Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Take me to church

It's all been a bit quiet again. I keep sieving my heaps and doing the odd bit of suction sampling but natural history has been confined to the garden of late so there's been nothing much to blog about. 

In an effort to do something ever so slightly different today, I went to church for my lunchtime walk. However, I didn't venture inside but had a wander round the small graveyard to look for any inverts that might be trying to warm themselves in the sun. The air was cool but in the many sheltered sunny spots the temperatures were fairly decent.

The back of the churchyard is overrun with both Ground elder and Alexanders and the latter, just coming into flower, was home to several species of ladybird

There were a handful of Cream spots warming themselves in the sun

I reckon there were upwards of 100 of these 7 spots scattered over quite a small area

And a couple of Pine Ladybird + a single Harlequin.

I also found this very cool looking moth resting on the back of a bench. It's an eriocraniid and I think only a couple of species are doable from photos and pretty sure this isn't one of them. The slightly purplish tinge to the wing is an artifact from the TG6's photo stacking, rather than the moth's actual coloring.

There were a large number of flies loafing about on gravestones and so I employed my poor net skills to pot a couple for further examination. I took a couple of metallic green looking ones hoping that they would be calliphorids and therefore there would be an excuse to use the new key that arrived a few weeks ago.

However, it wasn't to be and I quickly worked out that they were in fact both muscids and so posted them on the Diptera FB group hoping to get confirmation that I was in the right ball park and get some help locating a key. I was given an ID of Eudasyphora cyanella and I then managed to locate a key. In fact it turns out Mike Hackston (he of the oft used free online beetle keys) has also done a whole load of diptera keys. Result. And good to know.

Monday, April 12, 2021

But I'm on fire when he's so cold

Crikey, it's cold at the moment. Heavy frost in the garden this morning and not much insect life about until later on and even then... 

The last few days haven't afforded much natural history and so I have been resorting to some reference collection maintenance and cataloging. I recently bought a printer and so am in the process of sorting out new fancy labels for my specimens, and also re-carding some beetles that are on tiny cards,. Could take a while.

Despite the sub zero temperatures I did however get a new beetle today. A neighbour texted to say they had found some weevils in some old flour and was I interested in seeing them? I popped over to have a look and found a reasonable number of these small beetles having a fine old time in some Tesco's flour.

They are Tribolium castaneum aka Red Flour Beetles, probably one of the most widely distributed stored product pest species in the world. Dependent on warmed human habitation I don't think they can survive in the wild in the UK. There aren't huge numbers of records on NBN or iRecord but suspect that's just a case of being under recorded rather than any comment on their rarity.

And pleasingly another one seen from my second favourite beetle family, the Tenebrionidae.

The post title inspiration is double linked, once through the lyrics used as a title and also a more tenuous one, but suspect Seth or Skev will easily clock it...

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A larval tick and half a beetle

Whilst out and about today I decided to check some fallen poplar timber for a rather odd beetle, the very flat histerid Hololepta plana. First recorded from the UK in 2009 from several individuals found in Norfolk, this species has since spread widely in the south-east of England. It's been found in Ely and other places nearby so thought it was worth a shout.

Unfortunately I didn't find it but I did find two of these...

Basically the middle section of the beetle I was after. So it's a biological record (which is obviously good) but I had hoped to see one of these in the flesh. But at least I know they are in the vicinity. Plus there were lots of the lovely Bitoma crenata to look at

My new beetle of the day came in the form of a long-expected larval tick under some weathered bark of a standing poplar tree. My first Cobweb beetles Ctesias serra

These distinctive larvae feed on insect remains in spiders webs and the long hairs apparently help defend against attack from spiders. The adult beetles are rarely recorded but I wonder how easy it would be to keep and raise the larvae at home. Could easily find dead insects, I guess it would be getting the other bits right that might prove tricky.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

April Skies

The Bank Holiday Monday began with snow showers and a chill northerly wind. The wind remained throughout the day but the dark and cloudy skies were replaced with an expanse of blue and in the more sheltered spots the warmth was palpable. I had a fair few gardening jobs to do but once done I managed to get a couple of hours to myself and decided to head out to look for beetles.

I ended up going up to Cavenham Heath and having a look through some of the woodland that surrounds the heath. The wood is predominantly birch with scattered oaks, pines and other bits and pieces. Most of the wood is quite dry but there are also some interesting wetter bits with nice pools which beg for some further investigation. I also reckon a visit on a warm still night later in the year could yield some good records.

I mainly targeted the plentiful dead wood that lies in abundance there and the associated fungi that grows on many of these pieces. First up under some pine bark were these tiny beetles. They are in fact another whole new family for me, the Cerylonidae. These are Cerylon histeroides and are quite commonly found across England and Wales though less so in the north and seem to be sporadic further north to the Scottish Highlands. They are found in a variety of rotten wood and under bark and can be best found searching at night.

Inside the well rotted bracket fungi where these Scaphidium quadrimaculatum that despite appearances to the contrary are actually a type of staph in the subfamily Scaphidiinae. There are five species in this group, all associated with decaying wood and fungus, but this is the only one I've seen so far.

There were also a few of the small and pronotally adorned Cis bilamellatus in the fungi. Here you can see the sexually dimorphic pair with a male on the left and female on the right.

It's a non native species, originally from Australia. This is the info on it from the old WCG Site.

First recorded as British in January 1884 by T. Wood (1884) from a single male specimen found beneath decaying pine bark at West Wickham (south of London). In September of that year it was found at the same site ‘in utmost profusion’ in boleti on decaying birch, and again that month a single male was taken from ‘a large fleshy fungus upon an ash’ a mile and a half from the site of the pine capture. A little later Fowler (1890) refers to Wood’s records and adds ‘it has not, however, been recorded from any other locality, either British or foreign.’ Fowler’s observation, considering the amount of collecting going on generally (and it must be admitted that Ciids were probably not the most popular group), reflects the fact that bilamellatus was initially slow to expand its range. The next (known) record is from Mitcham, Surrey in 1891 and following this from Shirley common, Surrey in 1904, only half a mile from Wood’s original discovery (Paviour-Smith, 1960a). Records from the following twenty years show an expansion around the London area including Kent (Orpington, Otford and Westerham), Surrey (widespread), Middlesex (Highgate) and, most satisfyingly from our point of view, from Watford, Herts. in 1921 by N.H. Joy (Hence Joy quoted the species’ occurrence in his 1932 handbook as Eng.S; very local). And so for the fifty years following its discovery the expansion of its range was restricted to the London region but it must be acknowledged, as ever, that these records also reflect the activities of coleopterists of the time. The following ten years, to 1934, shows further records within this area and also from Windsor and Arundel but it was only after 1934 that the species started to become widespread with e.g. records from Woking (1935), Oxon (1936), Nottinghamshire (1938), Cheshire (1940’s), Cambridge (1949) and Hampshire (1950). Twenty-six years after Wood’s original discovery G.C. Champion found that Cis bilamellatus Fowler, 1884 (as it was then designated) was synonymous with C. munitus Blackburn, 1888, a species widespread in Australia, and so the obvious route into the U.K. was among imported timber etc. and Paviour-Smith (loc.cit.) makes a convincing case for its introduction among herbarium specimens destined for e.g. Kew Gardens.

No subtlety for the post title inspiration today