Sunday, February 28, 2021

A couple of new little 'uns

A recent post by fellow naturalist, David on Twitter had my looking at the edges of one of our village ponds this afternoon for a particularly nice looking staph Hygronoma dimidiata

I was targeting old stands of reed mace (Typha sp.), as it had been mentioned that this particular beetle might be found within. The amount I could actually reach without either doing myself a mischief or getting rather wet was limited. I will return fully wellied up in the near future for another pop.

I brought a few stems back home with me and then proceeded to create a veritable maelstrom of fluffy Typha seeds as I opened up the heads and shaft.

I failed to locate that particular staph but I did pick up two new beetle species. Both widespread and probably just missed previously having never tried this particular technique before.

Telmatophilus typhae

Stenus pallitarsis

Apart from that, it has been a weekend of gardening. Cutting back the huge amounts of bramble and doing a bit of pond maintenance. I almost mowed the lawn but the ground was still a bit too damp. The sun was warm and it felt like spring. Lovely.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The sap is rising

Now that I'm putting the moth trap out again given the warmer temperatures, there's a bit more opportunity for some nighttime perambulations in the garden. Beetles are still thin on the ground from direct searching and I have to get the sieves and suction sampler out to find decent numbers.

Whilst out at the weekend, I remembered to check a field maple where I had to remove a low branch earlier in the winter. I had a look back in November/December and not found much but when I took a peek this time there were a fair few small beetles feeding on the sap that was rising out and congealing in the night air.


They were obviously nitulids and I was pretty sure in the genus Epuraea. That's one of those genera that makes my head hurt so I took some back with me for further study.

My initial hunch was right. Epuraea was spot on. They keyed the species pair E. unicolor/biguttata, which can only be reliably separated on differences in male genitalia. So I did what had to be done.

Comparing these to the diagrams in Duff vol 3, I reckoned I was looking at E. unicolor, which was a new species for me, having seen biguttata before. I decided to seek out some more info which is when things got confusing...

I couldn't find any information. It isn't the latest checklist except as an invalid name for biguttata and searches weren't turning up anything. I then remembered to check the Coleopterist search and I found an article from 2020 by Roger Booth showing the existence of two species unicolor and biguttata, both widespread. 

So now I gained a species and then lost one, as I'm not sure I can rule out my previous biguttata actually being unicolor. Bugger.

So note to self to dissect all these as a matter of course from now on.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Roll your eyes to heaven and curse every name

So in my first light trapping session of the year I caught a couple of leaf hoppers, which to my mind look really distinctive and I assumed would be a doddle to put a name to.

Off I went to the British Bugs website and had a look at some images. I was pretty confident that I had a leafhopper in the genus Idiocerus but a quick read was clear to point out that these were quite a difficult genus to separate. Closest I could get was to Idiocerus lituratus but that didn't look quite right so I decided to ask for some help.

This is what I was looking at....

The Facebook Hemiptera group was very helpful. So this is Acericerus ribauti but used to be in the genus Idiocerus. This is one of two species found on maple, which also makes sense as I had put the trap between two field maples. It was first recorded in the UK in 2007 and is now a pretty common species across the UK.

I also had a couple of flies to ID. I find these really difficult but I guess like anything else it's just a matter of perseverance and practice. I remember being baffled by beetle terminology a couple of years ago and now I can take your shagreened elytral sculpture  and raise you a rugose pronotal edging any day of the week!

With the first fly, I hit a right good bit of luck. Skev, on his very good (=much better) blog had keyed what looked suspiciously like the same fly. It at least gave me some pointers and especially the info on where I might find a key. After a couple of mistakes and some keying of both ways on occasion, not to mention a lot of looking at images online, I reckoned mine was also a Phaonia tuguriorum.

With the second fly I am currently at an impasse and will have another crack tomorrow, but if anyone wants to add any pointers in the meantime then please do...

I was so overcome by peering down the microscope at flies that I decided to invest in the new guide to blow flies given that I find quite a few when I'm using putrid flesh to attract beetles. I also, and I can't state this emphatically enough, cannot resist buying a new book. Pretty much my only remaining addiction. Well that and the other one.

The title inspiration comes from the Irish band the Dying Seconds. Great song and quite a cool video too.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The boys (and girls) of summer

Well, spring at least. As the temperatures last night were forecast to remain in double figures I decided to put the moth trap out for the first time this year. A quick look  at 10pm and I could see a couple of moths inside and another couple circling close.

When I went out at first light this morning I ended up with 6 species, one of which was only the second record for the garden. It's always nice to see the old familiar faces and get dredging the old grey matter for names not used for 10 months.

There were no beetles to liven up the catch but there was a leafhopper and a fly that need a name putting to them.

Common Quaker

Hebrew Character


Oak Beauty

March Moth - only the second garden record

Title inspiration is from this 1984 belter and one that always makes me smile despite being a slightly melancholic song

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Finally, it happened to me.

After my previous failed attempt I found some decent patches of Clematis vitalba aka Old Man's Beard/Traveller's Joy today and stopped to have a look for signs of beetle feeding and emergence. It was by no means obvious on all of it, some patches that looked good had no signs that I could see but I did find one patch where some of the larger dead stems had lots of holes and I took some decent sized pieces home for a more thorough look.

Breaking the stems apart in my tray revealed a couple of Cartodere bifasciata and quite a number of small spiders. After a while I noticed a couple of small cylindrical beetles walking about in the bottom and eventually found five live (and several dead) individuals of my quarry. 

Xylocleptes bispinus.

I was pleased to finally catch up with a live one after a couple of dead individual only encounters. I've been checking Clematis vitalba whenever I see it and the presence of the beetle is very hit and miss. No easy and obvious way to predict if you'll find the signs or not. Some patches full of dead stems have no beetles. Odd. I wonder what they like. 

I also turned up another individual of Leptophloeus clematidis, the Xylocleptes' predator, in the bits I collected which was nice to see again.

Also felt vaguely spring like too today. I saw a singing chaffinch and even heard snatches of a skylark's song. Not long now.... thank ****. 

Post inspiration is a cover of the Cece Peniston classic, Finally by Bolton purveyors of americana, Cherry Ghost. One of those rare occasions where the cover may surpass the original.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

In lieu of a reference...

After my rummaging through the big pile of reeds and straw a couple of weeks ago, I was still left with a few beetles to put a name to.

Many of these were the ptiliids, aka the dreaded featherwing beetles. There are a fair number of species and they don't get much above 1mm in length. There are keys but once you get to genus I find them pretty much useless. Partly because the differences are slight and partly because my microscope just can't cope with stuff that small at the resolution that is needed.

My preference is to dissect and hope for a female. Unlike, say staphs where the males naughty bits can elucidate an ID, for ptiliids it's the intricate spermatheca of the females that can be the clincher.

All the specimens I had were in the genus Acrotrichis, and look a bit like a mini trilobite with their tapered, pointed pronotal hind corners. My biggest issues is that in order to get the relevant bits out and get them under a microscope, I start with this...

...but end up finishing with this...

This means that I don't have any reference specimens for future comparison. Well I guess I could crudely try and reassemble the poor thing but it would be a fruitless task. 

I put the spermatheca in a tiny drop of glycerol and then put them under the compound microscope for some proper scrutiny, usually moving through the different planes of focus and try and sketch a rough picture of the hoops, twists and whorls.

So what I do have is a bunch of images of the spermatheca as a reference for future comparison.

So here are the ones from the visit...

Acrotrichis henrici

Acrotrichis montandonii

Acrotrichis fascicularis

The images don't really do these amazing structures justice. As Max Baclay said on twitter 'any sperm that can negotiate this deserves to fertilise the egg!'. And he's not wrong.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Bleddy hell

Staphs are still my favourite beetle family by a country mile. When I first bought the two RES books I immediately turned to the plates to have a look at what was in story for me. There was lots to whet the appetite but the genus Bledius really stood out, especially the males of B. spectabilis with their pronotal projections that give the impression of a horn.

Just look at the thing! It's like something Obi Wan Kenobi would ride into a battle on.

I couldn't wait to see my first one. I didn't have to wait long as on my first holiday after picking up the beetling bug I ended up in coastal Dorset for a fortnight and spent a bit of time pootling around the soft cliffs. I picked up a couple of female Bledius but they stubbornly refused to be named. I even ended taking the specimens to the Staph workshop at Dinton Pastures where even Roger Booth who was running the thing could only get them to species pairs.

A similar thing happened with a couple that turned up to light at Chippenham Fen. Females and pretty much impossible to ID. 

So I had resigned myself to making a coastal trip at some point to try and find some males and had put them to the back of my staph filled mind.

Then last summer one turned up in the garden light trap and I carded it and put it to one side for a rainy day ID attempt. That day came earlier this week, and I picked it out the unidentified box with no real hope of putting a name to it.

Surprisingly and more than a little pleasingly it keyed simply to Bledius gallicus. This is a species that occurs in two colour forms; one with black elytra and and the other with red, but the former (and the one I caught) is found in the south. Like others in its genus it's associated with water but this one is fresh rather than coastal in habitat and apparently likes sand by rivers and streams. 

So it's nice to finally get a name to one, I just need to track down one of those Star Wars battle tank ones now.....

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Bloody Amara

A cold and damp Sunday during a pandemic lockdown doesn't leave one with many options for things to do. After a baltic walk around the village and surrounding fields with the family I sat down and had a look through the box of unidentified beetles in the comfort of a slightly warmer room. 

This box is mainly populated with some of the more difficult groups such as Cryptophagus and aleochs. Groups where I'm just not confident in putting a name to the thing. The plan (sort of) is to build up a collection so that I can start comparing specimens to try and elucidate some of the finer features.

Whilst casting my eye over the box (well 3 boxes if I'm being entirely honest) I found this Amara specimen from a visit to coastal Cumbria from May 2018. That had been looked at and returned to the box on a couple of occasions since I collected it. Feeling far more confident with this genus these days, I naively assumed that today would be the day that I would put a name to it. 

My key of choice for this group is Mark Telfer's Identification guide to the Amara and Curtonotus (Carabidae) of Britain and Ireland. I generally find it really straightforward to use and much better than the keys in Luff or Duff.

First couplet asks whether there is a pore puncture at the base of the scutellar stria. This can sometimes be a tricky thing to see but as with many things it's usually a case of if you're not sure, then there isn't one. However, sometimes the hair that sits there has broken off to add another layer of complexity. I took a look at this one, then another look. I couldn't see a hair but there was an obvious pit. So surely that's the thing I'm looking for..... I think. (Note not listening to previous advice).

That then took to me to look at whether the largest spur on the front tarsus was a single point or three-pronged (although often only 2 can be seen at any one time). My one had an obvious single point (the bit just above it in the pic is actually a separate spur not a prong). Easy.

There then comes a couplet about the antenna. Entirely pale OR first 3 segments pale and rest darker. Easy to see below that it's definitely the latter.

Next up I need to look at the legs. All pale (and a small beetle 5.7mm) OR with at least the femora darker? This beetle is 7.8mm and the femora are black and even the tarsi are a dark red, so we can rule A. anthobia out.

Pronotal fovea are the dimples along the bottom and to the side of the pronotum. These vary a lot between Amara species and can be an important ID feature. At this point though I was looking for a distinct longitudinal groove. Nothing doing.

So that took me not to a couplet but to a quartet, ie 4 possibilities. And 4 difficult to distinguish species, 2 common, 2 rare. However, the fact that the hair in the hind corner of the pronotum was much nearer to the bottom than side was making me suspect that I had one of the rare ones. So I decided to get clarification on the Facebook group.

Long story, short. I should have listened to my initial advice. If you're not sure if you have a scutellar pore then there isn't one. I had only gone and keyed it the wrong way. There is no pore. Keying it the right way got me quickly to A. communis, one of the common ones.

Bloody Amara!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

And the light it burns my eyes

On one of my daily bouts of exercise last week, I noticed some large piles of rotting straw and reeds close to a foot path that looked worth a rummage. So today I decided to head back that way to have a quick look for beetles. There was some amazing fenland light going on with blinding light one minute followed by thick clouds quickly darkening things and then back to full sun. Birds were even singing.

Anyway, I relocated the piles. There was quite a bit to choose from.....

I picked a pile and started having a look. There were springtails in profusion but the number of beetles wasn't huge and carabids were almost completely absent. Staphs made up 90 plus percent with Habrocerus capillaricornis being easily the most numerous beetle, bombing about the bottom of my bucket, moving from hiding place to hiding place.

A Habrocerus capillaricornis that's quietened down a bit

I did however, end up finding three new staph species for me (with a few others (aleochs!) still to ID) which is pretty good going given that it was a lightning visit. I also saw a huge woodchip pile that will require further inspection at a later date.

First up was this paederine staph that keyed easily to Medon apicalis and the aedeagus backed me up. Similar in shape to Lithocharis that I find a lot of in the garden it is slightly larger and has a darker pronotum. 

The Lott and Anderson book says that this is pretty much restricted to East Anglia and NBN backs that up. However it's a species that seems to have popped up everywhere in woodchip and grass piles over the last few years, as far as northern Scotland. So definitely a species whose fortunes have turned.

There were also a couple of these tiny ones with pimped up palps and antenna. It does make you wonder how they are used and why they evolved. This is a species of Bryaxis and keys (using the out of print RES Key) to B. bulbifer, the most common one apparently. 

Lastly, was Cordalia obscura a rather shapely staph with an almost heart-shaped pronotum, not to mention a heart-shaped reflection from the ring light on its elytra.

It was good to be out, grubbing around and looking for beetles. I saw two distant people and had the paths to myself. 

Post title inspiration comes from Underworld (mkII)'s first album. 27 years old this year!!  I saw them perform live in early '94 in Sheffield and it was a pretty amazing night, I seem to remember the room going mental when Cowgirl kicked in. When we were kings...