Friday, July 30, 2021

Takes an ocean of trust in the kingdom of rust

Reading Seth's exploits from Skye and (sometimes) beyond is always interesting, informative and time well spent. However, it often highlights my own lack of a) knowledge and b) real interest in many aspects of natural history.

His recent post on smuts, rusts and micro fungi is a good case in point. I know absolutely nothing about these groups of organisms but the posts made them sound quite appealing and in many cases there seems to often be a bit of detective work to do in order to get an identification, which I find kind of appealing. It might also be an excuse to buy more books and I hardly ever need much of an excuse for that.

After reading the post, I was emboldened to suggest in the comments that I would make it a summer challenge to find and ID one of these beauties. I wrote that, and then promptly forgot about my declaration until, whilst out last week on another fruitless look for Musk Beetles, I spotted this.

Spots on a larger, lower leaf of some Hedge Bindweed growing up a willow next to the river Cam. Turning the leaf over revealed some raised bumps in a couple of concentric circles.

A bit of a google back at home and I think this is Bindweed Rust Puccinia convolvuli. First identified in the UK in Dorset in 2009, it seems to have quickly spread with records now from northern England.
So I appear to have completed my summer challenge quite easily (cue message to say it might not be, and that's fine too!).

I shall definitely keep an eye out for more of these whilst out hunting beetles.

The post link is this beauty from Doves. It would definitely feature on my Desert Island Discs. It builds brilliantly and at 2m12s it just kicks off in the most sublime way. Enjoy...

Friday, July 23, 2021

Through the years of decay we walk like tigers in cages

In the last post I mentioned that I had had a particularly good moth trapping session on Wednesday evening. Well in retrospect, moth-wise it was OK but one particular individual made the entire session stand out.

The moth in question was new for the garden but it wasn't a lifer, it wasn't even a UK tick but I hadn't seen one in this country for almost 40 years. 

It's a big and spectacular moth and is the poster boy for moth declines across the UK (down 92% since 1968!). I am of course talking about the magnificent Garden Tiger.

I was absolutely bowled over when I turned the egg box to see it. They are still regular in a lot of places including up the road at Wicken Fen but I'd not connected with one since I was a kid and I hadnt expected one to turn up in the garden.

The other trapping highlights were all beetle in nature and were all attracted to actinic as opposed MV. First up was this staph. I knew I hadn't seen this before but it is in fact a variation on a common species that I get regularly at the trap, Philonthus quisquiliarius. They are normally all black but this is var. inquinatus where 3/4 of the elytra are red.

Completely new was this tacyporinid, Cilea silphoides. It's a species associated with decaying organic material and reasonably common but often overlooked. It's also a very smart looking thing.

I also caught another species that had me going round the houses. I was convinced I had one of the Ciidae which are renowned for being a bit of a bugger to ID, and I just couldn't get anywhere with it in the key. Thankfully Andy S came to the rescue and pointed out that I had the wrong family and this was in fact Sphindus dubius and was from a whole new family for me, Sphindidae. These are usually found tucking into slime moulds and the like.

Finally, whilst setting up the trap and drinking wine, this small beetle flew in and landed on my glass. Fairly nondescript it turned out to be a mycetophagid and a synanthropic one to boot, Typhaea stercorea.

I seem to get quite a few of these 'pest' species in my garden, God knows what that says about my house and how I keep it.

Post title inspiration is the opening line from this rather understated and lovely NMA song. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

All of a sudden, I found myself in love with the world

So last year I was tagged in a post about a beetle that was found in the grounds of Jesus College in central Cambridge. The college has extensive grounds that provide a bit of a haven in amongst the concrete. There are lots of trees and some scrubby bits alongside the more formalised gardens and Rhona (who tagged me in the post) has been doing a great job of documenting and recording the wildlife that occurs there. 

The beetle in question was Bruchidius siliquastri. These are an introduction from the far east, China I believe that have been recorded at a couple of sites in London but this was the first record for Cambridge. They feed on the seeds of the Judas Tree Cercis siliquastrum of which there are a cluster of three in the college grounds. They were only about for a day or two and then that was it. Until yesterday.....

I got a message to say they had been seen again so off I popped during lunch today to have a quick look.

We quickly located a few sat on nearby dogwood leaves.

out of focus again!

They have a red back end which make them rather distinctive when seen well, but at only c.3mm they are small and so require a focused search. They also have that annoying habit of dropping as soon as you get anywhere near them. 

We looked on the host plant itself but didn't see any there.

However, examining some of the seed pods we found that some of the drier and browner ones had obvious exit holes.

Closer examination of the seeds revealed further evidence of what is an exit hole, probably from this beetle  

There doesn't seem to be much more info on them available that I can find. 

So that was all seen very quickly and on my way to pick up my youngest kid I passed a downed poplar trunk and so had 10 minutes poking around under the bark. I quickly turned up 2 new species for me. Both common, a histerid and a silvanid.

Paromalus flavicornis

Silvanus unidentatus

So all in all a pretty effective hour's lunch break. This morning's moth trap was also a bit of a cracker but will do a separate post about that. There were 2 new beetles and a moth that I haven't seen in the UK for about 38 years. Any guesses?

The post title music link is from 80s/90s industrial pioneers, Ministry. Never saw them live (did you, Skev?) but really wish I had. Epic.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

I took a sip from my devil's cup

So having returned from Devon, the post holiday low has kicked in and and has been accompanied by temperatures of 30 degrees centigrade. Not a great combination for motivation...

I stuck two light traps on last night hoping for some extensive beetle bycatch but it was surprisingly poor. A few of the usual suspects and nothing small and interesting. The moths however delivered for the first time this year, giving one lifer and several very seldom seen species.

Highlight for me was my second garden record of Goat Moth. The first and only other was back in 2014, so it was nice to get and see another one.

New for me was this Round-winged Muslin. A small moth that initially had me reaching for the micro book before I realised what I was actually looking at.

I've only recorded Short-cloaked Moth on a couple of occasions before and both were last year. This was accompanied by a Kent Black Arches which was only the second garden record. 

This afternoon was too hot to do much so I retreated to the my 'study' and had a crack at some some of the specimens I had brought home from Devon. First up was this wasp that had flown into the house.

I originally wrongly assumed it was an ichneumon given the size of its ovipositer but was soon corrected. It is in fact a wasp in the genus Gasteruption. There are only 5 species recorded from the UK with G jaculator being the most common one but I wanted to key it through and Tim S on the Facebook group kindly provided a key for me to run it through

Up close, it's an amazing looking creature. To take it further I first needed to see whether it had a raised and reflexed collar at the back of the head.

You can see in the above that it does. This combined with the fact that its ovipositer is longer than the abdomen eliminates 2 of the five species. Next I needed to see whether there was a depession in front of the collar. 

The images shows that it doesn't making this G. jaculator as expected. Good to confirm and a new species for me. I don't currently have many wasps to my name. 

I also had a couple of flies potted up which I reckon I had a fair crack at IDing plus I knew they were both in the Stubbs and Drake Soldierflies book.

For this first one I eyeballed the plates and reckon I had one of the Therevidae. As the eyes were separated on top of the head I had a female. The first part of the key asks you to look for the presence black hairs on the tergites and sternites. This one had a few in amongst the more numerous pale hairs.

Next up I needed to check whether the dark shining patches between the eyes reached anywhere near the front ocellus. The ocelli are the 3 black dots on the forehead. The band here is well removed from the ocellus.

Finally, pale halteres and 3 rows of anteroventral bristles on the femur mean that this is Thereva nobilitata aka the Common Stiletto, the most common and widespread of the stiletto flies. 

The last of today's flies was another Tabanus horsefly that had come to my actinic light trap. This bad boy (for a male it is) keyed easily and simply to Tabanus bromius, the Band-eyed Brown Horsefly. A common species in southern England but a new species for me.

Wow, two flies IDd in a matter of minutes. I know they are big and easy ones but still feels like a small step forward. Might have to crack out some of the harder ones!

The post title inspiration is a little bit of perfect pop. An addictively brilliant song. #FreeBritney

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Another weekend of limitless variables lay ahead


I paid my first (and second) visit to south-west England's largest freshwater lake this week, the National Nature Reserve at Slapton Ley. I seem to vaguely remember being taught about the formation of this particular geographic feature (and Chesil Beach) back in the dawns of time in Geography lessons at school. But simply put, longshore drift lays down a ridge of shingle which stabilises and then firstly brackish then freshwater lakes form behind it. I guess eventually they either silt up and vegetate or become overtopped by sea water surges, either way they are a transient-ish feature. 

The weather was warm and sunny and despite being predominantly a family day out, social media helped me out in getting a new plant species.   

There was an abundance of wildflowers and I took my sweep net for a bit of guerilla beetling. However, serendipity was about hit and remind me why I don't just delete all my social media accounts, Whilst posting a pic of the reserve on Twitter, Steve and Donal both mentioned that Slapton Ley was the only native UK site for Strapwort Corrigiola litoralis. With some further intel and a bit of googling I ended up on my hands and knees looking at a particularly small plant on a piece of uninspiring bare ground.

However, I have to say that up close the flowers have a certain something and I'm glad I didn't miss out on this whilst visiting. Would only have kicked myself and I have to admit that botany was a much bigger part of this year's holiday than previously. I'm still very much a novice but I was certainly trying to ID far more of the more difficult stuff.

Poking around the sand and shingle I also found my second Ablattaria laevigata. That was pretty much it for beetles apart from thousands of Rhagonycha fulva and a few staphs from the lake edge that I need to dissect.

As we had the kids in tow, we ended up on the beach for a few hours for a swim and stone skimming contest, this being a shingle beach. My youngest has always had a keen eye and is interested in nature, so when he found a comb jelly floating in the water, he (and I) were particularly chuffed. I've not seen one before and it was much bigger than I expected with lines of what looked liked phosphorescent cilia. You can just make these out below. No idea how many species occur in UK waters and how you'd go about IDing one, but still great to see.

There were also several jellyfish being washed towards the shore. A few of these Chrysaora hysoscella, compass jellyfish swam past allowing close study.

There was also this purply-blue one which I've yet to put a name to but if anyone (Seth) has an idea it would be much appreciated!

All in all a good day out and a bit of an expansion on recent natural history outings.

The post title link is to my second favourite Arab Strap(wort) song. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

One love is all we need

So, yesterday evening saw me driving for 45 minutes to the eastern edge of Dartmoor National Park. Arriving at my destination with only 90-odd minutes of daylight left I made my way across the open and bracken strewn hillside and began a descent into a patch of ancient riverine forest. There were lots of old oak trees, some beech, the odd pine and assorted other deciduous species. Most importantly the ground was littered with dead wood and was fairly free of any understorey, and it was clear that there is a certain amount of grazing allowed to keep it that way.

It was a very humid evening with little breeze on the valley floor and the whole place was covered in moss. I didn't see a single other person as I explored the wood and had a poke about under rocks and around trunks.

I was here to look for one beetle in particular, Carabus intricatus aka the Blue Ground Beetle. This is a species that was once thought extinct in the UK but was re-discovered in the early 90s in a couple of woods on the edge of Dartmoor. Since then it has also been found at sites on Bodmin and also south Wales. 

The beetles are nocturnal and I had read that dusk was the best time to look for them as they come out from their daytime hiding places and ascend tree trunks looking for their prey, mainly slugs. I'd found what looked like a good place for them and decided to give looking for them a go, not really expecting too much success. The hour's searching before dusk yielded only Ocypus olens, Nebria and a couple of Philonthus, with not a sniff of the Carabus

Just as it was getting properly dark and I was starting to worry that I might not be able to find my way back to the car, I noticed some movement on a mossy trunk, behind a thick ivy stem. Focusing the torch revealed a massive, gravid female C. intricatus on her way up the tree for an evening's hunting.

I took some pics and video and then let her get on with her night out...

What an amazing beetle, the UK's largest Carabus species. It was certainly one of the best I've seen in my short time beetling and glad I made the effort to go and take a look. 

Seeing this so early on meant that I was tucked up in bed by 22.45 and had a rather good night's sleep.

For the post title I give you some cheesy boy band pop, but given the band, entirely relevant. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

When something's good it's never gone

So a disparate series of events have coincided to provide me with the perfect post inspiration this weekend. I'm more than a little indifferent about football but like many others I've been caught up in watching the Euros despite my better judgement. I've enjoyed what I've seen and have been particularly impressed by the England team and especially the manager's conduct in the face of some bloody awful behaviour, mainly from our current government and assorted cronies. It's been a breath of fresh air and a lesson in tolerance and inclusion. I really hope they do well against Italy but irrespective of the result they have already played a blinder.

So I was thinking about all this as I pottered about on a beach this week in Devon, looking for beetles and putting the world to rights in my head, when I came across several of these creatures under stones where the shingle hits the sandier firmer ground.

I was pretty confident it was a cockroach but knew nothing beyond that. I was helpfully pointed towards a guide to native species and from there it was simple to work out that these were female Ectobius panzeri otherwise known as Lesser Cockroach. 

More importantly it's a completely new order of insects for me in the UK. 

What's that you say? 

A whole NEW ORDER.


Friday, July 2, 2021

The opposite of collateral damage

What is the opposite of collateral damage?

What ever it is, I had some yesterday on an early morning walk that found me along a Cambridgeshire river looking for Musk Beetles. Despite failing in this simple task once again I did manage to find two new species of beetle one in each of what are fast becoming favourite families.

First up while sweeping grass and knapweeds adjoining the river bank were lots of this massive weevil. My first thought was a Barynotus species but it looked wrong. In fact it looked like a massive Sitona species whilst moving around the sweep net.

It is in fact Tanymecus palliatus and is quite a scarce weevil in the UK but can be common in the places it occurs, as I found it to be here. One of its distinguishing features is the long cheek hair projecting forward as seen in the image below.

One of the families I used to hate were elaterids. But with the new key in Duff volume 3 and just generally being more confident in what I'm doing they have really grown on me. So any day with a new species is a happy one.

This individual was swept from the same area as the weevils but was the only one found, alongside a couple of Agriotes sputator.

It keyed relatively straightforwardly to Aplotarsus incanus a species that is relatively frequently encountered across Wales and central England. Just not by me it seems. 

Now I just need to find a Musk Beetle....

Thursday, July 1, 2021

We could have had it all

There's been so much going on recently that I've not had the time to post anything but I have still been able to find the odd new beetle species. I popped out last week one evening for a walk in the southern most bit of the Brecks to have a look for weevils and an assortment of other stuff.

Only about 100 metres from where I parked I found this extensive patch of St John's Wort...

A closer look at the plants and I could see quite a few large leaf beetles doing their best to hide from my prying eyes. These were Chysolina hyperici which feeds on St John's Wort and becomes the 9th species in this genus that I've seen.

There were various small patches of Great Mullein and on all of these were sat the weevil Cionus longicollis. This species is very rare outside Breckland and is visibly much bulkier than other Cionius weevils I have seen.

One I've seen before but never in such abundance, there were lots of Galeruca tanaceti scuttling around on bare earth between patches of Yarrow. Had to be careful not to crush them underfoot as I walked about.  

This insect on a flower caught my eye and I realised it was my first knowingly seen conopid fly. Sicus ferrugineus. These are parasites of bumblebees and females pounce on worker bees and inject an egg into the bee abdomen using a specialised ovipositor. Funky looking things too.

It was a nice hour's walk made slightly surreal because as I was driving home I spotted a mass of birders lining the road all looking up at some telegraph wires. With nothing behind me I slowed right down and looked through a gap in the hedge only to be met with a large bluish bird sat perched up. Only a bloody Roller! Not paying much attention to birding news these days I had not clocked that this had turned up and it was pure luck that I went past and saw it. 

A UK tick and all, but funnily enough I was more pleased with the new beetles. Funny how things change.

So here's some vaguely relevant inspiration...