Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Red Halo

Finally caught up with one of my bogey beetles. i.e. one of those common species I should have seen ages ago but have just never come across.

The beetle in question is Leistus rufomarginatus. This species is a fairly recent arrival in the UK. It was first recorded in 1942, but has since spread northwards and now reaches as far as Scotland. This one appeared as I was clearing up some leaf litter from the garden. It's most distinctive feature is the red rim or halo around its pronotum.

It was also given the English name Red-rimmed Plate-jaw by Mark Telfer and John Walters in their useful guide to this genus.

In the above shot you can see why. Those jaws are just big sharp plates, perfectly adapted for cutting. I come across L. spinbarbis and L. fulvibarbis quite often but still haven't seen ferrugineus or terminatus let alone the mountain top species, montanus. Something else to look forward to I guess...

Today's title inspiration comes from Emily barker and the Red Clay Halo

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Oh, the weather's against us

As predicted, today was cold and wet. That and the fact that it was a work day and my back was playing up has meant that I didn't leave the house. Not sure the last time that happened.

The last time I ran the moth trap, there were a couple of bits of bycatch. I've not recorded a carrion beetle yet this year and this time was no different. However right at the bottom and in amongst the dust and scales was a single female Acrotrichis fascicularis.

There was also this small ichneumon wasp which with some help from experts on a Facebook page I now know is Ophion minutus. It was very much smaller than the other Ophion species I get early in the year.

There was also this tiny thing sat atop an egg carton, which even after I looked at it under the microscope I was convinced was a micromoth. Turns out I was completely off and it is in fact a caddisfly! Most probably Hydroptilia sparsa.

Right back to the microscope for the beetle backlog. Today's blog title inspiration comes from Foals. Great video too

Monday, April 27, 2020

Even now in heaven there were angels carrying savage weapons

Not said much about moths recently as things have been pretty quiet on that front. However Friday night's trap had a bit more variety, including one of my favourites, the Puss Moth.

These fluffy, cuddly, cherubic-looking moths aren't an annual occurrence at the trap here so it's always great when one turns up..

I've still never seen the caterpillar despite a fair amount of looking. Weird looking things with whip-like projections from their back end. I guess I need to try a little harder.

I also had the first hawkmoth of the year in last night's trap in the form of Poplar Hawkmoth. Always a sign that summer's almost here.

Keeping it real on the beetling front I managed another new staph from tapping hawthorm blossom. This one from the Subfamily Omaliinae is Dropephylla ioptera. A bit like a slimline Olophrum

The next few days look like they might be a bit of a washout so I will probably resort to some backlog beetling, mainly staphs from the heap and oh so many ptilids.

Today's inspiration comes in the form of.....

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Turning ground

This weekend has been all about gardening. This evening I feel every one of my forty something years. My back aches and my knee has gone funny. The decade of my 40s is seeing some serious physical deterioration. On the whole I'm fairly fit but after two days of digging, lifting, planting and crawling around on my hands and knees I feel a decade older than I am.

Despite all that I still managed 2 new beetles today plus there have been another couple of lifers earlier in the week.

The best of the bunch came whilst I was turning over some earth ahead of putting in some plants. I must have disturbed an ants' nest as there were loads running about, I noticed something else that was walking oddly and looked staph-like but I didn't have my glasses on (age again!) so I picked it up and potted it for a later look.

Under the microscope it looked really distinctive (and the reason for its funny walk became evident).

I quickly worked out it was in the genus Achenium. There are two species in the UK both of which are rarely encountered as they are subterranean and live in cracks in the ground.  A quick look at its nethers told me it was a girl so I wasn't going to be able to have a look for a distinctive aedeagus. 

Long story, short. After some really helpful insight from fellow beetlers on social media. The consensus was that this was A. humile. The paler colour and most importantly the shorter elyta in comparison to the pronotum. 

I then did what I should have done at the beginning and measured it. 6.7-6.8mm. The other species, depressus never gets below 7.5mm. So humile it is.

The other new beetle from the garden today was Gonodera luperus. This is a species of tenebrioid and it looks a bit like a monster Isomira murina. I swept this from grass whilst I was having my morning coffee.

Earlier in the week I was back at the compost heap for another look. Things have really quietened down  since the first hot day of the year. The mix of beetles has changed over time and I've definitely got my eye in so am better at picking out the beetles that are new.

A couple that caught my eye both turned out to be new beetles for me.

The first was another addition to the growing list of Philonthus species from the heap. This was P. discoideus.

The other one was the rather cool, large-eyed, triangular headed Oxytelus sculptus

Apparently it is known to occur in compost heaps but is rare or absent in many areas. There are a few records to the east and north of me so perhaps not a surprise.

I'll finish with some appropriate music. Taken from a great debut (I think) album, the William Orbit production is evident from the start 😅

Monday, April 20, 2020

And the lovely silver traces

I've been in a bit of a spotify wormhole of late. Whilst peering down the microscope each evening to look at beetles I tend to have music on. I've been listening to all sorts of stuff but the album that has been getting the heaviest rotation over the last couple of weeks is Desertshore by Nico. Arguably (by me at least) her best work, it's an eclectic mix of Gothic folk and Teutonic chanting. Powerful stuff and otherworldy to boot.

Anyway, it provides a suitable counterpoint for a post all about the joys of spring and blossom!!

There's lots of it out at the moment. The fruit tree blossom is staged depending on fruit (plums first) and then type (apple strains are separated by 2-3 weeks).

lovely silver traces...

The main apple tree is in fine form at the moment but weirdly doesn't seem to attract as many beetles as other types. That might just be an artifact of there being so much of it that the beetles are dispersed over far more flowers, many well out of reach.

The hawthorn has just started to open. There are only a few branches in full flower but as the days progress more and more will open.

I've been giving it a bit of a tap over the last couple of days to see what's about. The most numerous beetles has been the dreaded genus Anaspis. I say dreaded because I've taken a quick look at these before and been scared away by the completely nightmarish keys. Anyway, this week I decided to have a crack at the two species turning up in my samples.

I went wrong quite easily and ended up at the wrong species mainly I think because I tried to identify females which are much harder. Once I had been pointed in the direction of the males abdominal sternite appendages then it made things a bit easier.

This was the species that initially threw me. Anaspis maculata.

Turns out the shape of the projections (the raised oblong like bits) are the clincher.

The second species was much easier and keyed relatively easily to Anaspis garneysi.

There were a couple of other species new for the year too, including the first soldier beetle.

Cantharis decipiens
..and this hairy individual.
Dasytes aeratus
Whilst beating I also found this Horse-chestnut leaf-miner. I don't normally pay them much attention but they are actually beautiful looking moths on close inspection.

Another new beetle species turned up whilst tidying up the veg patch. Phyllotetra ochripes.  It has almost completely yellow legs (except hind femora) and at 2.4mm is smaller than similar species.

There was also a brief flyby of the longhorn Grammoptera ruficornis, these will be in abundance in the next week or so. I can't wait.

I'll leave you with this piece of awesomeness.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A garden lyon

I ended up mowing the grass after work this evening but during this process I intermittently got the suction sampler out and had a quick go on some of the patches of ground-ivy that cover some of the drier garden edges. It's coming into flower and I was checking it on the off chance that I might find Trachys scrobiculatus aka Ground-ivy Jewel Beetle.  There are records to the north and records to the south and it's the sort of thing more easily found with a big old vacuum cleaner. However, no luck today. Not sure of its requirements beyond Ground-ivy, perhaps the soil here isn't quite right. Who knows. Won't stop me looking though.

I did find a number of beetles. Two or three of which were new to me. One though was easily identifiable - the others need to wait to be dissected.

I saw a thin-necked, small staph in the sample and to the naked eye it didn't look quite right to be a Rugilus. I potted it and brought it inside for a closer look.

This is a species of Astenus. There are seven possible species in the UK to choose from. The first bit of the key is around the number of long hairs sticking out the sides of the pronotum. The choices are 1 or 2, or at least 4. This one has 4. So that bit was easy and takes it to one of two species.

Next is the extent of the yellow patch on the elytra. Is it just the ends that are yellow or does it extend up the centre a bit too?

Definitely that last one.

That makes this Astenus lyonessius. According to the book this is the most commonly encountered species in the genus, but it's new for me and it's the second species I've seen. I've found A. pulchellus before in big farmyard manure heaps.

Another day, another new beetle. The hawthorn is just about to flower so they'll be some bush beating beetling posts in the offing soon I imagine.

I'll leave you with a bit of related audio enjoyment...

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Garden staphs

I've been working through some of the staphs that I picked up during the Bank holiday weekend. It was the first hot day of the year and there was so much activity. Beetles in flight, beetles on the ground but mainly beetles in the compost heap.

Staphs had the highest diversity from whopping big Philonthus to tiny aleochs. Below is a selection of what turned up. Several of these are new to me.

It's pretty amazing what's out there if you look...

Philonthus tenuicornis
Megarthrus sp. poss depressus

Heterothops minutus

Philonthus jurgans and varians

Rugilus orbiculatus

Monday, April 13, 2020

I'm making progress in an unspecific way

What a Bank Holiday weekend. Amazing weather and restricted to the house and garden. What to do? Given the increasing temperatures I strangely decided to undertake manual labour and begin digging out a pond. Not my most sensible decision possibly, but lots of fun.

By close of play on Sunday I had made some headway. I need to extend one end and smooth it all out before lining with sand, underlay and a proper waterproof liner. All that may take a while but hopefully this time next year it will be ready to accept visitors.

I have had the Emperor moth lure out 3 times this year and not a sausage on any of the occasions. So it was a weird coincidence that on Sunday morning, what should fly past and do a tour of the garden? Yep, you guessed it. Luckily I had my net on me (for dispersing beetles in the heat of the day) and then popped it in the fridge for an hour.

They never fail to take my breath away. Stunning moths and amazing to think they live in my unremarkable patch of Cambridgeshire.

Last week, I'd mowed the garden and piled up all the cuttings on one side of the compost heap. I wasn't expecting anything but in the sunny weather the pile had got very warm and dry and was absolutely crawling with beetles. Thousands of beetles.

The second most common beetle (after ptilids) was Omonadus floralis. There were 100s of them. I've only ever seen this beetle a few times before so it was odd to see so many in one place. I've got quite a few staphs still to ID but it was the scarabs that stole the show, as I've only ever had two species in the garden before.

Aphodius granarius

Aphodius fimentarius/pedullus

And this little beauty, Oxyomus sylvestris. A new one for me and one that is like decaying plant material, so seems to be in the right place.

Other new beetles were the oddly shaped Scydmaenus tarsatus and Lithocharis ochracea. I often find L. nigripennis here so it was interesting to see a few of these others turning up over the weekend samplings.

I also went tapping plum blossom over my collecting tray which elicited quite a few beetles. One particular flower gave me 3 species of seed beetle in a single tap. One of which was new.

I've not encountered Bruchidius villosus before. It apparently feeds on broom (no idea where the nearest to here is) but adults wander widely early in the season and often turn up on blossom.

I'm also continuing my patchy relationship with ptilids. This one (and yes those things at the back are its wings hence the other name of feather-winged beetles), was different to others I've seen but try as I might my dissection yield absolutely nothing and it shall remain nameless.

So all in all and in spite of everything going on in the wider world, a better than expected long weekend was had. Beetles galore and some hard manual labour.

I'll leave you with the post title inspiration...

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

She got red eyes, she wear dust

So back in the mists of time I was a goth, Make-up, big hair, the whole shebang. One of my favourite bands was (and still is) The Sisters of Mercy. The early singles and the first two albums are still amazing to listen to. The third... not so much. The AOR production hasn't aged as well.

Anyway the whole point of this preamble being that the Sisters provide the tenuous blog title link. The title is the opening gambit of the song Kiss the Carpet. I was struggling to think of any reference to carpets but luckily the Sisters had my back.

Awkward segue way into Carpet Beetles...

Despite having almost no carpets in the house, I've been finding quite a few of these beasts in the house on window frames. I suspect they have been coming in through open doors and windows but given that I have lots of beetle specimens in the house, their presence makes me nervous, as they can easily destroy a reference collection, given half the chance!

I've been checking every other day for any sign of the wee ****ers in my storage boxes and as yet no sign, but I think I may just pop them in the chest freezer for a couple of weeks to be on the safe side.

I normally just dispatch the only species I see here, Anthrenus verbasci but I did take the time to pay them some quality time yesterday. They are extremely beautiful beetles. If they only didn't do what they do .....

And as for the aural inspiration... Here it is,

Monday, April 6, 2020

Blitzing the garden

The weather's been alright and spring is definitely in the air. Lots of insects on the wing and the dawn chorus has been cranking up.

Confined to the house and garden, I've been beating every bush and vacuuming every patch of ground in the hope of finding new invertebrates.

This morning began with checking the moth traps as the sky lightened. It was disappointing with the two traps only totally 8 moths of 5 species. These two species were new for the year.

Twin spot Quaker
I then got the suction sampler out and went and tried around patches of mossy grass in the lawn to see what I could find. First up were two new species of hemipteran. The first was a whopping 6.2 mm and had massive front legs, with a couple of impressive spines on the underside. It is Eremocoris podagricus.

The other was the weird looking Asiraca clavicornis. It's antennae look like a fourth pair of legs. According to the British bugs website it used to be formerly more widespread in southern Britain but contracted its range somewhat, centering around London. Well, it's still alive and kicking in this Cambridgeshire garden!

There were a fair few beetles including 2 species of Stenus. Not a genus I expected to see here. There were also lots of Syntomus foveatus and Microlestes minutulus. Side by side it was easy to see the difference especially of the ends of the elytra, with Microlestes (right hand one) being far more truncated.

I also found a new Notiophilus species. I normally only ever find biguttatus and this one looked noticeably more 'bull-necked' and bulky in the tray. Turns out it is N. palustris.

Not bad for an unremarkable bit of garden!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Odds and sods

It's been much colder this week and there's been far less insect activity in the garden. Trying to fit in work, home schooling and everything else has been a bit of a struggle but I'm lucky to have a garden and a a bit of space to disappear to when the mood takes me. If only I had access to anything but boring arable fields for my daily exercise allowance I'd be a relatively happy man.

I have managed to fit in a couple of hours this week looking at previously caught beetles. Ones that were put away for a rainy day. 

This first one came to a MV moth trap at the RSPB's Lodge reserve in summer 2019. In the same trap was the longhorn Arhopalus rusticus and the dung beetle Aphodius zenkeri as well as the moth bycatch 😀

It keyed easily to Ernobius mollis once I'd worked out the family! It's one of the wood-boring Ptinids. It's the most commonly encountered member of its genus with records north to the Scottish highlands.

The next two came from the early morning jaunt to the River Cam for a spot of tussocking at the start of March. Boy, does that feel like a lifetime ago now!

First up, was a beetle that I couldn't even assign to family. I suspect because initially it was rather elongated after having been on vinegar soaked tissue for a month. With some help I now know that is a species of Atomaria. One of 46 species split into 2 subgenera. This one is the larger of the 2 groups and is somewhere near gutta/atra. However, there is a new key due in July when the next volume of  Beetles of Britain and Ireland lands, so I'll wait until I have that before having another go.

This one was obviously a Sepedophilus sp. with it's hairy pronotum. Going through the key it went to the pedicularius/nigripennis couplet. The elytra size ratio (width to length) and overall coloration looked better for the former. Top coleopterist Peter Hodge agreed. This is apparently quite a scarce species found in sedge litter in wetland habitats. Looking at the NBN map, there is another recent record from very close by, plus others a bit further away at Wicken Fen.

Still plenty of small fry left to ID on these days of containment. I seem to have recorded about 140 species so far this year, with a few more still to ID. Much better than previous years and more down to extra searching effort then any step change in ability I imagine.....