Introduction to Spiders

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 18 June 2018 08:13

Last Friday I ran a course for the first time. An Introduction to Spiders at Iping Common. This fantastic reserve is Sussex's best site for spiders, with 204 species recorded there and a quarter of these having conservation status, it's one of the best places to see spiders in Sussex (along with Rye Harbour).

The aim was to show how much can be done in the field and also how much needs to be done at the microscope. The very first spider we recorded on the first Gorse we beat was the nationally scarce Araneus angulatus! All in all we recorded 21 species. Only one of these was identified at the microscope. Tibellus oblongus. Despite taking several very spotty Tibellus, we didn't manage to add Tibellus maritimus to the site list, a useful lesson in how some ID features are only a guide with spdiers. In fact, it's getting really hard to add a new spider to this site! Here are the spiders we saw with the year they were last recorded and their conservation status.

Species Cons status Last record
Aelurillus v-insignitus NS 2017
Agalenatea redii 2017
Agelena labyrinthica 2017
Anyphaena accentuata 2012
Araneus angulatus NS 2012
Araneus diadematus 2017
Araneus quadratus 2017
Arctosa perita 2017
Cercidia prominens NS 2017
Euophrys frontalis 2007
Evarcha arcuata NS 2017
Evarcha falcata 2017
Hypsosinga sanguinea NS 2018
Mangora acalypha 2017
Philodromus histrio NS 2017
Pisaura mirabilis 2017
Salticus cingulatus 2012
Simitidion simile 2017
Thomisus onustus NS 2017
Tibellus oblongus 2012
Xerolycosa nemoralis NS 2018

That's a whopping 38% of spiders with conservation status! Stars of the show included the jumping spiders and of course Thomisus onustus shown above. We found one adult male and two immature females. It's the male featured in the image above and below. I think it looks like cooling lava against the black heath.

This is the female (although this image was taken some years ago of an adult - wow it was over eight years ago now).

Well done everyone who attended and help find the spiders, if any course attendees have any photos they would like to share on this post from the day I will gladly do so. It was a great day. But it didn't end with the spiders. We had two species new to Iping Common. Both bugs, being Leptopterna ferrugata and Aradus cinnamomeus. The rare beetle Cryptocephalus biggutatus also showed up in the sweep net.

Grizzly tales

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 8 June 2018 08:54

A couple of days ago, Alice and I headed to Marline Valley to assess the meadows and also look for a rare micro moth that feeds on Dyer's Greenweed. We didn't find the Greenweed Flat-body Agonopterix atomella. We did however, find a whole bunch of other quite interesting stuff. First up, we saw this aberrant Grizzled Skipper (I'm thinking taras but as I have seen very few aberrant butterflies I'm not sure).

It wasn't long before we saw another one. Clearly a different animal. These were the only two Grizzled Skippers we saw all day and it's not a common butterfly at Marline. They have almost certainly come in from a change in sward structure that favours the butterfly.

In fact, we recorded at least 20 species new to the reserve. Perhaps the most exciting was a male Long-horned Bee Eucera longicornis on Bramble flowers. This isn't the exact Long-horn Bee but you get the idea. A brilliant thing to find on the site and hot on the heels of Alice's record of them at Pevensey Marshes last week!

The highlight for me though was this trio of big brown weevils. Tanymecus palliatus looks like a large Sitona and we picked two of these up in the suction sampler. It's a Nb species that's already known from the site and is not common in Sussex.

This is Attactagenus plumbeus. Another Nb species with a 'dot-dash' Morse code pattern on its back. It's a new record for our reserve network!

And this one is a bit of an oddity. It's also a new record for the reserve network but is not nationally scarce. It's on the Sussex Rare Species Inventory though. I was only thinking about this as I found one of these years ago soon after I started beetling in 2010 but for one reason or another it didn't get recorded. In the last eight years I have not seen another one. It's Graptus triguttatus. Strange how this happens.

Despite much searching, we didn't find any other Dyer's Greenweed specialist other than the mirid Heterocordylus genistae. This was present on every patch, even the single isolated patch in Lower Meadow. A great day in all. The meadows were looking great. Well managed as ever and with little Bramble and scrub due to the 'little and often' approach of cutting carried out by the volunteers.

The value of casual recording

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 24 May 2018 17:43

I've recently stumbled across quite a lot of good species whilst doing other things. Firstly, I noted this Field Mouse-ear while mapping Chalk Milkwort (below) at Southerham this week. It turned up on the site in 2016, a record came in via Dave Bangs when I did the review of the species list but I have never found it on the site, so I was pleased to find it there!

There is masses of Chalk Milkwort in this really rich area and more Adonis Blues than I have ever seen there before, all down to finally being able to fence out this compartment from the arable reversion and gain better control of the grazing. It's looking great!

When I was showing Steve the mouse-ear, he spotted something shiny in the short turf! We managed to get it, a Scarab Shieldbug! A new record for the site of this now Nationally Scarce species, despite a thorough survey with a suction sampler here a few year ago.

Then yesterday I was at Amberley Wildbrooks helping the RSPB with a CBC there. Right at the end I stumbled on a field with about 100 Narrow-leaved Water-dropwort or Sulphurwort (Near Threatened and Nationally Scarce) plants in! It's been a few years since this was recorded here. Being an early flowerer and growing in the field centres (not the ditches), it's not one we pick up on the ditch survey.

Best of all though was last week. Jane and I were finishing a bird survey when I noticed a plant on an area that we couldn't access some distance away. I thought it was Large Bittercress. A really uncommon plant and it would be a new record for the site. So I rested my elbow on Jane's shoulder and took this terrible photo through my binoculars. Never had to do this before!

Frances went and had a look and found another plant nearby and confirmed it and while she was there, found the first Subterranean Clover there in 40 years. These surprises at Waltham are a direct response to the better graze it has been having the last few years. Jane took this photo of the Large Bittercress. The moral of the story. Always have a GPS and a notebook with you, whatever you are doing. And recording to eight figures IS really useful despite what some people say. Eight figures can always be turned into six but you can't do that the other way around. Additionally, I'm very fond of mapping plants using the basic unit of a 10 x 10 m square (or to eight figures) on the British National Grid in GIS.

Potter Flower-bee (Anthophora retusa) thriving at Seaford Head in areas managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 May 2018 16:55

Last week I started a survey of the rare Potter Flower-bee Anthophora retusa at Seaford Head. Coincidentally, there is also a PhD study being carried out by Gigi Hennessy so we joined forces to get a more thorough idea of where the bee is on the site. As Gigi has some transects concentrated on the key areas, I was keen to have a look at areas away from these transects.

My approach was to GPS every individual found and map them. I also wanted to sex them and record what they were feeding on. That last was easy, all 12 we saw were feeding on Ground-ivy. The problem with recording retusa is the abundance of plumipes still present. The first we recorded last Thursday was a female at the top of the west ride. This is great news as this was just solid scrub only five years ago. This fantastic ride created by SWT and the volunteers has produced plentiful forage for this rare bee. We also saw another male there. Now the female is a little smaller (although this isn't enough to clinch ID in the field - some plumipes are smaller) so you have to catch them and look for the red spines present on the hind leg. This is a bit of a faff. You can see them clearly in the image below but that's after catching the bee and getting it into this cage or small glass tube. The females are faster than the males too.

I went on to catch a male. Much more gingery and lacking the long hairs on the legs of the male plumipes

Here is the habitat showing the wealth of Ground-ivy.

We caught a male plumipes and put it next to the retusa. That's when it hit us, retusa has green eyes just like Anthophora bimaculata while plumipes are black. Actually this is so much easier than trying to see the red spines in the female!

We then went a walk along the coastal grassland where the Anthophora petered out as the Ground-ivy stopped. We saw clouds of very worn male Andrena haemorrhoa flying around the edge of the cliffs. A single Ophonus ardosiacus ran across the cliff top grassland, a new carabid for the site. Dingy and Grizzled Skippers were everywhere. There were however, no Anthophora at all on the golf course side. All but Alex and I headed off and despite a cool westerly breeze, we decided to head to the one other suitable area that Gigi is not covering; the cattle grazed area to the east of Hope Bottom...

The first retusa we had was a female which made for the photo at the top of this post and this video.

We caught a further six males but also three Bombus humilis! I was quite pleased with this, especially as Alex spotted the first one and we didn't see any humilis up there during a thorough survey two years ago. We may have also seen a Bombus ruderaius but we bungled it and the wind took it.

Here you can see a distribution map of what we recorded on Thursday. I will add to this with one more visit in just over a week's time and hopefully we can put all the data together and make this a really useful exercise. Interesting how the two females we recorded were the ones furthest from the coast and the loess they nest in.

Even an Early Purple Orchid has popped up in the grazed area.

So a big thumbs up from me and a male Anthophora plumipes to the work being done there! There is not much we can do about nesting habitat but we can create lots of forage, so thanks to the ride creation, its aftercare and the cattle-grazing and scrub management, we are creating more forage for this incredibly rare bee.

What's your favourite genus?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 5 May 2018 20:28

Too much natural history getting in the way of blogging at the moment! A crazy few weeks. Just a quick one of a new spider for me from a site in Surrey. The Nationally Rare Xysticus acerbus. The male is at the top and I also found a female (the bottom two photos). This is perhaps my favourite genus of spiders. In fact, there are now only two I haven't seen - robustus and luctator

Other favourites of mine include Andrena, Chrysolina, Cryptocephalus and Ampedus. I am sure there are many more. What makes for a good genus? A decent number of species with a mix of bright and varied charismatic species identifiable in the field and some only at the microscope. A mix of common species and rare ones so that they are not too elusive. That sort of thing for me. So what's your favourite genus? Meanwhile enjoy some more Xysticus acerbus.

If ET was a money spider

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 2 May 2018 18:41

Excuse the poor quality photo but I had to share this one. Last Sunday was our third Ditchling Beacon Conservation Super Squad and as my back is anything other than super, I was on light duties. Which involved finding wildlife to show the team on a freezing cold day. I had a go with the suction sampler in the quarry at Ditchling and picked up a tiny (1.5 mm) spider. It wasn't until I got home and looked down the microscope that I saw this...

I am still terrified of ET as a 40 year old 'man'. I've gone all jittery looking through photos just to write this post. Anyway, money spiders with freaky heads are pretty cool but this one is really weird. What looks like nostrils are actually one of the four pairs of eyes. The palps (External Testicles) were pretty weird too. This is Panamomops sulcifrons (my 373rd arachnid). It's a bit of a chalk-grassland specialist but what's strange is that I didn't pick it up at all last year during a survey there, in fact there were only three species of spider with conservation status that went into the management plan. Even though I was using a suction sampler in that exact same spot. It just shows that ongoing casual recording is also a great way to add to our knowledge of sites. The only other record on a Trust reserve is from Malling in 2009.

This is the second Nationally Scarce species we have added to the site list whilst scrub bashing up at Ditchling. A great way to do practical conservation and learn about wildlife at the same time. Have a look here if you want to sign up. It's always the last Sunday of the month and involves some steep and challenging work but is really rewarding. We also found three other species new to the site. Yellow Archangel, Moschatel and Palmate Newt!

Purple Haze

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 20 April 2018 15:35

I've just spent a very informative few days on Steven Falk's bee course hosted by the University of Sussex. The second I was able to guide people around Seaford Head and show everyone the fantastic work we have been doing there to improve the habitat for wildlife. The eastern ride in Hope Bottom is looking incredible at the moment (above) with a carpet of Ground-ivy flowering and a host of bees and flies feeding on it in the warmth of the sinuous ride. This was just solid scrub a few years ago. We got a big thumbs up from Steven for this. This is a great place to see Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes (below) and Dotted Bee-fly.

You can see where it gets its English name from!

But things got really exciting when we got to Hope Gap and stopped for lunch. I was buzzed by a big shiny black bee and managed to net it. It was a male Black Mining-bee Andrena pilipes (my 35th Andrena - although I am already on 36 but that's another story!). A new species for me and a really scarce bee on the Downs. Although there is one record from Steven back in 2008 for this species, it may actually have been new for the reserve. I love Andrenas so finding a new one is always a great moment. I also caught a funny looking Nomada but hold that thought...

I think Special Ops Mining-bee also works.

We went down to the tiny saltmarsh area but it was quite exposed. I did find a male Osmia aurulenta though and it behaved for some photos after being potted.

We headed back via Hope Gap again to check out the carpets of Ground-ivy and someone caught another funny Nomada. Steven then got really excited, with this being possibly the first record for Sussex. In all we saw at least three Variable Nomad Bees Nomada zonata and I have just keyed out two specimens from what I had collected. Quite the day! This is the 10,094th species and the 471st hymenopteran recorded on a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve.

Steven stayed on and found the first of the very rare Potter Flower Bee Anthophora retusa of the year (that the site is well known for and we'll be surveying for in a few weeks) and saw around ten Nomada zonata and has kindly let me use his photos here. A big thank you to Steven and Nick Balfour from the University of Sussex for such a great event.

Gray see slug

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 27 March 2018 07:54

Had an unexpected day free Sunday so headed to Seaford Head for a spot of bird-watching when I suddenly realised the tide was pretty good. Bird-watching soon turned into rock-pooling and about the third rock I turned over had a lifer on it! It was a Grey Sea Slug Aeolidia papillosa. It really reminds me of those weird floral vintage swimming caps that used to give me the creeps. It's my fourth sea-slug, all of which I have seen in the last two years and all from between Seaford and Beachy Head. 

I like this last shot. It looks like it's just devoured a tiny Human and the only bits left are two tiny fingers giving the peace sign as they too are slowly absorbed. So long, tiny Human!

Later on, I found this purple triangular crab under a rock. Pretty sure this is Pisa armata, not a species I have seen before.

This thing had me scouring the Handbook though. I thought it was some bizarre mollusc. Then I thought it was a pistachio macaron for a while. Now I believe it's actually a fossilised mollusc. Thanks to Robin Shrubsole for pointing me in this direction.

The Remains of the Day

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 23 March 2018 07:33

I have only ever seen Dendroxena quadrimaculata twice; in 2009 at Ebernoe and again in 2012 at Parham Park. Today I found a single elytron in a spider's web when servicing the data loggers at Ebernoe Common. There are less than ten records for this nationally scarce species in Sussex and all from the West, we didn't find it all during a repeat survey there in 2016. I love identifying beetles from body parts. It's like sea-watching for invertebrates. Distant and tantalising glimpses at the edge of your ability. This one is pretty distinctive though. A caterpillar-predating carrion beetle with unusual markings.

The most abundant beetle elytra behind the loggers in the spider's webs is what I am now coming to know as my least favourite beetle: Nalassus laevioctostriatus. A beetle that has way too many syllables for something so ubiquitous and dull. It truly is the Meadow Pipit of the beetle world. Most of the time if you find one intact, it's covered in fungus. I think they are so slow moving that they can't even outrun a fungus. What's your least favourite beetle?

Most of the spiders were Amaurobius but I did spot this HUGE Tegenaria gigantea which popped out from under one of the protective flaps hiding the loggers. I didn't jump at all.

Later on I noticed this mass of regurgitated beetles. Almost all of them looked to be the Woodland Dor Beetle Anoplotrupes stercorosus but there were a few carabids in there too. I wonder what had selectively sought these beetles out? It seems to have been lying here for some time. Hawfinch calling around the Brick Kiln too and my first Chiffchaff of the year at Woods Mill.

Nature Blog Network