Monday, August 31, 2020

What's the most common beetle you haven't seen?

A couple of months ago one of the beetlers on Twitter posed the question "what is the most common beetle you haven't yet seen?"

At the time I think I said that for me it was one of the common staphs, Tachyporus obtusum. But I guess it depends how one defines common. That particular staph probably occurs in big numbers but you are probably most likely to see one by suction sampling. Other 'common' species are probably easier to find...

Whilst on holiday last week I bumped into a really common species that I haven't even clocked I'd not yet seen!

Picture the scene. Walking along the coastal path around Flamborough head. Steep chalk cliffs to my right and on my left fairly nondescript arable fields. Kids up ahead.

In quick succession two Pterostichus beetles cross the path and I take a peak at them. P. melanarius. A really common species across most of the UK but not one I have ever laid eyes on before. I guess I don't do much around arable fields which is where these are easily encountered but surprising that I'd not seen these before.

The rest of the walk was spectacular but I still need to see T. obtusum. 😕

In other news, whilst I was down the garden this morning my wife appeared and said there was a big moth sat on the side of our shed. I predicted a Red Underwing but on looking I found this sitting there.

 Bizarrely, the second garden record after my first in 2016. Happy days.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Dead souls

I've just returned from a couple of weeks away. It wasn't the longed planned and much needed trip to south central France that had been booked for months. Covid and our government's inability to develop a proper track and trace system put pay to those dreams. We ended up spending a fortnight in East Yorkshire, visiting family, the coast, and parts of North Yorkshire. The weather was much cooler and rather mixed in terms of rain, however, it was pretty enjoyable and we got to see a fair amount of countryside and I even managed a bit of natural history.

One of the days was spent visiting one of my favourite child hood haunts, Spurn Point.

Despite it still being mid August, the weather made it feel like early Autumn. There used to be a continuous effort to stem the natural coastal processes that make this area so dynamic. About 10 years ago this was scaled back after a storm surge broke through the middle of the peninsula and took out the road. 

There are the remains of the many attempts to stabilise the coastline still evident all along the point, including the ghosts of old groynes, that on a grey and chilly day give the perfect impression of decay and loss. There's always a feeling of stepping back in time when I visit Spurn and this time that feeling was even stronger.

There used to be a thriving medieval town on the point called Ravenser Odd. In the 13th century it was a more important port than nearby Hull, but as the coastline shifted due to longshore drift, the town was swept away. In the winter of 1356–57 storms completely flooded the town, leading to its abandonment, and in 1362 it was largely destroyed by Saint Marcellus's flood aka the Grote Mandrenke storm, which was also responsible for the major destruction of the town of Dunwich in Suffolk.

It transpires that Ravenser Odd was just one of several 'lost towns' along the Humber. There's a book called The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast which was printed in the early 20th century which goes into a huge amount of detail about all this history. There's a digitised version available here.
The British Library - Image taken from The Lost Towns of the Humber

Anyway, back to the natural history. There were a few beetles about. I came across several Silpha tristis in the dunes. It's only the second time I've seen this species, the other occasion being in Dorset about four years ago.

I also swept an Ophonus from a wild carrot seed head. It was an Ophonus ardosiacus, a species I commonly get in the late summer moth traps but this is only the second time I've found it by other means and it appears to be about the northern limit of their distribution.

The common bug Adelphocoris lineolatus was new for me, probably because I've only recently started paying hemipterids more attention. It was even relatively easy to identify too.

I also managed a plant tick in the form of Spiny Saltwort. I'm sure I've seen this before but don't appear to have recorded it and it's not in my (admittedly) poorly put together plant spreadsheet!

It was a thoroughly delightful few hours mooching about and taking in the sense of 'other worldliness' that a visit to Spurn always brings. As the tides shifted and the waves came in, you could almost the sense the ghosts of those lost places.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

An unexpected encounter

This was the last thing I expected to see as I walked along the coast in East Yorkshire, Metoecus paradoxus. I had just moved from exposed cliff top into a more sheltered woody ravine when this beetle flew into me.

I initially thought it was a longhorn as it flew, it looked quite similar to Pseudovadonia livida in flight but as soon as I got a closer look it was obviously a wasp-nest beetle.

This species is widespread but not commonly encountered. It parasitises several species of social wasp and the adults are relatively short lived. They most often turn up in houses that have wasps nesting in the roof spaces and the beetles appear on emergence and get stuck inside. 

A nice beetle to catch up with. And a new family to boot.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sloppy seconds

Two new moth species for both me and the garden last night.

First was the large micro Palpita vitrealis, which appears to be a migrant from southern Europe. Looks similar to the Box-tree Moth but is more closely related to Mother of Pearl.

The second moth was one that I have longed to see since getting my first copy of Skinner as a 12 year old. Clifden Nonpareil Catocala fraxini. However, as next door's trap had one the night before I suspect that this one had just jumped the fence making it slightly less sweet. An absolute monster though and much bigger than I expected. It also is payback for the Convolvulus Hawkmoth that I sent in the opposite direction a few years previously.

Mothing is a funny old business!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Have I found a sad beetle?

So looking through the large number of beetles that I have left to ID from the previous week, my eyes were drawn to this particular individual.

I spent a fair amount of time going round the houses trying to even assign it to family. I ended up eyeballing the families page at UK beetle Recording Site to try and get somewhere. It turned to be another case of 'if you can't get it to family, it will be a tenebrioid'!!

At this point it was obviously in the genus Palorus. But there are two closely related species subdepressus and ratzeburgii, both of which appear to be pretty rare. In fact either would be new for Cambridgeshire as far as I can see.

The shape of the pronotum and the front of the head seem to be key in distinguishing these two from each other. This individual's pronotum is widest in about the middle and is continuously rounded. It also has raised areas around the front of the head.

That should make this one Palorus subdepressus. There are only 12 records on NBN, the nearest being west Norfolk. These can be imported in food stuffs but there is some suggestion of them now being in the wild on or near fungi on broad leaved trees.

The other name for this beetle is the Depressed Flour Beetle, I guess because of the ridges and depressions on the head, but then again it just might be struggling with life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

It's time for house

Another couple of really hot evenings and the moth trap has been buzzing with insects. Beetles have been arriving in large numbers around dusk again and last night there were at least six Polistichus connexus strutting their stuff around the MV bulb. I have quite a lot of 'homework' from the past few nights, especially in the form of small staphs, so no bulb on tonight.

As I sit here typing with the back door and windows open in the early evening heat, I can hear the broken and occasionally erratic chirps of a house cricket.

These have been a feature of the hot nights of the last couple of years in my village. Escaped from reptile-owning households they seem to be a fixture of summers here. I have even heard them in the middle of arable fields in the fens, so I suspect they may be here to stay, especially since our climate is warming rapidly. 

Despite hearing them every day, I'd never set eyes on one until last night when this female showed up at the light trap.

She was much bigger than I expected and posed well for several pics (after 10 mins in the fridge) before heading off on her merry way.

The post title comes from this 80s gem from Coldcut featuring Yazz, before she decided that the only way she wanted to go was the opposite of down.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

We've had three hot nights in succession

Well there's been more than three of them recently but last night (Friday 7th) looked like it was going to be a proper warm 'un. It was forecast to stay above 20 degrees all night meaning that with a bit of luck there would be good dispersal of inverts and hopefully some good beetles. The main question was where to go?

A quick check in with fellow moth-er Bill and we decided to head back out to Chippenham Fen for our 3rd trip of the year. But before I left I decided to set up a MV and an actinic trap at home to see what else might turn up.

We got three traps out at dusk and one of them was soon absolutely hooching with flying ants. Given that the other two were relatively ant-free I suspect we just happened to site it near the exit holes of a colony, but then again considering how wet the ground still was, maybe not.

We soon had several Geotrupes spiniger bombing the white sheet and the numbers of beetles gradually built up. Moths started arriving too after an hour or so and we recorded about 120 species before we packed up just before 2am.

Beetle wise there was a fair amount of small fry that I will need to dedicate a few hours too at some point but there were a few new species that were instantly recognisable.

First up was a new species of tenebrioid, the relatively common Prionychus ater. Another one of those species that I just hadn't bumped into yet. There are still a dizzying number of those!

Just as we were packing up I noticed an Opilo mollis sat on the tripod holding the MV bulb. I'd heard of their tendency to drop and disappear before getting anywhere near them so was pleased to get hold of it. However, I had no spare pots so decided to pop it in one with a Leiopus nebulosa agg. For future reference, Don't! The Opilo soon removed the longhorns legs and antennae and the poor thing was alive but a quadriplegic 😞

Not good in company!

I managed to get home at about 2.30 and then spent the next 30 minutes looking at what had turned up at the garden traps. It wasn't as busy as I'd hoped but before hitting the sack for a couple of hours I did find a single White-spotted Pinion which was a new addition for the garden list.

Waking up at 5.30 a little worse for wear I spent the next hour or so going through the traps. The most obvious thing was the sheer number of Bradycellus verbasci. There were literally thousands. 10s or hundreds on every egg box and the bottom of the Robinson trap was an ever moving mass of bodies. This made seeing and picking out the small stuff (and even some of the bigger stuff) quite difficult.

Then things began to get good. On the second egg box I turned was the beetle that I've been dreaming of catching on a warm summers evening for some time. The beautiful and rather flat Polistichus connexus.

This is a species that lives in cracks and fissures in the ground, mainly around the coast in the extreme south-east of England. It has been turning up at light traps around the Thames basin on very warm nights but I wasn't sure if it could/would make it as far as Cambridge. Lucky for me it did (plus it brought a friend) and I also know that at least two other Cambs moth-ers recorded it last night too.

There was lots of the other usual stuff: carabids, staphs etc. I potted a few of the smaller Ophonus species as well for dissection. These were in amongst the huge numbers of Bradycellus, and large numbers of Harpalus rufipes and Ophonus ardosiacus.

As I began to fade this afternoon I decided to take a quick look at these under the microscope. The first one I looked at made me scratch my head.

Why did I pot a Harpalus rufipes? Taking my eye off the scope I could see why, this beetle was small. 10.5mm. H. rufipes  are generally much bigger. I remembered that there was a closely related species that is very rare in the UK. but that had been recorded coming to light.

Harpalus griseus aka the Brazilian (to find out why that name then read the end of this post by Mark Telfer). The pronotal shape looked ok for griseus so I posted a pic on the Facebook group. Mark replied that it looked good but would need to see the sternite pubescence.

So there's hair in the middle but the sides are smooth

A slightly different angle to give a clearer shot.

So, my initial hunch turned out to be right. Looks like this is H. griseus. Probably new for Cambs too and another example of the amazing ability of beetles to disperse on warm summer evenings. Beating and sweeping may be in the doldrums at the moment but light trapping is really delivering the goods.

[EDIT: the last UK record was in Norfolk in 2012 according to the Carabid Recording Scheme]

Today's blog title takes me back to being an angry young man growing up in Yorkshire. I'm now just an angry middle-aged man living in Cambridge.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

'Cause if I change my strike and I'm fly

A day off with kids today to cover school holidays and drag them away from the ever present screens. I decided to head into East Anglia proper and pay another visit to Lakenheath RSPB reserve. The three of us visited just before lockdown so it seemed fitting to return for a repeat visit.

There were only a few other folk there, mainly long lensers for the bitterns and cranes. As we approached Far Fen we heard the latter calling and had brief views of three birds flying across and landing. But despite carrying my bins these were the only birds I looked at.

I was paying more attention to plants this time. The species I wanted to see and one that was new for me was Large-flowered Hemp-nettle Galeopsis speciosa. It was easy to spot once I knew the rough area it was in (Thanks Busta). I've yet to work out how to get decent plant pics so I apologise for these awful images in advance. Bit at least you can tell what it is.

There was also a fair amount of Bifid Hemp-nettle Galeopsis bifida about. 

Throughout the walk we were constantly buzzed by flies and one son got bitten. Determined to see the positive side I flicked the net a few times and managed to catch two species that I have seen before but have never recorded so get added to the fly list.

The first was Twin-lobed Deerfly Chrysops relictus. These really are amazing looking things once you get over the fact that the females want to sink their proboscis into your exposed flesh and cause you pain.

Just look at those eyes! What is the function of that colour pattern?
Shows perfectly why it's called the Twin-lobed Deerfly

The other fly was Notch-horned Cleg Haematopota pluvialis, probably the UK's most common and widely distributed horsefly.
Another one with crazy eye patterns!

These usually have match darker wing patterning but you can still make it out here.
And you can see the notch in the antenna that gives this species its name.

There were very few beetles to speak of except a handful of common species. My desire to go to an extra couple of sites with the extractor was thwarted by grumpy kids so will have to be done another time.

Today's blog title courtesy of Mr Thaws

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

I got a new flame

Friday night brought another new moth to the trap. New for me and the garden. I potted it and on first glance it looked like it was going to be a simple one to put a name to. It was small but under the microscope it had a distinctive pattern. Easy, I thought.

Flicking through the Sterling, Parsons and Lewington guide the closest I could get (Pancalia) wasn't good enough. What the heck was it? Not being a fan of photographic guides I hadn't thought to consult my copy of Manley. Desperate times call for desperate measures. A flick through that and I had a name, Chrysoesthia drurella, the Flame Neb.

It apparently can be found and indeed swept from open and waste ground. The larvae feed by mining the leaves of goosefoot (Chenopodium) and orache (Atriplex). There are over a hundred records on NBN and it has quite a wide distribution, plus it appears to be distinctive enough to not need dissection. So my question is, why doesn't it appear in the SPL guide? There is a pic of the leaf mine in the Gelchid text section, but not much more.

It also makes me realise that perhaps my phobia of photographic guides might be a little.......'silly'.

The blog post title inspiration is a rather lovely recent discovery. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

The penultimate book of dreams

As I was coming out my first online meeting of the day I heard a large thud at the front door. A quick look revealed a much awaited package from Pemberley Books. I then had an agonising wait until the end of the morning meetings before opening the parcel to reveal this beauty.

This is volume 3 of 4, with 1 and 4 having already been published. It's a beast of a book that covers 69 beetle families with 1088 species. The diversity of families it covers is vast: dor beetles, stag beetles, dung beetles and chafers, jewel beetles, click beetles, glow-worms, soldier beetles, ladybirds, tenebrioids, false blister beetles, oil beetles and cardinal beetles. It's the volume that really emphasises the diversity of species in the UK and Ireland. Everything from the mighty Stag beetle through to the tiny Cortinicara gibbosa. Flicking through I kept finding new families to look at. Groups that I have recently been looking at a fair bit such as latrids and ptinids are also covered. 

It's an amazing piece of work and having only had it one day I've only made an initial foray into its contents. It's going to be interesting to see how certain groups fall out from the keys. I'm keen to see how elaterids and mordellids key out given the difficulties I've had with other keys. It still uses the scutellum shape as an initial division for the former that I've never been a fan of but presumably there's not much else to do this and I just need to be better at differentiating the two forms.

The quality of the figures is high and brings together in one place stuff from a diverse range of sources. This will reduce the constant flicking between online keys, papers, books and websites that I currently employ for various groups.

There's a lot to get my head around. A new key for Atomaria using the pronotal pubescence characters that were presented in the recent issue of the Coleopterist. Some seriously detailed gentialia diagrams for the nightmare that is Cryptophagus.

Crypotphagus genitalia

Flicking through again just now I'm reminded that Meligethes is also covered. Another of the groups that give coleopterists of all levels a real headache some times. So much here to unpack and digest.

There's going to be a 4 year wait until the final volume arrives. Volume 2 will be devoted entirely to staphs. That's the one that I'm really looking forward to. Hopefully a game changer for the aleochs. For an interview with Andrew Duff about the new volume and the series more generally I'd recommend reading this.

Finally, flicking through the plates at the end was always going to be fun to get a feel for what's out there that I'm yet to be aware of, yet alone seen.

I was immediately struck by a beetle that now might have trumped Oxyporus rufus for the crown of beetle I most want to see. Macronychus quadrituberculatus. What a creature! One to find on submerged logs in deep water of clean rivers in southern England and south-east Wales. Given my limited attempts at water beetles this one may take a life time to find. But I guess with beetles that's the whole point. You're never going to see them all...

Saturday, August 1, 2020

So I'm back to the velvet underground

I have been a bit quiet on the blogging front over the past couple of weeks partly due to being busy at work and partly due to a lack of seeing or finding much. I have been reacquainting myself with lots of plants which has made walks devoid of beetles more interesting.

I had a couple of failed attempts to see Musk Beetle at what I thought would be a nailed on site for it! Had the blog post all ready to go with a nod to the late great Peter Green and his Green Manalishi. It was not to be and I ended up looking at and sweeping riverside vegetation. I ticked the common rush species Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, which I must have seen but wasn't on my list. I have also been going round the village and local arable fields recording common plants and re-familiarising myself with them.

I also had a day on the Suffolk coast with the kids. It was a beautiful day but very little in the way of beetles to speak of except the ubiquitous Rhagonycha fulva. There were a few plants, with Wood Sage being new or at least once again not on my list but I know I've seen it before! This will teach me to keep better records of plants. 

One I have seen before but was nice to see plenty of was Sea Pea. A lovely looking thing that was flowering on the tops of the shingle banks.

Lathyrus japonicus - Sea Pea

Apart from that I've been getting my natural history kicks from the moth trap. 

Pick of the recent bunch which not only was garden first but a full lifer was this Marbled Clover. It took me a while to figure it out as the plate in the TWL Guide doesn't quite do it justice.

Last night was looking amazing for insect dispersal with temps predicted to be above 20 degrees at midnight and a stready breeze. I stayed up with the trap recording the beetles that arrived in the first few hours. It was good but not quite as good as I'd hoped. The trap was heaving with Ophonus ardosiacus though. A species definitely on the up.

I still have lots of small fry to ID but these 2 species were both new for me. Both common, but just ones I'd not come across before.

The first one was obviously a Mycetophagus but it wasn't the one I usually see (quadripustulatus). I keyed it out to quadriguttatus but then it was politely pointed out that it wasn't. A re-key and I realised i had misinterpreted the antennal structure. It was the much commoner M. piceus

The other new species just shows how rarely I dip a net in water. My water beetle list is pretty poor and there are many glaring gaps. But no longer including the 3mm Hygrotus inaequalis.

Probably the best record was under the last egg box in the second of two traps and was pretty much the last moth to be revealed. A rather battered male Gypsy Moth. There are very few records from VC29 but this is a species that is gradually spreading from its London heartland. Not a lifer as I had the caterpillar earlier in the year but still good to see.

The post title inspiration has a nod to the post that never happened. After Peter Green saw his Green Manalishi and withrew from public life his band continued and morphed. Twelve years later they released this bit of 80s gold. Enjoy.