The Badger, the Polecat and the very rare beetle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 27 July 2010 20:40

Some days there is just too much natural history for one blog entry so today's epic bonanza is gonna be a two-parter! Mark and Jo Telfer came down to The Mens as part of the deadwood beetle survey we have been carrying out there all summer and the first thing we did was collect the interception traps. Whilst I was collecting the trap that hangs beneath the huge Idehurst Oak I noticed what I assumed to be a common soldier beetle trapped in a spider's web, how wrong was I!? It was the RDB2 saproxylic beetle Lymexylon navale (top photo). This is a really odd looking beetle, a little like a flying worm., long and thin with a protruding abdomen, a narrow thorax and a little black head. This species is a grade 1 indicator of ecological continuity, has the highest scoring index a beetle can have on the SQI spreadsheet and is new to The Mens and the West Weald Landscape Partnership project area so it's an important find on the survey. The literature states it feeds in living and dead standing oaks (sometimes chestnut) but always where the tree has been damaged in some way. It feeds in dried old wood feeding off the cellulose rather than fungus that most saproxylic beetles feed on.

Soon after we were all low to the ground looking at a beating tray when about 20 meters away through dense Holly we heard several large animals, I assumed it would be Roe Deer. You know something awesome is about to happen when someone shouts 'Mustelid!'. Suddenly a massive Polecat appeared in front of us in broad day light. We were able to bend down really low and look under the Holly and as ever I had my bins around my neck so I actually got to focus on it. So, for all the times I carry my bins and never use them, this was worth it and I will be carrying them to the loo from now on! Seriously though the Polecat was being pursued by a Badger! (I didn't get on to the Badger - too busy trying to follow the Polecat). It was huge, much bigger than a ferret, really fat at the back end with a pale face and all dark body.  Amazing! Last summer when Mark and I were taking the traps down at Ebernoe we saw a scat on the top of one of the traps that due to its size and arboreal location we concluded had to be Polecat but of course  we could never be sure. It's great to know they are in the area though and it is certainly the first time I have ever seen one alive.

Before all this happened we were looking at the nationally scarce (Nb) saproxylic beetle the Oak Pinhole Borer Platypus cylindricus boring into Beech. I managed to focus on the tiny beast as it 'fluked' into its hole and disappeared for good. This fallen Beech was covered in frass from what must have been hundreds of the holes this little beetle creates. The beetle is known to favour recently fallen trees and is about 5 mm long.
All this happened before 1.00 pm so for the equally exciting  second installment where we spent the afternoon  at the nearby Petworth Park, watch this space!

2 Response to "The Badger, the Polecat and the very rare beetle"

Charlie P Says:

Fantastic account - a once in a lifetime encounter? As with the report earlier this year that Pine Martens are present in Sussex, it's thrilling to wonder what else lies undiscovered even in a well-watched county such as ours. Let alone the potential new arrivals, with Spoonbills, Little Bittern and Purple Heron breeding successfully in the UK this year.

I'm pretty sure I saw a Polecat in Snowdonia about 20 years ago, but I was prone to mishearing Jackdaw and counting them as Chough at the time, so I don't entirely trust my record.

Graeme Lyons Says:

Hi Charlie
Once in a life time I'm sure! Could you send a link or some more details on the Pine Marten encounter?

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