"Are we in Avatar now?"

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 23 March 2019 09:43

So after work yesterday I went straight back to the Pound for an even lower tide (the lowest of the spring). It was however at 18:40 and was pushing dark. Torches were essential by this point but it was mild an calm. I met up with James Harding-Morris and Robert Jaques, both pan-species listers that I had never met. Everyone was buzzing after last night's haul but it was the Snakelocks Anemone photo that gets pride of place. This is taken under water with the TG4 with James' UV torch shining on it. The title of this post comes from a quote by Robert that I had to rip off. I really appreciated the amount of nonsense these guys came out with, a really fun evening. And I didn't have to turn any rocks again.

Now I think Polycera quadrilineata was on top of everyone's list after my post yesterday so we started sweeping sea weed with pond nets. On my first attempt, I got another lifer!!! Not a sea slug but very closely related to the Sea Hare, here is the incredible Solar-powered Sea Slug Elysia viridis.

And whilst I was taking these photos, James found Polycera quadrilineata effortlessly. Four in all in fact. And another two Elysia viridis! A really nice shot of the rhinophores here showing the detail, these are the 'chemoreceptors' of nudibranchs. You've got no chance of seeing this detail unless the animal (and camera!) is under water. The Olympus TG4 is just brilliant for this stuff. Just remember this and the above specimen were about 5 mm long.

Check out this shot of a Sea Lemon found by Robert crawling through weed.

Early on we spotted a few Dahlia Anemone.

And a Wentletrap!

A couple of White Tortoiseshell Limpets.

And a huge crustacean which must be Common Prawn Palaemon serratus (and not Crangon crangon as I originally labelled it - thanks Evan).

As for the fish, we wracked up (see what I did there) a whopping seven species (or eight in two days). Long-spined Sea Scorpion showing the diagnostic spines at the side of the mouth which are so easily visible when the animal is under water.

And beyond the kelp zone, Ballan Wrasse and Tompot Blenny were the commonest fish. This huge wrasse took some team effort to catch. It was cathartic because in this same area two years ago I bungled something that looked exactly like this and given how many we saw here last night, I was convinced that that was also a Ballan Wrasse but now I am not sure it's not a huge Corkwing thanks to Evan. The wrasse is the one on the left. Not sure what the other vertebrate is.
So in favour of Ballan: Smooth preoperculum, huge size (25cm), no black tail spot, lots of smaller Ballans present beyond the kelp zone. In favour of Corkwing: black kidney mark behind eye, larger scales that do not appear pale centred, blue fins beneath.  OK, a third opinion is needed but Evan has started to sway me into thinking this is actually a massive Corkwing...

UPDATE: It looks like this is a big Corkwing male. Thanks to Evan and people from the Seasearch Facebook group for commenting. I'm amazed how different it is to all the other Corkwings I have seen, I really take the point that divers must see these animals much more frequently than I do. Amazing!

One the way back in I turned over a tiny rock (that's literally all I can do) and I found a clingfish! Now we have four clingfish species and I knew it wasn't Cornish Sucker or Connemara Clingfish. So it's either Two-spotted (the common one) or Narrow-headed (the scarcer one). I am not convinced I can tell which from these photos or even if it is possible at all. Using the Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe it's about the relative placement of the fins but this doesn't seem to be a character used in more recent field guides. If it had two big spots then that's easy to ID as a male Two-spotted. Females are apparently not separable in the field. I think the head is about 1/3rd the length of the body and not the 1/4 required for it to be Small-headed. So I think this is likely to be a female Two-spotted Clingfish. And in hindsight, I believe all the individuals I have seen of this species pair are likely to be that too.

Beyond the kelp zone, I spotted a piece of red sea weed dancing around in a rock pool. It was clearly a crustacean. What a strange creature. I have just keyed this out and I believe this is a type of skeleton shrimp called Caprella linearis. Other marine crustaceans new for me were Siriella armata and Gammarellus angulosus.

Another incredible evening's natural history. I was amazed that there wasn't a soul there again yesterday. If you want to get a big list of species it's really key to hit the lowest tides of the year.

A real highlight was walking back up the cliffs into the back of Eastbourne. The Alexanders was covered in moth and beetles. Upwards of 20 Oedomera femoralis feeding on the flowers but also Common Quaker, Satellite, Dark Chestnut, Bloxworth Snout, Double-striped Pug, Agonopterix heracliana and Digitivalva pulicariae, better than the moth trap at Woods Mill on Thursday morning. And I got two new spiders new for the year. Amaurobius ferox (116) and Dysdera croccata (117).

The Spectacular Sea Slugs of Sussex!!!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 21 March 2019 22:06

Sometimes you go rock-pooling on one of the lowest tides of the year and it pays off. Then there was this evening, it was just off the scale. WOW!!! I can't get over what just happened. I've seen more sea slugs this evening than I have ever seen in my whole life. I believe this is the insanely cool Polycera quadrilineata. Just look at this video and you get an idea of how excited I am. This animal is about 5 mm long, this gives you a flavour of how great this camera is given it's also submerged under sea water.

It's like something from the tropics. I found two rather effortlessly by sweeping sea weed with a pond net. Have some more of this incredible animal.

Wow. WOW! I actually don't know what to say.

How about even more amazing sea slugs?! Evan found this Facelina bostoniensis under the second stone he turned over!!! I was only talking about how I'd like to see this at work today, we didn't see another one. When a Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab crawled over it, the appendages suddenly straightened into narrow points. Wish I had caught that on film.

But it didn't stop there! Evan found this under the FIRST rock he turned, which we now think is Lamellaria perspicua (not Pleurobranchus membranaceus as originally stated). A sea slug like mollusc.

We also saw these sea slugs. Three Goniodoris nodosa (and not the Acanthodoris pilosa that I initially claimed it was - saw that there a few years ago) under one rock with eggs! Sorry I was rushing to get the blog out last night. Thanks for spotting that Evan.

To give some context here tonight, I had not seen ANY of the above four species until tonight. These were abundant, we saw at least four. Berthella plumula.

And Sea Lemon eggs! They are huge!

Other molluscs included: Northern or Arctic Cowrie.

Bearded Mussel.

And a living Variegated Scallop!

Wow. Just wow. It didn't stop there though. I had this Long-legged Spider Crab.

And four fish. Rock Goby was the commonest. Evan found a batch of eggs too.

A single Tompot Blenny.

And one each of Corkwing Wrasse (above) and Ballan Wrasse (below). Only the second time I have seen this species. You can see the difference in the shape of the head. Corkwing is much commoner down here.

That was one of the best days natural history I have ever had, utterly mind blowing. A massive thanks to Evan Jones for turning so many rocks and finding sea slugs so effortlessly.

I'm going back tomorrow evening for what is going to be another extremely low tide!!!

UPDATE: I was so excited I forgot to say where I was. This is at the Pound, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

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!

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