Sunday, July 19, 2020

Right, weekender we're going out

I seem to be adhering to the old adage 'living for the weekend' at the moment. Getting through the week at work before throwing myself into the things I enjoy most. In my teens and early 20s it would have been clubbing and music, it now seems to be walks, good food and a fair bit of natural history. The latter set is probably better for my long term health and well being than the former, although I wouldn't do things differently if I had my time again, well not much.

The weekend began with 2 moth traps in the garden for what looked like a warm evening. It lived up to its early promise and produced several hundred moths of 75(ish) species. Best among them were several NFG, and the best of these, or at least the ones that I took the best pics of were the first Oak Eggar for the garden list. 

This whopping micro also made a first appearance. The rather smart Morophaga choragella. The larvae feed on bracket fungi and possibly dead wood, or I guess the fungi that break up the dead wood.

I also had 2 Tree-Lichen Beautys (or Beauties? I'm never sure), the first record since 2017.

Today, I returned to Devil's Dyke for some family exercise. It had rained heavily overnight and the temperature was cool but the chalk had a fair few flowing plants out.  There were lots of these Clustered Bellflowers out giving a bit of colour.

and also (and excuse the shit picture) Squinancywort, the first time I've knowingly seen this species. Apparently, Squinancy is the old, obsolete name for quinsy or sore throat, with wort meaning flower. Back in the mists of time a herbal remedy was made from the plant and in liquid form was then gargled to sort it out. Given the way things are going at the moment that might be essential knowledge in the not too distant future.  

Beetles were thin on the ground apart from Rhagonycha fulva, but some vigorous sweeping of Field Scabious and assorted umbellifers turned up another new species of mordellid. These are a bugger to key out but after a few attempts to double check I'm pretty confident that this one is Mordellistena pumila

Post title inspiration comes in the form of Weekender by Flowered Up. The video is over 18 minutes long and brilliantly (and scarily) captures a certain section of life in the early 90s. Historical gold.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A viper's voice would plead

A trip out to the southern most bit of the Brecks this week was an excuse to tire the kids out and visit a completely different habitat from recent trips. 

The area of King's Forest just north of the village of Lackford is a mix of coniferous plantation, deciduous woodland and open sandy areas. It's a nice place for a wander except for the huge amount of dog shit. Is it really too much to ask for owners to remove it? Seems so.

Apart from the that, I was really taken with the plant life here. So many in flower that I decided to pay attention and have a proper look at them. Lots of Sickle Medick, Wild Mignonette and Dark Mullein lined the tracks. There was the odd patch of Wild Basil on the side of the path... well as the odd Musk Mallow.

There was masses of Viper's Bugloss along the edges and sometimes centre of the paths.

I remembered that this it had an associated weevil so net in hand gave some patches a good sweep. Bingo, the beautifully marked ceutorhynch Mogulones geographicus. This beetle turned out to be on pretty much every patch I sampled.

Sweeping the Wild Mignonette turned up Bruchela rufipes. Currently assigned to Anthribidae, this species has previously been classified within a distinct family, the Urodontidae, or as a subfamily of Bruchidae. This individual was 2.7mm and was the only one found sweeping quite large areas of its host plant.

There were a few other new beetles including this tortoise beetle, Cassida sp. Swept from yarrow and only 4.4mm I think this is C. prasina.

There was also a new tenebrioid, Cteniopus sulphureus. The Sulphur Beetle.

There's definitely more possibilities from this site, especially if you were to venture into some of the better patches of tree. I also think a return visit at night with a generator and MV light trap may be quite interesting too. A good excuse for another visit.

Blog post title inspiration comes from one of the greatest songwriters of the last 40 years...

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The destroyer of socks

This afternoon found me on my hands an knees on the edge of a local sugar beet field. The reason? I was following up some gen from an acquaintance in the village of a scarce arable plant had been seen.

It didn't take me long to find lots of it. Spreading Hedge-parsley Torilis arvensis. In some places it is also known as the Tall Sock-destroyer, which sounds like the crappest superhero ever!

It's an annual herb, flowering from June to October. The seeds are mainly autumn germinating and are thought to be relatively short-lived in clay soils but can be longer lived in free-draining soils. Seeds germinate between October and December and seedlings form an overwintering rosette. The seeds are covered in long, slender spines which are hooked at the very tip.

Here they are on the right compared to ones from a nearby Upright Hedge-parsley Torilis japonica. The size difference and shape is really obvious when side by side.

Like many arable plants it has declined sharply in the last 60 years, and is now only found in around 70 10km squares. So it's good to see it doing well in my small corner of Cambridgeshire.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Chasing Scirt

Every time I think I'm finally making progress with beetles, something happens to bring me crashing back down to earth and put me firmly in my place!

This week, I took an evening walk with number one son along the Great Ouse. Mostly just for a bit of exercise, but I did take my small sweep net and aimed it at a few bits of riverside vegetation. Looking at the contents of one sweep I saw a largish flea beetle that I didn't immediately recognise except to know that I was pretty sure I hadn't seen it before. I potted it and a couple of other things to look at on my return home. 

Later on, peering down the microscope I saw this.

The thighs screamed 'flea beetle' at me but try as I might, I could not pin it down to genus. The double tarsal spikes looked like a good clue but despite several attempts to key and also picture match I was going round in circles. Frustrated I stuck it on Twitter and tagged those more experienced than me. Within 5 mins I had an answer. Scirtes hemisphaericus (Thanks Adrian 👍).

It's not a leaf beetle but a Scirtid! I was looking at the wrong bloody family. This species lives on emergent vegetation along rivers and the edges of lakes and is reasonably common. Those long spurs are the give away that it's not a leaf beetle. I won't be making that mistake again...

In the same sweep was a beetle that I did recognise as a Scirtid. This one was a species of Cyphon and  had elytral ridges (which you can make out in the image below) that narrowed it down to a couple of species.

The next bit of the key looks at the size of the 3rd antennal segment but as I had no specimen to compare with I was left none the wiser. As it was a male, a quick insertion of a micro pin and voila!
This one is Cyphon coarctatus, a common and widespread species.

In other wildlife news, as I was staring at the pond first thing this morning I noticed a largish butterfly sat on my potatoes. I walked over for a better look and it moved to sun itself on a nearby field maple. I was rather surprised to see a Silver-washed Fritillary. Not a species I would have necessarily predicted to record here, but they have been expanding in range. I grabbed a horrendous record shot with the only camera I had on me, my phone.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A new nitidulid

This beetle came to light a couple of weeks ago. At 6.7mm it's a bit of a beast of a nitidulid. 

It keyed easily to Soronia, of which there are only two species in the UK, punctatissima and the more often encountered grisea. 

Looking at the external characters was a bit confusing. The coloring led me towards grisea but the more evenly rounded sides of the pronotum made me think punctatissima.

Luckily it was a male so a quick look at its tackle and ....'s punctatissima. New genus, new species 👍

Sunday, July 5, 2020

For fear of death, in fear of rot

I found this dead shrew in the garden yesterday. It had done that thing that shrews do, of just keeling over mid forage, presumably of a heart attack. No obvious wounds, but the flies had already arrived and as I knelt down to inspect it several flew off disturbed by my my shadow.

Poking around under the dead shrew I found and potted a 3mm Leiodid beetle which I thought looked good for a Catops species. It had enlarged front tarsi making it a male so thought I might have a chance of getting it to species. But knowing that realistically these are a real pain to do. Well I don't find them easy.

I extracted the aedaegus and then set about picture matching it to all the images in Duff BBI vol 1. Couldn't find a match, so went online to look at pics from my favourite german site. Nothing doing.

In fact the parameres (spindly bits at the side) in my specimen looked decidedly short for a Catops. Another look at the book and I realised that despite similarities my assumption that it was Catops was entirely wrong and that it in fact was in the closely related genus Sciodrepoides. Luckily, there are only two species and the book illustration of S. watsoni was a dead ringer for my specimen,

According to the book, it's a widespread species found on carrion and damp litter across England and Wales and more locally in Scotland. It might be common but it's new to me and new to the garden list.

The post title inspiration is another from my fav band of all time.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The first 600

Back in March I identified and recorded my 500th species of beetle. It had taken me about 5 years to get there, after a slow start. It has taken me just 3 months to see and identify the next 100 species. Which is averaging a tad over a new species a day.

I also have another 20-30 species sat in the fridge that I know are new but haven't got round to dissecting yet. There are also a few more that I'm not entirely confident on and need to have checked either by someone with more experience or by comparing them to known reference specimens.

I began the year with the desire to up my beetling game and to see and ID more species. I seem to be making some headway on that front. I've made good use of lots of different methods: sieving, sweeping, extraction and vacuuming. I've also expanded the sorts of places I look . The late winter beetling was definitely a highlight with my compost heap and flood debris sampling being particularly productive.

In February I told myself that 700 by the end of the year might be possible but then lock down hit and I gave up on that idea. It didn't matter as it's not really about the numbers for me, I just use it as a proxy for making sure that I continue to try and expand my horizons and learn new things. Although I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a kick from seeing new beetles. 😄

Having hit 600 half way through the year, I reckon another 100 or so beetles by the end of the year is a distinct possibility if I can keep my focus and not be distracted by other things.

So what was number 600. It was Hydrochus ignicollis, which came to light last week.