Waxing lyrical

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 19 October 2018 13:46

I can't get enough of waxcaps. I mean, look at them! They're some of our most charismatic species, they're also extremely good indicators of good quality, well-managed, nutrient-poor grasslands. On Tuesday I went on a grassland fungi training course at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium in Tunbridge Wells. Andy McLay of the Natural England Field Unit lea the course and Janet Whitman made the whole thing happen. Thanks to Clare Blencowe for inviting me too.

There is a scoring system for five main groups of grassland fungi known as CHEGD. Each letter refers to the first letter of the genus. The H is for Hygrocybe or waxcaps and that's what I am particularly interested in. I had seen 16 species up until Tuesday but thanks to Andy we saw 11 species on the day and four of these were new to me making my list now stand at 20 in all. 

In the above image from top left to bottom right you have: Oily*, Blackening*, Parrot*, Snowy*, Goblet*, Crimson*, Earthy*, Splendid, Slimy, Scarlet, Golden*, Pink, Fibrous, Cedarwood, Dune, Meadow*, Honey* and Heath (I have no photos of Butter or Spangle*). Those with stars we recorded on the day.

The best thing about the course was realising that these fungi are better identified from macroscopic characters rather than microscopic ones. The other was that I have always been worried I am overlooking Crimson Waxcap among the Scarlets and Splendids. I now realise that I have not been doing so, I have just never seen it before. Until Tuesday that is. Here is Crimson Waxcap, quite a beefy or blood-red colour with a robust and fibrous stipe.

This is the Oily Waxcap. It smells of bed bugs apparently but having not seen a bed bug, I have also never smelt one. Turns out that the smell is actually just the general smell that most bugs release, it's the reason that shieldbugs are called stinkbugs in the USA. So I was able to temporarily 'acquire' a bug (a Juniper Shieldbug I found on the toilet wall). Once people had smelt the actual smell, it was much easier to pick up the same diluted version of the smell in the fungus. It's like an overpowering chemically-version of coriander. A great example of different areas of natural history interacting. 

Andy got excited about this one, the Earthy Waxcap, with unusually arched gills where they join the stem. Other than this it's a pretty boring looking one but it's a really good indicator.

And Goblet Waxcap. A bit more matt to the naked eye compared to the miriad of shiny Spangle Waxcaps it was hiding amongst. Well spotted Clare! A bit 'scurfy' under the hand lens, you can just about see that here.

This one's not a waxcap but it is the commonest member of the genus Dermoloma (or the D in CHEGD). Also known as Crazed Cap and you can see why here.

I also realised that a waxcap that I stumbled across in Badlands back on the 14th July 2016 happened to be quite a goody. I don't think I ever featured it on this blog but here it is. Fibrous Waxcap. A big, robust waxcap, incredibly fibrous all over and with white-chocolate coloured (and textured) gills. The early fruiting time is also key, I wonder if that means it is under-recorded? That said, I have never seen it doing quadrats before anywhere.

A massive thank you to everyone involved in this course, particularly Andy for sharing his incredible knowledge. It has totally reinvigorated my interest in fungi and I am now thinking I might try and go and look for some of the other species we have in Sussex that I have not seen yet, Such as Toasted Waxcap. This just leaves me one question that I forgot to ask on the course.

Why on Earth are they so brightly and variably coloured? What is the point?! Is it a deterrent to grazing animals?

Pandora's Box

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 16 October 2018 21:32

Introduced species are the second greatest cause of extinction. So it was bittersweet to catch the first Boxworm for a Trust reserve today at Southerham, this seems to be one of the most rapidly expanding introduced species right now. There were lot of migrants too, such as the smaller Palpita vitrealis you can see next to it. I used to think this was a real rarity. There were two of those in the trap last night too. So this image really conveys how much our moth fauna has changed, and continues to change, through Human behaviour. I'd never heard of either of these moths 20 years ago.

Until today, I've only seen two Boxworms (in London) so I was pretty surprised to the melanic form, what an incredible moth. It has a purple sheen not unlike the Purple Emperor.

Probably the best migrant was a single Small Mottled Willow. I've only ever seen a handful of these.

There was also a Vestal.

A Delicate.

Several L-album Wainscot and White-points too. I guess you can't really call them migrants now being pretty well established.

More aliens though. On the wall of the office was the first Western Conifer Seedbug for Southerham. A species from the other side of the Atlantic originally, it's now very well established. As verifier for Sussex records of Heteroptera in iRecord, nine records have come in today alone across Sussex! There was only one other shieldbug record in the same batch. This has been the trend for the last four or five weeks. I'm amazed at how many people who's names I don't recognise are recording this bug. iRecord really is a great way of capturing these records. So it might be another invasive but it's another big, impressive, eye-catching beast so at least it's getting people recording wildlife.

Finally I was showing Alex some of these species in the fridge when I noticed a tiny piece of symmetry in amongst the mud on the floor of the kitchen Symmetry = invertebrates. It was only a lifer for me!!! Finally, a mouse spider! Scotophaeus blackwalli. Also a new record for any Trust reserve leaving us on 10,147 species. I wonder why I have not seen this synanthropic species until now. It is certainly not common in Sussex.

Heroes in a half shell

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 11 October 2018 21:21

Here is a celebration of how awesome tortoise beetles are. From top left going anticlockwise we have Cassida vibex, Cassida nobilis, Cassida hemisphaerica, Cassida vittata, Cassida nebulosa (the only one ever recorded in Sussex) and Pilemsotoma fastuosa.

All of these have been recorded in Sussex. I have seen a further four Cassida species here but I have no photos of rubiginosa, viridis, flaveola or denticollis. Of the 95 records in my database, almost half are of rubiginosa and a quarter of vibex. Here is how they break down.

The two common ones are easy enough by sweeping thistle. Pilemsotoma is mainly on big stands of fleabane but seems to be scarce in the eastern end of East Sussex. I have only seen vittata, nebulosa and hemisphaerica once. It seems denticollis isn't that scarce around the Lewes Downs and on Sussex Uni campus on Yarrow (EDIT: but all three of my records were with a suction sampler). The striking nobilis is best seen by the coast. Kowabunga!

Bogey beetle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 9 October 2018 19:38

1.) a piece of nasal mucus
2.) in natural history: a relatively common species you really should have seen by now but through incompetence, indolence and/or bad luck, you ain't.

I've never seen an Otter for example. Anyways, I digress...

Today, I finished my invertebrate surveys for the year wrapping up a survey of Iping and Stedham Commons. The very first suction sample produced this luminous little apple-green tortoise beetle. It's a real goody too, being a first for West Sussex. It's Cassida hemisphaerica, one I've always wanted to see. Not quite a bogey beetle in that sense, but it does look like something that fell out of your nose! It's a nationally scarce species and I'm pretty sure a new one for the Trust reserve network being only the third Sussex record! Odd that it feeds on campions, not a great deal of those on the heath. I love that suction sampler. It's a lot smaller than I had realised, and quite bright, with almost iridescent gold twinkly bits on it. The beetle that is, not my suction sampler.
Look at his little face and feet!

Soon after this photo shoot, it flew off and I can't find it anywhere!
What's YOUR bogey species?

A tach of back pain

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 28 September 2018 16:22

I wasn't expecting a lifer today as I hobbled to the osteopath. That's what happened though. I spotted this smart looking tachinid on the wall of what used to be the Dyke Road Pub. I had no pots (unusual for me but walking around town in late September doesn't yield great results). I had to make do with my iPhone but this was enough for Chris Raper to come back with Mintho rufiventris before my spine had been cracked. It's quite a nice record being only the 12th for the county and a nationally notable species at that! Thanks to Bob Foreman and Chris Raper with their help on this one.

I've become rather fond of tachinids, they have gruesome life histories mainly developing in the larvae of other insects. Many of them are host specific and there is a really good key and a great national recording scheme website and facebook page. Take a look at the species account for Mintho here. It appears the main host is the pyralid moth Hypsopygia glaucinalis which in turn feeds on decaying vegetable matter. This level of specialisation is good for using the species you survey to tell you about your habitats.

With around 270 species on the British list, they are a manageable group. I rarely take pictures of flies as they are usually swept up before I see them so this might even be the first tachnid that has featured on this blog. I now have 116 records of  26 species so I have only scratched the surface with about 10% of them so far. Think I will concentrate on this group a bit more next summer.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 27 September 2018 08:50

Well it would have been rude not to go and see the Beluga as I was working on the edge of London finishing off the last of the year's freelance entomology. What an incredible sight it was, the TV and news companies, helicopters, drones and even ITV misbehaving in a boat was quite something. It's just come on the news even as I write this. You know you've been around a bit when you turn up at a twitch and the first person you recognise is a news presenter who has interviewed you about migrant moths seven years ago.

It was coming up to breathe roughly every ten minutes where it would roll typically two to four times before going under. Strange that in the hour I was there it was always coming up in more or less the same spot just to the left of this barge. So I do hope that means it was feeding on something plentiful. Sea Wormwood growing all along on the shore and I saw some Golden Samphire nearby too.

I think I just caught the blow hole in this one.

But this was my favourite. I'm glad it's not my only shot, being the first, for a brief time it was.

I've been sitting on 49 species of mammal for about three years since I added Bechstein's Bat. Uncomfortable yes but I always thought species 50 might be Otter. Never mind, I'll make do with a Beluga. This is only my 2nd UK whale after Minke Whale so very pleased to see it. Whatever next?!

UPDATE: Oh I forgot to say thanks to Mark Telfer and Matt Eade for the gen. As I was walking back to the car I saw a patch of Black Horehound and thought I would check it for Rambur's Pied Shieldbug and one glance and there it was! Only a matter of time before we get this in Sussex.

Seven Whistles for Seven Sisters

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 16 September 2018 17:28

Here are the shots of the two Whimbrel from Seaford Head today. They were showing within 10 m of the track down to the cottages and were really confiding, the closest I have ever been to them. They're not scarce as a passage migrant here but I have never seen them in a field like this and it was a real treat. Now I don't take photos of birds, these were taken through my binoculars using the Olympus TG4 but you get the idea.


Posted by Graeme Lyons 13:44

I went up to Seaford Head to do a bit of birding with my new binoculars this morning after a lovely evening there yesterday where we saw Whimbrel and a Whinchat (but that's another blog post - I did get some great views of the Whimbrel). This morning the birds were a little quiet, it was very windy. I was poking around by the satellite Moon Carrot population where I saw a large patch of Restharrow about  month ago. There are a few bugs on Restharrow that are usually pretty easy and would probably be new to the site. I have noticed some really large patches of Restharrow on a few sites this year, it seems to have done well out of the drought. With no sweep net, no beating tray, I didn't think I would stand much chance but then I remembered I had two hands and a head...

I used my left hand as make shift beating tray and the right as a stick. In the first tap I had the awesome little stilt bug Gampsocoris punctipes, there were dozens of them. A cracking little bug. You can see the shape of the pronotum in this image.

On the next tap, there was more of the same but several of the mirid Dicyphus annulatus. Another Restharrow specialist and another species new to the reserve.

I was looking for Macrotylus paykulli, the last of the three easy bugs on Restharrow but no joy. Then I beat a couple of stiltbugs in the genus Berytinus, I wasn't expecting these. I normally only pick them up in the suction sampler. It wasn't until I got home and keyed them out that I got excited. First up is Berytinus signoreti, not all that uncommon and one I recorded there on the big survey in 2016. The little black marks on the wings are diagnostic.

This one looked a little darker and it turns out it's Berytinus clavipes. Now this is a lifer for me (I've now seen the whole genus in), the first record in Sussex since 1990 (and only the 5th ever). It's also new to ALL Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves. That's three species new to Seaford Head that are all Restharrow specialists. Happy with that for a few square metres of plant and nothing but my own hands and my head. Wait, wasn't I meant to be going birdwatching?!

Secrets of the Heath

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 10 September 2018 19:13

I helped the Trust man a stall at the Secrets of the Heath event at Petersfield Heath in east Hampshire all weekend. The highlight for me were showing kids invertebrates throughout both days. They were such a knowledgeable bunch, some of them even had their own bug kits. The big white tray (or 'bug world' as it became known by one group of kids) was a real hit.

I got a lifer too. Rhopalus maculatus. This bug has only five records in Sussex. One very old record in the East and four in the far West, the last being in 2014. It's yet to be recorded on a Trust reserve, I suspect it could turn up at Iping Common. It was the commonest Rhopalus at Petersfield Heath. You can see the mainly orange abdomen and the rows of dots along the connexivum and the underside of the abdomen, instantly recognisable.

Although I have seen Agonopterix nervosa before, I can't find any records of it. Considering the larvae eats gorse, it can't be that common in Sussex.

And several people picked up Araneus marmoreus, another species uncommon in Sussex. I have only seen it in the Ashdown Forest, although there are occasional records from Woods Mill. Just goes to show, leave Sussex just by a few miles and the invertebrates start to change quite significantly.

Woods Mill Bioblitz: Molluscs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 6 September 2018 16:36

Now for the slugs & snails. A total of 27 species were recorded and six of these were new for the site. One of them. the River or 'Giant' Pea Mussel Pisidium amnicum was new for me too. Pulled out of the river in the same sample as the riffle beetles in the lats post. Three lifers in one net. The distinctive thing about this pea mussel is it's huge. At 10 mm wide, it towers over the others in the genus. It's also far more asymmetrical than the other species and is found in rivers. The last record on any Trust reserve was from Amberley in 2008. I was surprised Leopard Slug was new. The Vertigo was found using the suction sampler in the valley field and the aquatic molluscs in the lake are doing well after the carp removal with a few new species there. To summarise, between the beetles and molluscs, 70 species of which 26 (37%!) are new for the site (and three new for me). Here are some other shots from my library. Limacus maculatus, Planorbis planorbis and Cochlodina laminata Next up, the bugs!

Species Last record
Acroloxus lacustris 1996
Anisus vortex 1996
Arion hortensis 2017
Arion subfuscus 2017
Bithynia leachii New
Bithynia tentaculata 1996
Cepaea hortensis 2010
Cepaea nemoralis 2013
Clausilia bidentata 2014
Cochlicopa lubrica 1996
Cochlodina laminata 2011
Cornu aspersum 2010
Lehmannia marginata 2017
Lehmannia valentiana 2017
Limacus maculatus 2016
Limax maximus New
Monacha cantiana 1996
Oxychilus navarricus 2010
Pisidium amnicum New
Planorbarius corneus 2014
Planorbis carinatus New
Planorbis planorbis 1996
Potamopyrgus antipodarum New
Radix balthica 1996
Sphaerium corneum 2014
Succinea putris New
Vertigo pygmaea New

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