Friday, June 25, 2021


Given the warm temperatures yesterday I decided to work in the kitchen with the patio doors open. This means that the odd fly or other insect ends up trapped inside bashing its head on various panes of glass both upstairs and down. 

Whilst going up to bed I noticed a large fly sat on a small bit of glass in our front door and potted it, in its lethargy, for a closer look. It was obviously a Tabanus horsefly which I've never seen in the garden before. 

Having the rather lovely Stubbs and Drake meant that I could key it too. First bit deals with the head end, to work out whether it's a male or female. Male eyes join at the top of the head but females have a gap.

No doubt at all that I have a male here, eyes very obviously joined. The next couplet deals with wing length. Is it more or less than 13mm? This individual has wings of 16mm, so it's one of the 'large' species of Tabanus

The next bit is a mix of stuff. Antennae black and top of abdomen without a pattern of pale spots OR antennae usually dull orange but if black then there are sub-lateral spots on the abdomen.

Well the antennae look dark with slightly lighter patches in places but the abdomen patterning definitely put it is in the second choice of the couplet as there obvious sub-lateral spots.

Next we have to look at the eyes. Are all the eye facets the same size or they bigger in the upper half and smaller in the lower half.

You can see here that there are a patch of large facets that appear lighter in the image above, and the smaller, lower facets appear darker.  That gets us to two species either Tabanus sudeticus or T. autumnalis, and the patterning of gray triangles down the middle of the abdomen flanked by orangey spots perfectly matches T. autumnalis. This one is also known as the Large Marsh Horsefly and is fairly widespread but most records come south of the Wash-Severn line. I have seen this one before but it's the first record for the garden and another foray into flies...

...and here's the unseasonal post title inspiration. Although the nights are now drawing in. Eek!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Over the eight hundred

A week of work and rain pretty much sums up the last few days. Natural history has been restricted to the garden but I did run the MV trap on Wednesday which was the warmest overnight temperature we've had so far this year. It yielded 55 species of moth and a few beetles. I took me a while to work through the moths and I was stuck on one particular individual micro.

appallingly out of focus!

I gave up and posted it on Facebook for some help. I quickly got some. Cydia inquinatana also known as the Scarce Maple Piercer. I went to look it up only to find it wasn't in my book which kind of helped explain my hitting a brick wall with it. Turns out the first authenticated record was in Suffolk in 2009 and it has been spreading since then with records from Wicken in VC29. So another dot on the map for this one and a new species for me and the garden.

Also in the trap was a whole new beetle species for me, and a nitulid to boot which would usually make me roll my eyes as they are usually not that easy but this one was a fairly simple affair.

This is Soronia grisea, one of a couple of UK species that can be found at and use sap runs. They are widespread but not hugely common. Nice to see.

The only other natural history has been working through specimens from the last month - and there is a fair old number to get through. I imagine there will be a reasonable number of these posts documenting some of the many new species I have been finding. Totting up this afternoon I find I'm a good way north of 800 species now and there's still a lot more to ID and record. 

So as nod to them that's coming, here's one from last week and a new genus for me too. Malthinus seriepunctatus 4mm and beaten from oak.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Terror couple kill colonel

A weekend spent at home in the garden, doing some jobs and then avoiding the heat as and when needed. Lots of natural history drama and goings on...

The Green Woodpecker nest in the garden has at least three chicks and they are begging and calling pretty much dawn to dusk now. Yesterday, I heard the parents alarming and went to take a look and shoo away an expected cat, but looking up I instead saw a swarm of bees around the nest hole and the adults hopping around going mad. One of the chicks jumped out and fell to the ground. It was pretty well feathered but incapable of flight. The bees eventually left and I managed to take a ladder and pop the chick back into the nest. The adults soon returned and started feeding again. As of just now the chick has jumped out again and I've moved it from the lawn to a more secure location and the parents are alternating between it and the other chicks that remain in the nest.

The early jumper just before it was returned to the nest.

The pond is full of life at the moment and has attracted a lot of damselflies plus a resident male Broad-bodied Chaser. The vegetation is also establishing nicely and helping to cut down the wicking and evaporation. I spent a while just sitting and scanning the vegetation and picked up two new species. A soldierfly and a beetle.

The soldierfly I think is Odontomyia tigrina aka the Black Colonel. Pretty widespread but never really found in high numbers. This was a female with the widely spaced eyes. It's not quite as black as the male and the wing venation appears much browner.

I found the new beetle whilst eyeballing the purple loosestrife for weevils, it was obviously a chrysomelid and easily keyed to Galerucella calmariensis, a loosestrife feeder and sometime biological control agent (at least in North America). It's a nice looking thing with a soft layer of silky hairs on the elytra giving it an almost cuddleable appearance. Almost....

The post title inspiration comes from probably my favourite band of all time, Northampton's favourite post punk pioneers. They burned so bright and soon imploded (before the inevitable nostalgia tours). Wish I had been old enough to see them live in the late 70s.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Push the button

Ever since I first started finding and identifying beetles there has been one particular species that I have wanted to see. Actually that's not quite true, in reality there are loads of species I want to see but this particular one did get lodged somewhere in my head at the very start of my beetling odyssey. 

It is the oddest of the carabids and looks more like a water beetle than a ground beetle. The species in question in Omophron limbatum aka the Spangled Button-beetle. It inhabits sandy shores of lakes and pools, especially recently worked sand pits, which is where I was looking for it in Norfolk this week.. It's mainly nocturnal but you can coax it out with a simple technique.

Splash some water on to the sand.

Then wait and watch for the beetles running up the sand as they think they are being flooded.

They are amazing looking things and are constantly on the move before burrowing back into the sand when they think they have escaped the danger.

This one paused to catch its breath briefly before haring up the sand. In total there must have been 50-70 of these beetles in quite a small area, but they stuck to the exposed sandy margins in direct sunlight and were absent from vegetated or heavily shaded patches.

Omophron limbatum was first discovered in the UK in East Sussex, in 1969 and since then appears to be spreading; there are now records from several coastal localities in Kent and a few inland from Norfolk, where these were, and Suffolk.

Post title inspiration comes from the Sugababes, in what I think was there 2nd iteration. It's a classic bit of pop.

Sunday, June 6, 2021


A synanthrope is a species that lives near, and benefits from, an association with human beings and the somewhat artificial habitats that people create around themselves. The association can vary. Species from warmer climates may make the move northwards aided by the warmer environment offered by our heated homes and buildings. Others have made use of the concentrations of stored food products that we create in various places.

I've recorded a few species of beetle in the house and garden that fall in to this category over the last few years. Blaps mucronota is the most spectacular of these and seems to live under the kitchen floorboards. I've also had several species to light on those warm summer nights.

Yesterday I had a quick sieve of the compost heap and found two species that fall neatly into this category. Firstly was Alphitophagus bifasciatus a species of tenebrioid that also has the name Two-banded Fungus Beetle. It's now found across the globe and I first recorded it to light last year.

The second species was completely new for me and had me going round the houses for quite a while.

Looking at it it was obviously a cryptophagid, and I was pretty sure it was in the genus Cryptophagus. But no, the pronotal shape didn't fit, no median tooth and the upper projection wasn't right. So must be a Micrambe. Again, no for similar reasons. I ended up just flicking through the very useful family pages at UKBeetles for inspiration.

And there it was, a member of Silvanidae, Ahasverus advena, aka the Foreign Grain Beetle. This used to be quite scarce but has expanded its range over recent years with records as far north as Cheshire and Yorkshire. Another one of those few species doing very well out of us humans.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

A mix of things

A day off with the kids mid week resulted in a trip to the Suffolk coast for fish and chips and ice cream, whilst trying to avoid the crowds. As always if you are prepared to walk a bit (we are) then it's easy to lose other people and have these places pretty much to yourself, even on a busy, warm half term day.

Dingle Marshes

The weather ended up being mainly overcast which was a blessing really as we were out in the open for most of the day. The marshes were looking amazing in the muted, shifting light and Reed Buntings seemingly called from every direction. It was a family walk so beetling was limited but I did come across a few Donacia clavipes funnily enough after my first earlier in the week. Beetles are like buses....

Several patches of Sea Kale were in bloom. I can't ever remember seeing it flowering before but it added some relief from the monotonous shingle and marram. 

Back at home, we had a couple of warm nights and so I put the trap out on consecutive evenings. The moth numbers have increased somewhat bringing in many of the usual suspects but overall numbers remain worrying low.

Beetle-wise the first of these nights proved the best with two new species for the garden and both of them wetland species. Living on the old Fen Edge there are still some reasonable pockets of habitat within a 5-10 mile radius and I suspect that on these balmy nights the MV pulls in dispersing individuals as they leave these isolated fragments.

First up was Badister collaris. This was a male that I dissected and the aedeagus had the characteristic hook that distinguishes this species. As far as I'm aware this is only the second record for VC29 after I found it at Wicken Fen a couple of years ago. This species has expanded its range over the last few years and is probably fairly regular in the right habitat but they will be difficult to find from direct searching and few people sample their light trap beetles in Cambs.    

The second beetle was more of a shock as I've only recorded it once before, on soft coastal cliffs in Norfolk. Chlaenius vestitus, the Yellow-bordered Nightrunner. What a great name! Sounds like a character from the Marvel universe. It's a relatively common species but was nice to see and even nicer to add to the ever-growing garden beetle list.

The second of the two warm nights didn't quite live up to its initial promise and ended up being less warm and humid than originally forecast. However, I did end up with a second garden record of the rather cute looking ptinid, Dryophilus pusillus pootling around the bottom of the trap.  It's a small species, this individual was less than 2mm in length but has relatively large eyes giving it that slightly endearing appearance. It is apparently fond of the dead branches of coniferous trees of which there are very few in the immediate vicinity, so it either has more catholic tastes than previously realised or it too is a warm-night wanderer.

There are a few more warm nights forecast this week so I will have to see what else turns up in the traps. I'm already hankering for one of those hot August nights where the temperature doesn't dip below 20 and it feels like anything could turn up! 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The bycatch begins

The moth traps have produced little of anything over recent months due to cold temperatures and either drought or incessant rain. Over the last week, things have begun to pick up although still poor compared to recent years.

Not only moths have been turning up. There have been a number of flies, caddis and other inverts turning up too. Monday night also saw the first beetles of the year paying a visit and for me the beetles are always the best part of looking through the trap the following morning. I often see species that I never see anywhere else and so there's always the potential of something new turning up, and the last catch lived up to this.

First up were a couple of familiar faces....

Ernobius mollis. I've recorded this 3 times now and all have been to MV.

Cypha sp. This was a female and is presumably longicornis. I normally find these through suction sampling or sweeping.

There was also a third beetle scuttling around the bottom of the trap trying to remain hidden under egg boxes. At first glance it was obviously a leiodid and I initially suspected it was a species of Catops but closer inspection revealed it to be a Choleva and I've only seen a Choleva once before.  There are 10 species in this genus and they are associated with mammal nests and runs, presumably feeding on some type of waste.

The physical differences in body shape can be quite subtle and as I found last time, a dissection can sometimes clinch the ID quite quickly.

This individual was a female and I manage to mangle the ladyparts as I removed them but still was able to distinguish that this was a female C. angustata from the shape of the abdominal plates.

This seems to be one of the more commonly encountered species of Choleva with over 200 records on NBN, the vast majority of which are south of the line between the Humber and the Severn. With odd records up to the Highlands I guess this southerly concentration may just represent recording bias. Anyway, a cool looking, long legged beetle to kick the light trapping season off. With 120 species recorded to light last year I wonder how 2021 will compare?