Competitive spider listing produces rare spiders found at Iping Common for first time in 50 years

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 24 February 2019 09:14

It's strange how the word competitiveness still has negative connotations, especially in the world of listing and natural history but I have no time for this attitude. I challenge it head, suggesting some people hide behind their lack of competitiveness as a way to never push themselves. They have become victims of binary thinking; incapable of seeing beyond their own assumptions about listing. If you hide at the back sniping people at the front, you don't have to stick your neck out, you don't have to take risks. And this is nice and cosy because it eliminates the fear of failure. But along with not taking risks comes not achieving anything. This has become more of a thing with social media and the rise of trolling. Yes, competitiveness for competitive-sake isn't great, but being honest, how much of that really happens in natural history and pan-species listing? Certainly there isn't any in my work or most of what I see happening in the PSL world. So when I saw Matt Prince was listing spiders in 2019, I thought I would get involved. The reasons: 

  • I knew there would be conservation gains from it.
  • I knew I would get some new spiders out of it.
  • I knew I would learn a lot and teach a lot.
  • I knew I would add some structure to my casual recording in 2019.
  • I knew I would generate some blog content. So you are already benefiting from it.
  • I knew it would benefit my role as county recorder.
  • I knew I would enjoy it.

Do I expect to win? No! Then why pick a fight I can't win? Matt's definitely got the edge on me with spiders but that's not why I am doing it. I am doing it for the reasons above. All the same reasons I am so totally convinced that pan-species listing is such an important movement in UK natural history. And I also think you should treat each field season like it might be your last. Life is short. Yet having said all this, you can probably tell I am braced for more negative comments.

Rant over, now for the good stuff. My spider list is on 60 species for the year. I am in no doubt that Matt has overtaken me today as he was on 59 on Friday. 

I headed to Iping Common yesterday having spent many days indoors recently. Brighton had been shrouded in low cloud on Thursday and Friday and I was also fed up of seeing people record spring invertebrates online. I met up with Shaun Pryor and John Burnham for a day of spider recording. We recorded 28 species. My target was to get to 60 for the year which incredibly I hit dead on. I wanted a new species for myself, one for the site, one new to the reserve network and some that hadn't been recorded since 1968 (a year when many species were last recorded on West Sussex heaths). We achieved all of this and more (except nothing new to the network this time). The spider above is the gorgeous heathland specialist Philodromus histrio. It's known from Iping and is a lot showier than the microscopic highlights the post title refers to. Phwoar!

Species new to Iping Common
Recording money spiders in the field is interesting. You get an idea what it might be but all the fun happens when you get home at the microscope as most of them are so small you can't get much on them even from a hand lens. Therefore, I think the most efficient way to record them is to grab as many as you can and whack them straight in the killing jar. I have to say there were not vast numbers, I recorded only one of most species. These two were very common species that had not been recorded from the site before. Usually associated with damper areas, this was definitely the product of targeting some of the bogs on the site.

Lophomma punctatum
Kaestneria pullata

This bring the site list to 215 species, firmly cemented as the biggest species list in both East and West Sussex.

A further three species were added to the site list too. Bristly Millipede and the weevils Pissodes castaneus and Hypera nigrirostris. This means we added five species to the site list yesterday, bringing the whole list up to 2959 species. Only 41 to 3000!

Species not recorded since 1968
After reviewing the spiders for the counties at the end of the year, it was clear that quite a large number of species haven't been seen in the county for half a century. I knew I had to target money spiders outside of the main field season on the West Sussex heaths in order to try and rectify this. And it paid off! These two species had not been recorded on the site since 1968.

Cnephalocotes obscurus
Micrargus herbigradus

These are common and ubiquitous spiders with adults peaking in the summer. However, I suction-sampled two VERY small spiders on the burnt area of the heath. They were so small that I put them in their own tubes for fear of losing them in the killing jar. Both were just over 1 mm long. The first up:

Mecopisthes peusi. This nationally scarce BAP/S41 species was last recorded there in 1968 (and last in Sussex in 1989 at Ambersham - it's only other Sussex location). I was glad that such a small spider had such massive and distinctive palps which made identification much easier. I was interested to see that it does well on burnt areas. A truly terrible photo but you get an idea of scale at least.

Buzzing from this I pulled out the second specimen. It was Tapinocyba mitis. Nationally rare, Endangered and BAP/S41 too! Not recorded in the south east for decades and the last Sussex record in 1968 from Iping. Looking at the autecology, it does well on sites that have recently burnt! I can't believe I found these two spiders with such specific habitat requirements without knowing they existed. Very pleased with this as I was hoping for some of these kind of species. Especially as I did a survey there targeting this habitat last year. The difference with these two species is though they do appear to have winter/early spring adults. So you are unlikely to get them sticking to the April to September survey window.

So next time someone says "PSL is too competitive" throw it right back at them with "No, you're not competitive enough" because competitiveness is a good thing and people like that don't get to use the word in a derogatory way! Let's own it!

I think it would be really cool to write up our finds next year and show just how much good we have done with this approach, what do you think Matt?

3 Response to "Competitive spider listing produces rare spiders found at Iping Common for first time in 50 years"

pjg Says:

We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You lead by example. If we are not prepared to understand what building blocks there are, how can we possibly understand biodiversity and all the interactions of management.

Stewart Says:

Great post Graeme. I am not a real lister like yourself, but do not object to those who are, infact, I like to follow the exploits much the same as someone might not play football but goes to the match every week. I keep some lists but cant keep up with pan species having tried it briefly a while back. I am just getting into spiders this year and am loving it though my list might not be in double figures yet! Keep it up...

Graeme Lyons Says:

Thanks for the comments guys and how could I forget Stew, you were one of the first! Good luck with spiders, the fun starts with the microscope though...

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