Go ahead and JUMP!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 17 March 2019 08:51

Jumping spiders are awesome, So awesome in fact that this article can only be read by listening to Van Halen. All jumping spiders permanently have this on on their headphones.

There is however one massive problem with jumping spiders: there are not enough of them. If you count the three accidental species, there are 42 on the list, if not it's just 39. I have been lucky enough to see 28 of these 42 species so far, I'm running out of them!

I have 455 records of jumping spiders in my database. Here they are starting with the species with the most records...

1) Marpissa muscosa (nationally scarce) - 49 records
Our biggest jumper is pretty easy to pick up from casual observations on gate posts, so that's probably why it's my most recorded jumper (despite being scarce it's common in the south east). It's also easy to find when looking for deadwood beetles.

2) Neon reticulatus - 43 records
I don't have a photo of this diminutive species but it seems to be ubiquitous in moss and is really easy to find with the suction sampler.

3) Salticus scenicus - also 43 records
The familiar synathropic species doesn't turn up that much on surveys on nature reserves but does well for casual recording around towns and semi-urban sites.

4) Euophrys frontalis - 41 records
This little jumper is actually a member of the magic circle, having two magic wands grafted on to where it's front legs should be. Looking at its eyes it also has severe hay fever. Very common, especially in litter piles etc.

5) Evarcha arcuata (nationally scarce) - 37 records
This mainly heathland specialist is clearly well represented in my records for all the surveys I have done on heathlands. This is a stonking jumper, the adult males look like miniature Gorillas with added war paint. And legs. Female above, male below.

6)  Heliophanus flavipes - 36 records
OK, I know this will make me unpopular but if we have our favourites, we should also have our least favourites. I don't really like Heliophanus. We have two mega common species that are not always easy to do in the field. Neither is scarce and neither really tells me anything about the habitat. And I have no photos of either. The fluorescent yellow palps in the female are purchased from Cyberdog. There are two other rare and restricted species I am yet to see.

7) Evarcha falcata - 29 records
Phwoar!!! This on the other hand, is a smart spider. I am a sucker for a contrastingly tri-coloured invertebrate. The proportions are so pleasing too. Imagine having one of these the size of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. You'd get some looks going to the shops! I don't see this as much as arcuata despite that having cons status and this not.

8) Ballus chalybeius (nationally scarce) - 28 records
This species is pretty easy to find by beating foliage of trees and bushes in the summer. I tend to record the female more than the male. Here is the only shot I could find of an adult male. It looks like Sibianor aurocinctus but I have only ever found that in grassland. That one is coming. I love this guy's front legs and 'upholstered' abdomen.

9) Heliophanus cupreus - 24 records.
Meh. The other species in the genus.

10) Sibianor aurocinctus - (nationally scarce) - 22 records 
I can't believe that this has made it into the top ten. I only recorded my first one in May 2016 at Levin Down. I could blame this on the purchase of my suction sampler but I think it's going through a genuine increase as most of my records are from the sweep net. Although most have been on chalk, I have picked them up on neutral and slightly acid grassland and sometimes not even particularity good grassland. If you think Ballus's legs are cool, you ain't seen nothing yet. Get a load of this.

11) Sitticus inexpectus (nationally scarce) - 17 records
The first of the shingle specialists and perhaps the most widespread of those in Sussex. Male first, then the female. Expect inexpectus on shingle.

12) Talavera aequipes - 17 records
I have no photos of this tiny little beast. I usually pick it up in the suction sampler on the chalk and at coastal sites etc.

13) Pseudeuophrys obseleta (nationally scarce) - 12 records
I have no photos of this little jumper either, known as the Whelk-shell Jumper (as it's on the BAP list). I have only seen it on vegetated shingle on the Cuckmere.

14) Aelurillus v-insignitus (nationally scarce) - 11 records
OMG. I love this spider. It's definitely my favourite. Proportionally very square, almost cuboidal.
In Sussex, it's only ever been found at Iping Common and Ambersham Common and needs early successional habitat to thrive. Male (above) has creamy, dreamy palps. Intense green eyes, head-chevrons and a big fat white stripe down the black abdomen. Everything you could ever want from a jumping spider.

15) Salticus cingulatus - 10 records
I think of this as being the thinner, paler, more arboreal/rural version of the common Salticus scenicus.

16) Salticus zebraneus (nationally scarce) - 8 records
The rarest of the three species and usually found on pines or beaten from big old oaks with dead branches etc.

17) Pseudeouphrys lanigera - 6 records
Don't bother looking for this spider, it will find you. Usually when you are not expecting it and always around houses. Probably at a time you don't have a notebook on you so don't forget to record it! 

18) Myrmarachne formicaria (nationally scarce) - 5 records
I have only ever seen this ant mimic at the Crumbles where it is abundant in Pampas Grass tussocks. You can now also find this spider at Rye Harbour.

19) Sitticus saltator - (nationally scarce) 4 records
All my records come from a single site on a single day, Climping Dunes in West Sussex. This is a TINY jumper. Does some really funky dancing up and down fallen Marram Grass stems. With a proportionally large 'head', the cute factor is turned up to 11.

20) Sitticus pubescens - 3 records
Not a scarce species but one I hardly ever see. I think all my records come from the classroom wall at Woods Mill!

21) Neon pictus (nationally rare) - 2 records
I have been shown this by Andy Phillips and Chris Bentley at Rye Harbour but I have no photos of this tiny and rare shingle specialist.

22) Pellenes tripunctatus (nationally rare) - 2 records
If Adam Ant (then not now) was a jumping spider, he would probably look like this. This is one of the smartest looking organisms I have ever seen. It's my second favourite jumper. Mega rare and only found at Rye Harbour and a few other shingle sites nationally. It's big an' all.

23) Talavera petrensis (nationally rare) - 2 records
I picked this up on scrape at Iping that had been put in for Heath Tiger Beetles. It was the first record there in some 45 years. They're still on that scrape. It's a tiny but insanely bright jumper and a very active one too. The photo doesn't do it justice. The orange-red colour is intense.

I have only on record for each of these species

24) Macaroeris nidicoloens (introduced)
This is out of date actually as I have had it in Sussex now at the Crumbles. A big smart spider (this is the female). Found by beating pines in urban settings.

25) Marpissa nivoyi (nationally scarce)
Found in Marram Grass litter, I have only ever seen it at Camber Sands in East Sussex.

26) Marpissa radiata (nationally rare) 
This is the only native spider here that does not occur in Sussex! I have only ever seen this once sieving fen litter at Chippenham Fen.

27) Phlegra fasciata (nationally rare) 
Another coastal specialist that I have never managed to photograph. A really smart chunky spider, the female like a humbug.

28) Hasarius adansoni (introduced)
An introduced species that I have seen once in a hot house in Surrey.

OK, that ended up being longer than I thought. Well done if you got the end. Now jump to it and get out there recording jumping spiders!

The world's tiniest nutcrackers

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 13 March 2019 20:09

Less than two weeks ago Matt Prince put up a photo of the palps of the weird money spider Sintula corniger. I have always wanted to see this nationally scarce spider because of its strange tackle but it doesn't occur in Sussex. Until today that is! Jane and I had a good look around Burton Pond and we had a go with the suction-sampler in the Sphagnum and Tussock-sedge there. Sintula corniger is the 391st spider recorded on any Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve and it's entirely new to both counties!

If you can't see what is going on there, here is the illustration of the palp from Roberts. It has a backwards-pointing appendage like no other spider, with hairs and lumps all over the place. I think it looks like a tiny pair of nutcrackers. Wait, would that be a pair of pair of nutcrackers? Given what the male palps actually are, you could equally call these a pair of crackers nuts. What does all that extra stuff actually achieve?!

New to West Sussex (but not Sussex as a whole) was the nationally scarce Notioscopus sarcinatus sucked from Sphagnum. Even more scarce nationally, this seems quite strongly tied to Sphagnum, the only other place I have seen it being in a similar habitat at Old Lodge. Identifiable in the field by the male's 'finger'like' projection off the back of the cephalothorax which you can see in this old photo.

All in all we added nine new spiders to the site (an increase of 10% to 99 species). Three of these were nationally scarce. I end the day on 105 spiders for the year having seen over 15% of the British list so far.

Oh and we also added the carabid Agonum sexpunctatum to the site on an an area of recently scraped Bracken being restored to heath! This nationally scarce species is usually fairly typical on black, peaty, wet heaths but is always nice to see. Great to see scarce species colonising the recently created habitat.

I found a unicorn on my lunch break!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 8 March 2019 21:18

I spent my lunch hour in the sedge bed at Woods Mill and sucked up a tiny unicorn with my suction sampler. In an hour I managed six spiders new for the year, five of which were new for Woods Mill and the 10 km square including Walckenaeria unicornis. I always think getting one of these novelty-headed spiders is like finding the last green triangle in a tin of Quality Street. It's more of a nubbin than a horn but you get the idea. Here it is in the tray, nubbin-horn just about visible between the over-sized palps. Walck palps are pretty cool too being large and elaborate.

And another of the same genus, the larger Walckenaeria nudipalpis.

Known from the site is the tiny Ozyptila brevipes which is easy to find in the winter, in tussocks and litter. Female at the top, male at the bottom. Crusty little buggers.

Also there was a female Ero furcata, one of the pirate spiders. 

The other two species new for the year were Porrhomma pygmaeum and Gnathonarium dentatum.  Oh and lots of the weirdly shaped Episinus angulatus.

And the common Zora spinimana

So nothing scarce there but lots of new records for less than an hour in the field! And that puts me on 99 spiders for the year! 

Yet another nationally rare spider for Graffham Common

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 7 March 2019 21:38

Had a good walk around Graffham Common today looking over recent management and doing a bit of recording. I didn't find much despite a good search and then just a we were finishing up Jane spotted this gorgeous Araniella displicata. It reminds me of those red and white boiled sweets or a strawberry cheesecake. A nationally rare species often associated with pines, I really wasn't expecting to see this at this time of year having only seen them in the autumn before.

It wouldn't keep still so the photos are not great.

That's spider 91 for the year. Ozyptila trux and Tenuipantes flavipes pushed it up to 93. At Graffham though we have recorded 145 species of spider now and 25 of these have cons status, some 17.2%. It really is pretty special considering where it's come from in such a short time.

The arachnid with too much mascara

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 5 March 2019 19:32

Every day is better with this little harvestman in it! This is the awesome Megabunus diadema that I recorded new to Ebernoe Common today whilst servicing the data-loggers I have been running there for some eight years. It's the 4047th species recorded at Ebernoe Common and a new 10 km square for this beast. It does well in quite dark and shady places, like on the rocks at Eridge Rocks and on tree trunks in deep shade. This one was on a mossy Beach trunk completely surrounded by dense Holly. It's been photo-bombed by an even smaller arachnid, a tiny mite!

But it's sadly not a spider so it doesn't count towards the spider year-listing fiasco that is 2019. Today at Ebernoe I added Labulla thoracica, Coelotes terrestris, Lepthyphantes minutus and Clubiona corticalis. These last two are also new to the site and the 10 km square. It's certainly coming up with the goods this approach to listing. It turns out the little rubber flaps that I put around the dataloggers to disguise them, are REALLY good places for spiders to hang out. That put me on 89 spiders for the year. A tactical diversion to Rushfields for  the Garden Centre Spider Uloborus plumipes on the way home from work and I end the day on 90 species.

Apprentice forester

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 27 February 2019 21:03

Whilst grubbing about for spiders at Devil's Dyke this afternoon, I noticed a few of these hairy little larvae in among the Common Rock-rose. They looked a little bit like small, dull burnet moth larvae. The food plant clinched it though, they must be the larvae of Cistus Foresters. We have three species, Cistus Forester, Scarce Forester (feeds on Knapweeds) and the Forester (that feeds on Common Sorrel). Collectively known as foresters (note that this is a really important example of why species names should be capitalised, so that a distinction between forester in the generic sense can be made from the species the Forester). Cistus Forester is probably the most restricted in Sussex with Devil's Dyke and Malling Down being the main sites. The larvae feed on Common Rock-rose and it's one of the dominant plants there on the south facing slope. If you go at the right time of year, you can see clouds of the metallic green adults.

Competitive spider listing produces rare spiders found at Iping Common for first time in 50 years

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 24 February 2019 09:14

It's strange how the word competitiveness still has negative connotations, especially in the world of listing and natural history but I have no time for this attitude. I challenge it head, suggesting some people hide behind their lack of competitiveness as a way to never push themselves. They have become victims of binary thinking; incapable of seeing beyond their own assumptions about listing. If you hide at the back sniping people at the front, you don't have to stick your neck out, you don't have to take risks. And this is nice and cosy because it eliminates the fear of failure. But along with not taking risks comes not achieving anything. This has become more of a thing with social media and the rise of trolling. Yes, competitiveness for competitive-sake isn't great, but being honest, how much of that really happens in natural history and pan-species listing? Certainly there isn't any in my work or most of what I see happening in the PSL world. So when I saw Matt Prince was listing spiders in 2019, I thought I would get involved. The reasons: 

  • I knew there would be conservation gains from it.
  • I knew I would get some new spiders out of it.
  • I knew I would learn a lot and teach a lot.
  • I knew I would add some structure to my casual recording in 2019.
  • I knew I would generate some blog content. So you are already benefiting from it.
  • I knew it would benefit my role as county recorder.
  • I knew I would enjoy it.

Do I expect to win? No! Then why pick a fight I can't win? Matt's definitely got the edge on me with spiders but that's not why I am doing it. I am doing it for the reasons above. All the same reasons I am so totally convinced that pan-species listing is such an important movement in UK natural history. And I also think you should treat each field season like it might be your last. Life is short. Yet having said all this, you can probably tell I am braced for more negative comments.

Rant over, now for the good stuff. My spider list is on 60 species for the year. I am in no doubt that Matt has overtaken me today as he was on 59 on Friday. 

I headed to Iping Common yesterday having spent many days indoors recently. Brighton had been shrouded in low cloud on Thursday and Friday and I was also fed up of seeing people record spring invertebrates online. I met up with Shaun Pryor and John Burnham for a day of spider recording. We recorded 28 species. My target was to get to 60 for the year which incredibly I hit dead on. I wanted a new species for myself, one for the site, one new to the reserve network and some that hadn't been recorded since 1968 (a year when many species were last recorded on West Sussex heaths). We achieved all of this and more (except nothing new to the network this time). The spider above is the gorgeous heathland specialist Philodromus histrio. It's known from Iping and is a lot showier than the microscopic highlights the post title refers to. Phwoar!

Species new to Iping Common
Recording money spiders in the field is interesting. You get an idea what it might be but all the fun happens when you get home at the microscope as most of them are so small you can't get much on them even from a hand lens. Therefore, I think the most efficient way to record them is to grab as many as you can and whack them straight in the killing jar. I have to say there were not vast numbers, I recorded only one of most species. These two were very common species that had not been recorded from the site before. Usually associated with damper areas, this was definitely the product of targeting some of the bogs on the site.

Lophomma punctatum
Kaestneria pullata

This bring the site list to 215 species, firmly cemented as the biggest species list in both East and West Sussex.

A further three species were added to the site list too. Bristly Millipede and the weevils Pissodes castaneus and Hypera nigrirostris. This means we added five species to the site list yesterday, bringing the whole list up to 2959 species. Only 41 to 3000!

Species not recorded since 1968
After reviewing the spiders for the counties at the end of the year, it was clear that quite a large number of species haven't been seen in the county for half a century. I knew I had to target money spiders outside of the main field season on the West Sussex heaths in order to try and rectify this. And it paid off! These two species had not been recorded on the site since 1968.

Cnephalocotes obscurus
Micrargus herbigradus

These are common and ubiquitous spiders with adults peaking in the summer. However, I suction-sampled two VERY small spiders on the burnt area of the heath. They were so small that I put them in their own tubes for fear of losing them in the killing jar. Both were just over 1 mm long. The first up:

Mecopisthes peusi. This nationally scarce BAP/S41 species was last recorded there in 1968 (and last in Sussex in 1989 at Ambersham - it's only other Sussex location). I was glad that such a small spider had such massive and distinctive palps which made identification much easier. I was interested to see that it does well on burnt areas. A truly terrible photo but you get an idea of scale at least.

Buzzing from this I pulled out the second specimen. It was Tapinocyba mitis. Nationally rare, Endangered and BAP/S41 too! Not recorded in the south east for decades and the last Sussex record in 1968 from Iping. Looking at the autecology, it does well on sites that have recently burnt! I can't believe I found these two spiders with such specific habitat requirements without knowing they existed. Very pleased with this as I was hoping for some of these kind of species. Especially as I did a survey there targeting this habitat last year. The difference with these two species is though they do appear to have winter/early spring adults. So you are unlikely to get them sticking to the April to September survey window.

So next time someone says "PSL is too competitive" throw it right back at them with "No, you're not competitive enough" because competitiveness is a good thing and people like that don't get to use the word in a derogatory way! Let's own it!

I think it would be really cool to write up our finds next year and show just how much good we have done with this approach, what do you think Matt?

The lichen so good they named a Bond movie after it

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 17 February 2019 18:50

Did you know, Tina Turner is a keen lichenologist? So taken was she when she first recorded Golden-eye Lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus that she wrote the following song to celebrate its beauty, which was later used as a Bond theme tune! They even named a duck after it too! I imagine, like me, you always thought the Bond movie was named after the duck but it was, in fact, the lichen. You may recognise the particular shade of orange below on Pierce Brosnan's face, that's no coincidence. 

OK, none of the above is true but this is. I've wanted to see the Golden-eye Lichen for years, so was very pleased when Simon Davey mentioned that one had been found at Devil's Dyke. Then I had a message from Veronica Atalanta on Twitter with the gen. It didn't take too long to find it. I was totally wrong with the search image though, I was looking for something yellow, like the ubiquitous Xanthoria parietina but the Golden-eye Lichen is very much orange in comparison. I took this image below to show the difference between the colours of the two species, so it should be easier to get your eye in at a distance. It looks a bit like an orange Venus Flytrap!

Here are some more close ups. It's such a strange looking thing.
This lichen is listed as Critically Endangered and Nationally Rare but the Downs around Brighton and Lewes seem to be a hot spot for it, so keep your eyes peeled as it might be growing on some scrub near you!

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