Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Skins and slime

I've had a couple of trips out to Chippenham Fen this week with fellow moth-er and beetler Bill. First trip was on Sunday to help feed the water buffalo that are there to keep the fen open and to stop it from scrubbing over. They are huge beasts but at the end of winter are looking a little scraggy and in need of some of spring grass. Luckily for them they are soon to be moved to their summer pasture and so will be able to spend the next few months fattening up on new grass.

Whilst on site we had a poke around the large amount of dead wood that is there as well as a poke in amongst some of the buffalo dung that is there. 

There's a tonne of dead wood kicking about to look at

Prime buffalo dung 

There were lots of the usual suspects in the wood and we came across several Carabus granulatus in their winter cells.

We also found (well Bill made the initial discovery much to my excitement and chagrin) an ash log that was very well rotted but contained a number of red Ampedus click beetles. These were new to me but are a tricky group to ID and will probably require some reference specimens to compare against to be determine the species. Still, a really stunning beetle to see and boy can they 'click'.

There was also this weevil that looked like a big Euophryum confine but which was in fact a new one for me in the form of Cossonus linearis. It is one of a pair of species in this genus found on the UK.

We went back to Chippenham again last night for a moth trapping session. The temperature dropped quickly with the clear skies but we managed to record about 20 moth species to the two MV traps we had out. We also spent a bit of time searching the tree trunks by torch light for beetles, of which there were a few, including two new species for me.

Scaphidema metallicum

Endomychus coccineus

There were also quite a few of the bark beetle, Tomicus piniperda which were all on ash rather than the usual pine. (EDIT: the facts these were all on ash should have been a red flag. They are in fact Hylesinus crenatus. Thanks Adrian for pointing out my mistake)

Highlight of the visits must go to the well rotted coot that was being kept in a tub to be cleaned so that the skeleton could be obtained. It provided quite a few different beetles including several carrion beetles and lots of Catops and staphs that will need dissecting for an ID.

The smell was something special as was the liquid slime that sloshed around the bottom of the tub. Which brings me elegantly to the post title inspiration which comes from what was probably my favourite new release of 2020, Skins and slime by Oliver Coates. This album has also been on heavy rotation whilst I dissect and ID beetles. Happy times.

Who needs lures

Popped to the RSPB's The Lodge yesterday for the first time since October. Despite the large number of people, it was looking lovely and I realised that I'd been missing being there, especially at this time of year when the season is kicking off.

I had a quick look for tiger beetles but failed to see any but did find a few bits and pieces. As I was potting a bark beetle from a fence post I noticed a small micro moth sat there minding its own business. I took some pics and left it to enjoy the sunshine.

I thought I recognised it. In fact I been trying to lure one in my garden earlier in the week. It was Pammene giganteana aka the Early Oak Piercer. It has been found to be attracted to some of the pheremone lures sold for other species and has been picked up quite a bit this spring. Due to the lack of oaks at home I'd failed miserably so was nice to see one and doubly so without lures. Also only the 4th Bedfordshire record.

Monday, March 29, 2021

I'm forty fifth generation Roman

The bit of Cambridgeshire that I live in is very, very flat and on the edge of what was historically the fens, and which is now mainly highly productive and highly intensive arable. South of me is where the chalk kicks in and the landscape becomes slightly more undulating and there's a slight change in some of the fauna and flora as a consequence. 

This week is school holidays so it's always a challenge to wrest the kids away from screens and get them outside for some fresh air and exercise. This morning's trip out was to the interesting archaeological site of Bartlow Hills.

These 'hills' are in fact the largest surviving Roman burial mounds in Western Europe. There are three that are accessible to the public with a fourth on private land. There are another 3 or 4 that have been 'lost', presumable destroyed and dismantled, They are impressive creations with the largest standing about 15 metres high and were partially excavated in the mid-19th century.

Apart from a dose of Roman history, the other reason to visit was that the only record of an oil beetle I could find for VC29 was from here too. I've never seen a live oil beetle so was keen to see a new family of beetles. Within a short time of reaching the mounds we found several individuals on the ground moving quickly about. 

These were Black Oil-beetles, Meloe proscarabaeus and is the only species I'm likely to find anywhere nearby to me. Was good to watch them as they pootled about between the patches of bare earth and grassy patches. Oil beetles have an amazing life cycles being nest parasites of solitary mining bees. The female beetles dig burrows and lay their eggs there. Once they hatch, the larvae (called triangulins) climb up flowers and lay in wait for a bee to grab hold of. Once in a bee’s nest the larva gets off the bee and helps itself to bee eggs, and stored pollen and nectar. The larva develops in the bee burrow until it emerges as an oil beetle ready to make more baby oil beetles. 

The post title inspiration comes from the opening track of the debut album from The Streets. Twenty years on it still sounds good.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


A couple of new beetles ID'd today. One swept from the garden which was the very common and rather boring flea beetle Phylotreta nigripes. These have appeared in numbers in the garden over the last couple of days alongside P. nemorum and Sitona lineatus. I also had a garden tick in the form of Adalia bipunctata, the two-spot ladybird. I normally have to go to the edge of the village where the fields begin to find these.

The other new one for me was a staph. It is always pleasing to find a new one in your favourite family. This one came from last Saturday and the dead wood search. It's Gabrius splendidulus, another common one and differs from its congeners by preferring dead wood and being found under bark. This one had obviously read the same book as I had as that was exactly where it was. 

The aedeagus matches too which is always nice 😂

There are 12 species in this genus in the UK and this is only the second I've seen after G. breviventer which I've found a number of times whilst tussocking in wet grassland. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Tiny Bark Clown

Another trip into Cambridge today and I managed another walk along the river and had another poke around some of the dead wood. Not huge numbers of beetles but may have to start looking at centipedes given the number and apparent diversity. They seemed to be everywhere today.

I picked up a few staphs and found a single carabid, a Pterostichus vernalis, under bark from mainly poplar again. I was hoping to find the rather odd looking Hololepta plana that apparently prefers dead poplar and is definitely about, but so far no luck.

a fallen poplar branch 

I pootered something tiny that I initially thought was a mite but which didn't look quite right. Once home I stuck it under the microscope to find that it was indeed a beetle. And a tiny one at that, at only 1.5mm. Shiny, globular and glabrous with dispersed punctures and no obvious scutellum. I was slightly uncertain as to a family...

...until I flipped it over to reveal a classic histerid rear end and fore leg.

Pulling the recently published Histerid book off the shelf gave me another chance to use the new key. Once again getting it to species was simple and straight forward. A combination of size, shape, a 5-segmented rear tarsi and a right-angled fore leg (obvious in the image above) makes this Abraeus perpusillus, another new species for me.

This is a species of parkland and pasture woodland and is found in dead standing and fallen deciduous trees, preferring oak, ash and beech. But has been found in a wide range of species. It's widespread across England and Wales and is thought to be a predator of mites.

In the new book it has been given the rather lovely name of The Tiny Bark Clown and is certainly the smallest histerid I've come across so far.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Guerrilla beetling

Life took me into central Cambridge this morning for a couple of hours. The weather was cool and breezy but with a warm spring sun. I decided to spend my daily exercise having a walk along the bit of the River Cam that passes through the west of the city centre. There's flood meadow here which is still grazed and lots of old willows and poplars that always invite a closer look. 

Think these are 'Lombardy' poplars, a form of black poplar

There's also a fair amount of dead wood that has been left to do its thing, and it was to this that I gravitated after first realising that there wasn't much happening on the muddy bits around alongside the river. 

Poking about in these poplar logs, especially under the bark, revealed a new beetle which is common and widespread in the southern half of England but that I'd half forgotten existed and hence hadn't looked for it for a while.

The bark beetle, Bitoma crenata. It's only about 3mm in length but is still striking looking with quite a complex structure to its pronotum and elytra. Often found in small groups under the bark of a wide range of dead and dying tree species.

Whilst looking in a damp and well rotten willow log I also came across a new species of staph, and a big one at that.

With the shape of the head and the scimitar like mandibles I had pegged this as a species of Tasgius (rather than Ocypus), so was pleased to get home to find I was right.

The punctures on the pronotum were all of one size and the pronotum itself narrowed towards the rear. That plus the all black legs and (as it's a female) the shape of the last tergite, means this is T. melanarius. As opposed to T. winkleri.

Staph expert, Harald Schillhammer, in the follow up to a recent post on the Facebook Beetle group mentioned that he usually separates them by the punctation at the base of the pronotum close to the impunctate midline. In winkleri, the punctation there is as dense as on the disc, in melanarius it is less dense than on the disc with wider interstices.

I've not seen winkleri yet so will have to wait until I do to see if that holds true.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Field of reeds

I've not had much time for beetling over the last week but did manage to squeeze in a quick trip to the village pond at lunchtime today and grabbed a few more bits of dead standing typha stems to have a poke about in.

I can't quite work out which ones are best and what the beetles actually like. Some stems have quite a few beetles in whilst other seemingly identical nearby ones are entirely devoid of beetle life. Weird.

First up was a new carabid for me the rather lovely Demetrias imperialis.

They are found throughout the south east but the books have them down as scarce. But finding them in the winter in dead reeds appears to be a classic technique.

There were also a number of aleochs of two different species in there, possibly feeding on the large number of thrips that were in several stems. Not quite sure of this one yet. Confusing things, aleochs.

I also got confused (again) looking at the Telmatophilus that were there in some numbers. 

They fall into 3 size categories

The larger ones (on the left) appear to be T. brevicollis and the smallest (right hand beetle) are T. typhae, it's the one in the middle (size wise and in photo above) that I am scratching my head at.

They have the contrasting femora and tibia and a hint of the pronotum being slightly curved before the hind angles. That would make them T. schonherrii which is currently subsumed into T. typhae but is separated in older literature and I am told is probably a valid taxon.

One to definitely ponder and get more experience beetlers to look at my specimens. However, if you told me a year ago that I would be sitting down of an evening with a series of cryptophagids to compare features I probably would have thought you mad.

The post title inspiration is the title track from These New Puritan's third album and features one of the deepest voices I've encountered. Magical stuff. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Rationialising literature

I spent this afternoon tidying up my beetling desk and rearranging some book cases. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of books and natural history journals of various types and I decided to try and rationalise what I was keeping in order to free up some room and make better use of limited space.

I decided to get rid of all my copies of Birding Asia, Birding World and British Birds. I can pretty much categorically say that I will never look at them again. The chances of me ever doing much foreign birding again are pretty much zero so it just felt right to jettison the first of these. The others have been gathering dust for years and were just taking up space ad were never looked at. I did however find a home for my copies of Atropos with a fellow moth-er.

I also got rid of most of my collection of British Wildlife, but kept a few articles and issues with particularly interesting bits in. e.g. the two longhorn beetle issues. I tend to flick through each issue as it arrives before filing it away. In the future I will continue to get it but treat it more like a magazine and pass it on or recycling it after reading.

My collection of the Coleopterist remains as do a few other bits and bobs.

The new space meant that I could get all my beetle books (plus some interlopers) on a single shelf. Only two are missing as they are too big for this particular shelf and will have to sit elsewhere for now! 

It felt pleasing to have it all in one place, although it won't be long before they are in piles on the floor again after a particular speciose ID session!