Monday, May 31, 2021

Bringing in the washing

Quick post and run

Whilst bringing in the washing today, my wife called to tell me she'd found an interesting beetle on one of the jumpers. I went to have a look and was met with the sight of a reed beetle.

It keyed quite easily (after an initial to-ing and fro-ing over the elytra ends couplet bit) to Donacia clavipes

Looking at my records I don't appear to have recorded this before so not only was it a garden tick but it also was a completely new beetle for me. 

It's amazing the difference the warmth and sun is making to the garden. So much life appearing. The Green woodpeckers are feeding chicks in our willow tree and I an now hear the begging chicks. By the time they fledge you can hear them inside the house with all the doors and windows closed, they're that loud!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Catching up

I'm just back from a few days in north Wales with work. There were also beetles a'plenty and more on those once I sort out the specimens and the images, but suffice to say that there were a fair amount of coastal and wetland weevils seen along with some new water beetles. The weather was pretty damn good too.

With the warmer weather in Cambridge and plenty of rain, the garden had just gone mad and there was lots of nature shenanigans happening including my first garden frog in the 10 years we've lived here that had decided to pay my pond a visit.

I decided that the more clement temperatures deserved a cheeky moth trap so on went the MV and I was 'rewarded' this morning with 15 species. Yes, it's much improved on recent offerings but 15 species in late May!!. Jeez.

White-spotted Pug


Common Swift 

I also hit some hawthorn blossom and beat some vegetation, resulting in two garden ticks, one of which was a new beetle. First up was a tortoise beetle. I sometimes struggle a bit with these but think but I'm pretty sure that this is Cassida vibex, new for the garden too.

The new (for me) beetle was another small staph (see last post) at only 2.9mm long. It was another omaliinid, and keyed easily to Hapalarea pygmaea

I now have the lengthy but enjoyable task of going through the week's beetle samples and IDing everything in there. Think there's some goodies....

Monday, May 17, 2021

Born to blossom, bloom to perish

It's hawthorn time! 

I always get a bit giddy at the first major irruption of hawthorn blossoms. Driving around the lanes surrounding my village I'm slightly aghast at the sudden spectacle of white. In the garden the hedge too is in bloom and there is that heavy perfume in the air, especially on recent days where heavy downpours are interspersed with strong warm sun.

Time to get beating...

It's nice to get reacquainted with a few beetles and also to get my head around the Anaspis again. There are a lot more A. fasciata in the garden at the moment than in previous years.

It's mainly a war of attrition, zoning out the common stuff that you see every time you tap a branch over a tray, and trying to focus on the different and unique. Predictably, as they are my favourite family I'm always on the look out for staphs, and on blossom they are not encountered too often, at least not by me.

The one I find most often on blossom is this one, Dropephylla ioptera. It has fairly well defined lines of elytral punctures that distinguish it from others in the genus. It's in the subfamily Omaliinae and so has a couple of ‘ocelli’ on the back of the head, which help place this in the right ball park when keying out.

But in the garden last Friday I found a new one. Dropephylla vilis. These aren't an easy group and I had to resort to checking out its tackle to be happy with the ID. The beetle is only 2.7mm so that really is tiny tackle!

The other new beetle I found last week was a long awaited species from under some bark on a felled log in a local wood, Uleiota planatus. This is one of those species that used to be pretty rare but has really expanded its distribution in recent years. Seems to be relatively easy to find in the south east now.

I will keep beating the hawthorn while it lasts and see what else I can find. Only one species of longhorn on it so far. Need to venture to some better sites.
Post title comes from a great bit of pop with an accompanying extravagant video. 17 years old too. Crazy....

Friday, May 14, 2021

Sand stretch far away

I had a day off this week to do some jobs but also decided on a nice long walk to clear the cobwebs and get some exercise. One of the joys of middle age is sciatica and a good dose of exercise helps with keeping it under control. So I headed northwards towards the coast and struck out along the paths through the dunes, saltmarsh and beach between Thornham and Brancaster.

The weather was glorious and I deployed the baseball cap to avoid sunburn as I walked along checking for beetles in amongst the dunes. All the usual suspects were there including Phylan gibbus and Aegialia arenaria.

There were also lots of Philopedon plagiatum plodding along the sand or sat on vegetation.

I walked back along the beach looking under the tideline debris at various points, hoping to find some staphs but there was very little there. The most common stuff was Sitona lineatus and Oulema sp., presumably blown from further inland. Under one pile something different caught my eye and I managed to grab and pot it before it managed to burrow back into the sand. A quick look with the hand lens and I could see it was a male Bledius and one of the ones with the impressive pronotal jewelry!

Look at the pronotal horn on that!

It turned out to be Bledius spectabilis and is a species I've wanted to see every since seeing its image in the Lott guide. I've no idea what the horn is for but only the males have it. A spectacular looking beast.

I then decided to take a look at some of the salt marsh that lines some of this coastline to see if I could find any carbids kicking about. It was hard work and resulted in very little of interest.

I then spotted this old towel that some one had left to slowly die and gave it a lift to see what was underneath. Loads of carabids, that's what, all taking shelter under this piece of rotting cloth. Amazing.

There were a couple of species of Amara, Bembidion, Pogonus chalceus, Philonthus cognatus plus a whole new carabid species for me. Dicheirotrichus obsoletus.

Deciding that lifting bits of rubbish was obviously the way to find beetles I then found another piece of material alongside one of the creeks that riddle this area. More Amara plus this Broscus cephalotes, lurking waiting to take a careless child's leg off.

I decided to head inland and stop somewhere on my way home and decided to visit Ringstead Downs, somewhere I'd never actually been before. Parking the car and starting the walk in I was met with a trail of death and destruction.

Here, hare, here

In the warmth of the day there were loads of all the usual carrion and clown beetles plus a healthy selection of staphs and others. I had remembered to bring some gloves with me and so was able to have a proper rummage around inside and get a proper look at what was feasting on these remains. I also potted some Aleochora for further study. There was a new carrion beetle for me though in the form of Thanatophilus sinuatus aka the Smooth Death-lover.

Here it is on the right in a comparison shot with T rugosus. You can see the lack of wrinkles around the edges of the elytra and also the small notch at the shoulder that distinguish this one for its close relative. It is also appears hairier underneath.

Having only seen my first a couple of months ago I also stumbled upon a fair few Black Oil-beetles as I walked the paths including this rather fat female who I guess was just about ready to lay her eggs.

All in all a pretty good trip out and nice to see the insect life emerging after the end of the dry spell. Just need it to get a couple of degrees warmer and we'll be away. 

The blog title is a nod to this mighty song with its accompanying video of 80s pomp. I wonder what the Jordanians made of Particia Morrision!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

It would sparkle like a jewel

It's almost hawthorn time. 

I spent the darkest days of the winter dreaming of the warmer, longer days, the flowering hawthorn and me and my upside down umbrella and a big stick. It isn't quite here yet, but I have managed to find the odd branch on the cusp, to get an early fix.

Beating some earlier in the week gave up 4 or 5 of these amazing small wasps. I have to admit that I initially potted one as I thought it was a soldierfly but under the microscope I was pretty sure it was a wasp.

This shows the 3 ocelli on the top of the head

I really had no idea where to start so stuck it up on Twitter and Facebook asking for some pointers. Both quickly gave convergent answers. This is a chalcid wasp in the genus Perilampus.  I found an out of print Ent.Soc key and was pleased to find there were only five species to chose from.

These are hyperparasites, meaning that they parasitise other parasites. Some of this genus have been found on ichneumons and tachinids. Pretty fascinating stuff when you start reading about their life history.

So which species have I got?

I really can't work it out. I have eliminated one species which leaves me with 4 but beyond that I'm stuck. No confidence that I'm taking the right steps through the key. I suspect that this needs to be seen by someone who knows what they are doing!

The post title reference comes from Cranes, one of my favourite bands in the early 90s, I loved their mix of heavier guitars and ethereal voice plus I had a massive crush on the singer.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Circle in the sand

A tea time dash across the border into Suffolk had me on my hands and knees again looking under countless rosettes of Common Storks-bill. Lifting each with a fork or pen knife to peer beneath for a particular beetle.

There were a phenomenal number of ants and every leaf lift seemed to scatter 10s of the things which meant I took a few attempts at getting my eye in to spot the non-ants. I found more Cardiophorus asellus plus Harpalus anxius and Amara aenea before spotting something I didn't immediately recognise.

I brought this one home with me to have a closer look as it was only 1.5mm in size, a really tiny beetle. It turns out to be a new histerid for me, Kissister minimus. A rather smart looking albeit minute beetle.

After peering under a fair few rosettes I eventually spotted something sitting very still on the sandy ground looking very much like it was trying to pretend I wasn't there. I had found my quarry, the rather large weevil Hypera dauci. At a smidge over 6mm this is one of the larger weevils I've encountered.

I thought that these amazing looking weevils were a Breckland specialty but a look at the NBN map shows that they have a rather split UK distribution, with coastal Welsh populations too. I assume Storks-bill and sandy, dry soils are a prerequisite though.

Having looked for these a few times previously it was rather pleasing to finally find a couple and I will now see if I can find them this side of the border at a couple of possible sites in Cambridgshire. 

A rather apt post title inspiration from the mighty Belinda Carlisle from a time before the massive coke addiction took hold!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Breckland beetles

I've managed a couple of small trips into Suffolk Breckland over the last couple of weekends. The first was a moth trapping trip which yielded only a few moths, although there was a lifer in the form of Great Prominent. There were also a few night time beetles including this new carabid, the incredibly leggy Leistus ferrugineus.

This weekend I visited a couple of sites around Lakenheath and spent a pleasant hour or two on my hands and knees grubbing around under rabbit-cropped vegetation looking for ground beetles and weevils.

The ground is very sandy with a fair amount of slightly larger pebbels and is continually disturbed by rabbits and a fair number of dog walkers judging by the amount of dog shit I had to contend with.

I was using a fork to lift up the plant rosettes that hug the ground, in order to spot any beetles that might be hiding underneath . I think the most numerous beetle was the click beetle, Cardiophorus asellus. They seemed to be present under most of the larger patches of vegetation and larger stones. This is a species that I've only ever seen once before, at the Lodge RSPB reserve. I was initially excited to see one again before rapidly finding them everywhere I looked! Still a nice beetle to see and a family that has rapidly grown on me having initially dismissed them.

I did manage to find a few new species but numbers of individuals weren't large plus I dipped on my main target of Hypera dauci, so will have to keep looking for that particular weevil.

Cassida prasina - only just reaching 5mm 

Ablattaria laevigata

Harpalus pumius - the smallest in this genus at 5mm

Strophosoma faber - has bristle like erect scales and an incomplete eye ridge

Melanimon tibialis - Always love to see a new tenebrioid!

The ground was so unbelievably dry so it's a relief to have some rain turn up tonight and I do hope we get a half decent amount as my water butts are empty and my pond is very low indeed and could do with a top up.