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!

The Human and the Centipede

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 15 February 2019 06:54

Last weekend I went to an area I don't go often; Western Road in Brighton, the main high street where all the big shops are. I wasn't expecting to find a species that hadn't been recorded in East Sussex for 50 years though. I nearly tripped over this massive centipede on the pavement, it caught my eye initially as a hairy caterpillar but I soon realised it was a dead Lithobius centipede. I was actually on my way to the beach to see if Storm Erik had washed anything up and to exercise my back, so I had lots of pots on me. I have never seen the much commoner Lithobius forficatus in the middle of town like this, so I  had a feeling it was something good and it was clearly very big.

I keyed it out and it was fairly obviously the nationally scarce Lithobius pilicornis. It's our biggest Lithobius and can reach over 35 mm (this was 32 mm). Many thanks to Steve Gregory for confirming. Here are the details that show it's this species with short projections on segments 7 and 9 (the small sections sitting between the larger ones below) and more importantly, key spines in the right place on the hind coxae.

And here is the BMIG page for the beast. The last record for East Sussex was at Rye some 50 years ago! I have seen it once before in South Wales with Christian Owen. So, the moral of the story is, don't go anywhere without a pot!

Snow Flea Circus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 2 February 2019 19:59

Have you ever taken a 400 mile trip for a flea? Well me neither. Snow Flea Boreus hyemalis is actually a mecopteran, basically a small, wingless, winter-adult scorpionfly. Less than a week ago I got a message from Tony Davis saying simply "How's your back?" I knew this meant he had another crazy mission for us and I had the weekend free, definitely a great opportunity for some escapism...all the way to the Wyre Forest. We were just into Shropshire, just a few kilometres from my home county of Staffordshire but a part of the world I know very little about. The names of the towns and villages there completely alien to me. The last time I went to the Wyre Forest I was at school, |Steve Copper took us there to look for Drab Looper moths.

It took 25 minutes to find the first Snow Flea, the female above. We then went on to find a further six in a total of two hours of searching (two females and five males in all). Tony had the gen pretty much perfect. Here is how the first female appeared to the naked eye at first.
And the habitat. A south-facing bank with dense Sessile Oaks. Plentiful mosses at the bases of the trees are where we searched and this payed off. I thought there was some association with the moss Dicranum majus (which you can see in the image above to the left).

Here is the habitat...

And some video of the female.

And here is the male, with the strange vestigal wings and unusually-shaped first abdominal segments. I think their 'beak' looks quite like that of a Cormorant.

And some footage of him. I had no idea that they can jump quite substantial distances. I didn't manage to capture it (they behaved very well for me, not so much for Tony) but pretty obvious where the English name comes from after seeing this. A big thanks to Tony for arranging this and driving most of the way, never thought I would see these bizarre and fascinating insects. Now, I wonder if I can find them in Sussex...

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