. I'll have to work through the rest of the specimens this week but suspect there will be a couple more new staphs for me.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Microscopy as mindfulness

Someone recently asked me what I did to relax after a stressful day at work. I considered it for a moment but the answer was obvious. Looking down a microscope and dissecting tiny beetles.

But why, when I frequently do it poorly or ping the aedeagus off the microscope to be forever lost somewhere on the floor? I think that it's because it takes a lot of concentration. When I am maneuvering my chopstick embedded micropins around under high magnification, nothing else gets a look in, my mind becomes blank except for the immediate task in hand. If I don't give it my full attention then failure is inevitable, if I do, then I might just succeed.

It got me thinking that what I do when dissecting is a form of mindfulness.

I found this definition on the interweb: "Mindfulness can be described as the practice of paying attention in the present moment, and doing it intentionally and with non-judgment.  Mindfulness meditation practices refer to the deliberate acts of regulating attention through the observation of thoughts, emotions and body states."

By concentrating on just one thing in the present moment, everything else drops away, the stress, the worries, all of it. So maybe I am tapping into my inner mindfulness mediation through dissecting tiny beetles and regulating my attention.

Or maybe I'm just unable to multi-task!

Anyway, I tackled the Cypha from the weekend and satisfyingly it was a male and seemingly the most commonly encountered species C. longicornis. 

It's aedeagus is a thing of dagger-like wonder.

I also successfully dissected this small latrid which given the pronotal shape was obiously an Enicmus species and a comparison of the shape of its tackle suggested E. histrio. Which has since been confirmed.

So another 2 new species and two more records to be submitted. Just wish the rain would bugger off and I get back out to do some proper beetling!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Barking up the right tree

In between meetings today I managed to get outside for half an hour and stretch my legs. No sieving today, I needed some exercise and a reasonably fast walk. 

I ignored the few flies I saw, but eventually got tempted to pause when I came across this fallen log with peeling bark. Now I know what you are thinking but no, I haven't whacked the exposure setting up on this image. The sun was actually out and doing its thing. So much so that my hat came off, which for a bald man means that the season may actually be changing.

I had a rootle around and easily found a couple of the tenebrioid beetle Nalassus laevioctostriatus. One was rather quick on its feet, the other shuffled about looking vaguely embarrassed. At least it allowed me to take a pic.

There were also a couple of Anthobium unicolor hiding in small rot holes and a dead Bruchus rufipes with its hind leg at an odd angle!
Bruchus rufipes

Anthobium unicolor
As I trundled back to work I noticed this small spider sat on a fence post. I'm hoping Alan will be along shortly to tell me what it is again :)

Let's hope this spring-like weather lingers...

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Spring sieving

And lo and behold the rain finally stopped and the sun came out....

The garden was part quagmire but I still managed to mow the lawn. Robins were in full song and several bumblebees were visiting flowering daffodils. It actually felt like spring might just be on its way. Temperatures look like remaining low and there's some more rain forecast this week, but for a couple of hours it felt like a restorative.

I had a quick bash through the compost heap to see what I could find.

Lots of beetles, apart from a Quedius picipes everything was on the small side. There were huge numbers of ptilids and dozens of Mycetaea subterranea.

Highlights were my first Cypha species. This will need dissecting t confirm species. They look like a cross between a trilobite and a punctuation mark!

One genus that I've been wanting to see for a while was Micropeplus and my first appeared in the form of M. fulvus. It looks like an armored battle tank. I'd love to know the function of all those ridges. Bonkers.

I think this aleoch is Nehemitropia lividipennis  but I need to dissect to confirm.

I also photographed a few spiders. The first is Harpactea hombergi the other two I'm still looking at... Any help gratefully received.