Friday, November 27, 2020

Spent the evening unpacking books from boxes

 I've had a bit of a second hand book spree over the last couple of weeks. 

Not having had to drive 90 minutes for work every day and the resulting savings in petrol is how I have justified it to myself. But if I'm honest I rarely need an excuse to buy a book. My one weakness, well...that, and the other one.

I manage to pick up all 4 books at very reasonable prices, which made the purchases even more palatable.

The copy of Die Käfer Mitteleuropas 5: Staphylinidae II, has been a long time coming and I've really wanted this one (and number 4), for all the info and images of my fav beetle family. This volume covers Aleochs plus some other bits and pieces.

Pronotal pubescence patterns, or Pronotal Behaarungstypen.

Dick pics

What's not to love! My German is non-existent so there will be a quite a bit of google translating and head scratching but the images alone are worth it. 

The three volumes of water beetle books are part of the  Fauna Entomologica Scandinavia series. These are rather usefully in English and are full of info and the most wondrous drawings. 

There's so much in them that I have barely scratched the surface. The section on Hydroporus for example seems really useful and it's a genus that I often really struggle with. There's also a fair bit on the biology and life histories which I always like to read. They will make great additions to the UK water beetle keys and atlases. Especially useful as I have now acquired a net for water beetling and am hoping that 2021 will see me swinging it about in a few places to up my water beetle game. God knows I've been slow on the uptake!

Today's post title inspiration comes from one of the north-east's finest.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

I'm fully focused, man

I've been rattling through the 2020 beetle backlog over the last couple of weeks. It's been fairly productive and I'm certainly much better, and more importantly quicker, at putting a name to things and also dissecting and carding those individuals that need further inquiry and study.

I also did a bit of gardening yesterday and couldn't resist a quick bit of sieving of the grass cutting piles, especially as they were getting a bit of warmth from the weak Autumn sunshine. It was fairly quiet on the beetle front but there were lots of small flies in the samples, which I studiously ignored. There were a few staphs though, including this species which was entirely new to me.

Quedius humeralis. It's one of the Raphirus subgenus with big eyes and an emarginated labrum. It also has quite obvious paler edges to the elytra. The Lott and Anderson guide has this species' habitat down as 'uncertain'. Well, rotting autumnal vegetation is one habitat as I can now attest 😀


It can be separated from the very similar Q. nemoralis by the more elongated median lobe of the aedeagus.

Another new staph that I identified this week, but that had come from a garden suction sampling session back in April was the paederine Sunius propinquus. It was the first of this genus I'd found and is the most readily encountered of the 3 UK species. 

I also found this 2.7mm staph that initially threw me as being something new but I think it's just a very dark Anthobium atrocephalum. These do seem to be quite variable colour-wise. Not sure if there is an age or season dimension to this.

So the plan is to finish the remaining beetles over the next few weeks and hopefully then I can produce some sort of summary for the year. Despite the wider craziness it has been my most interesting and productive beetling year by a country mile. And interestingly, the lion's share of these have come from the garden with little effort, just a variety of techniques. Something to keep going for 2021 I think.

The post title comes from one Curtis James Jackson III . Can't quite believe that this is almost 18 years old.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Continuing a theme

I picked another tube of beetles from the fridge yesterday to work through as is my want when the sky darkens and the family don't need me. These particular ones were collected back in mid-June from cow dung in an old meadow in the next village to mine. So given my last post it was rather a coincidence that the first beetle I looked at was another species of Aleochara.

This was obviously a different species to the last one: darker, hairier and more 'chunky' in appearance. It started through the key rather well and with its mesosternum having a pretty much complete carina (sort of line/ridge down the middle) I was doing OK.

You then get to the more subjective part of the key ie are its legs stout or narrow. Also whether the hind tarsus including the claws is shorter than the tibia or not. No idea on the stoutness but I reckoned that the tarsi were just a bit shorter than the length of the tibia.

Next step is to look at how strongly punctured the elytra and abdomen are. Even looking at the crap photo above you can see that (especially where the light hits the end of the abdomen) the punctuation is strong. Having decided that you then have to decide whether the abdomen strongly narrows towards the end. I don't think so but the species that falls out here, intricata (with a narrowing abdomen), should also have reddish legs. My beetle's legs are very black indeed. 

That takes it to either being A. tristis or moesta. The key difference here is size with moesta being 3-5mm and tristis being 5-6mm. Staphs are notoriously difficult to measure consistently given the telescopic concertina nature of their abdomens, but this beetle is around 6mm. So should therefore be A. tristis.

I decided to dissect to make sure.

It looked like a pretty good match for tristis but I find these quite hard to judge. But as luck would have it as I was dissecting the capsule (bit above) from the sac, something akin to to a rolled up condom fell out and started to unravel. 

Turns out this large coiled flagellum is a diagnostic feature for this species and can be seen in the diagrams from the key.

Result! Was good for the confidence to have one of these go relatively smoothly but I'm sure there'll be something along soon to mess with my head.

Aleochara tristis is found mainly in the south-east of England on dung and carrion and is described by Welch as rare. But I imagine that as with a lot of these staphs the coverage is pretty poor and they are a bit more common than previously thought.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

We've come to f**k you over

I found this staph in my compost heap back in March and at the time was pleased to find that I could ID it to genus level in the field. This is one of the Aleochara. Of all the aleoch groups these are probably the easiest but as I was about to find out they still have the propensity to mess with your head and make you doubt your sanity.

There's a good key to these by Colin Welch that appeared in the Coleopterist many moons ago and is available to freely download here.

First couplet is easy, does the beetle have a two irregular rows of punctures (with hairs) on the pronotum either side of a smooth middle bit?

Bingo, this most obviously does putting this firmly in the subgenus Coprochara.

That helpfully narrows this to four species: bilineata, binotata, bipustulata and bi verna. 😉

The next bit is all about the colouring of the elytra. The fact that this has discreet orangey patches excludes bilineata  and binotata and leave us with this being either verna or bipustulata

As this was a male I whipped out its bits to have a look. The drawings in Welch looked different enough to me.

5A and B is A. bipustulata and 6A and B is A. verna

Firstly looking at a lateral view, i tried to ascertain the shape of the aedeagus which I've drawn in red in the image. Comparing to the illustration I was convinced I was looking at A. verna. It was then pointed out that the neck of the aedeagus was too thing for verna and was more akin to bipustulata.

So what about the dorsal view? Again to me it looks more like the illustration of verna, with a wider base and more 'light bulb' appearance.

Time to look at some other sources, first up the Swedish guide by Palm. The shape of the my beetle's aedeagus is perhaps a better match for bipustulata but on these the thickness  of aedeagus neck seems to be reversed with verna having the thinner neck!

Dorsal images of verna are here and there also drawings and photos at I think it's clear to see some confusion and possible variation in the aedeagus of this genus and in fact there is some suggestion that females are easier and the spermatheca are a better way to tell these apart.

One thing that appears to be consistently different is the the extent of the red/orange patch on the elytra.

Bipustulata has larger patches that cover almost a quarter of the elytra, verna are more concentrated on the inner corners of each elytra below. This is illustrated below.

Aleochara bipustulata (left) and A. verna (right)

So my beetle has quite large patches which would suggest that it is a male A. bipustulata. This is also the more common of the two species. Not easy though and a valuable learning experience. 

The post title comes from early 90s industrial super group Murder Inc. Saw them live in 92 supporting the Sisters of Mercy, they were very loud!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


I ran the moth trap last night for the first time since late September as the temperature remained in double digits all night.

I was rewarded with nine species in the trap including this Sprawler, which was new for the garden list and given it's a moth of broad-leaved woodland, not one I had expected to necessarily see here. 

I usually find these round the security lights at the Lodge at this time of year but not 2020 as home working continues unabated...


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Welcome distraction

To distract myself from world events I decided to clear some of the recently fallen leaves from the surface of the pond yesterday. In amongst the purple loosestrife and field maple leaves was this colourful creature with piercing red eyes.

It's one of the Notonecta backswimmers of which there four species in the UK. Pale elytra with darkening towards the tips makes this N. viridis. This species is often in brackish water but has extended its range into freshwater pools. Must have just paid my small pond a fleeting visit...

Monday, November 2, 2020

For all the degradation in this land


The garden's offerings of field mushrooms have started to go over now and I spent half an hour yesterday on my hands and knees looking at some of the more manky ones!

There were a fair number of beetles in amongst the fast forming mush, mostly Proteinus brachypterus. One rather globular individual caught my eye and I was pleased on looking down the microscope to clap eyes on my first Onthophilus striatus.

This 2mm histerid is reasonably common in decaying matter across the south of England becoming more sporadic the further north you get. The above image doesn't do it justice but it's a remarkably intricately sculptured beetle.

There were also a few of this Omalium staph. 

These are not an easy group. But this one is the commonest of the genus. It has rather bulging sides to the head and the impressions in front of the ocelli are large and rounded. This means it should be O. rivulare, and luckily for my keying skills the aedeagus agrees with me!

It was good to compare to another Omalium that I had been looking at the day before. This one had come to light back in May and is O. caesum.

Its elytra are relatively shorter and the head somewhat longer. It's first and second antennal segments are darker too and this is one of the features that separates it from the closely related O. rugatum.

The aedeagus is a fair bit different from rivulare but the differences between caesum and rugatum appear to be slight.

The best images I can find are at the french site, You can see O. rugatum and O. caesum the lateral view (from the side) seems to be the best way to distinguish the two, but as I haven't knowingly seen rugatum yet I'll have to get back to you if that actually is the case.

The post title comes from a new discovery, for me at least, the rather wonderful Lebanon Hanover.