Dungeness Monsters

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 24 August 2020 15:43

So, how DID I find myself staring at LARGE CONEHEADS at 10.30 pm at Dungeness last night? (this updated to include Dave Walker's amazing photo of the first animal we actually got a proper view of that he's kindly allowed me to use as you'll see my rubbish efforts below).

Rewind. I was meant to be in Wales this week but we had to reschedule due to awful weather. This meant I had a proper weekend off. Last week, chatting to Jake Everrit, I was reminded about the Sickle-bearing Bush-crickets etc at Dungeness, I had it in my mind to pop down but wasn't sure if and when. I had a great morning yesterday rock-pooling at Holywell (that's another story) and after a chilled out lunch, we said goodbye to Libby and Shaun Pryor and I headed to Dungeness to look for the new shieldbug that Dave Walker found last year...

After about an hour of searching I found two immatures, a dead one and then Shaun spotted an adult. Result! Geotomus petiti, indistinguishable externally from the rare Geotomus punctulatus. I love the demonic red eyes! Thanks to Dave and Tristan Bantock for the gen.

We had a few other nice things while searching, such as an immature Phlegra fasciata. And this lovely Grey Bush-cricket.

Shaun had to head off (we had been at it for nine hours by this stage and well done for him for spending that much time with me, something even I try to avoid!). However, it may have been the worst mistake of his life. I had a few hours to kill until dark and meeting up with Dave Walker to see the Sickle-bearers and Tree Crickets, so I did a bit of recording around the obs. I had barely started when Dave and Sam Perfect came over stating "we have a problem". Sam had photographed what he thought was Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket near the obs, in a new area, at about 1.00 pm (it was now about 6.30 pm), it was however a Large Conehead! We searched for an hour in the area he saw it but found nothing, we will come back to this spot after dark. I carried on poking around. Dungeness must be the only place where you can find Pellenes tripunctatus without looking for it.

This bug was a lifer for me. Ortholomus punctipennis. A really smart ground bug that I think was feeding here on Mouse-ear Hawkweed.

And then 8.00 pm came round and Dave took me out to look for the crickets. We had another look where the Large Conehead was spotted and nothing. It didn't take long before we were listening to thousands of Tree Crickets, a really magical sound! These are really odd looking crickets and hearing so many together was mind blowing. I heard the single animal on the edge of Brighton two years ago but didn't see it. This was an incredible experience.

Dave then carried on to the Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket area and soon found them. I didn't find a single one of the eight that we saw. A really leggy and long cricket that often reaches deep down into flower heads pushing the wings high up into the air or at a jaunty angle relative to the legs and/or line of the body.

This is a stunning cricket, really unlike any of our other crickets. Well, unless you count Large Conehead that is. I was convinced I could just about hear the Sickle-bearers but after listening to sound recordings I am not sure if that was what I was hearing. Here is a male with lots of Tree Crickets singing in the background.

Then ANOTHER orthopteroid lifer. Dave showed me several of the Ectobius montanus that he found new to Britain a few years ago and got to species earlier this year. A smart little cockroach, smaller than Tawny and Dusky but larger than Lesser. EDIT: Everything looks different in the light of a torch, I am pretty sure we got our wires crossed that night thanks to a comment on this post, I am pretty sure that all the roaches we saw that night were actually Lesser Cockroach Ectobius panzeri. I did think they were small, having saw some in daylight a few hours earlier, I should of looked more closely.

Wow, what a night! We were heading back to a new area that Sam had thought he had Sickle-bearings in earlier this week. He had an actinic out near there, and as we approached the trap, I did think it was odd that nearby was some kind of crackling battery, as mine is silent. It dawned on me that this was a cricket and nothing to do with the trap. As we rushed over it got even weirder. Imagine a really loud Roesel's Bush-cricket, at night, coming from scrub and you are nearly there. It was, however, so much louder and when I was close to this thing, it actually hurt my ears. The only other time I have experienced this was with cicadas in Oz. You can't hear it at all on my sound recordings though and Dave wasn't picking it up at all. It did a few little zips that Roesel's doesn't do too but was mostly just like Roesel's in terms of being just one long continuous note. I always think Roesel's sounds like a tattoo gun. This was more like a crackling pylon! It stopped and we couldn't locate it, then eventually, there was a big green cricket sitting on an upright stem, parallel to the stem and with a big pointy head. It was so hard to see in the scrub but we both got a definitive view but no photos, when I bungled an attempt to get it into a pot! Disaster! We walked a few more yards and I heard another, this time coming from utterly impenetrable bramble and while I was trying to record this, Dave found a female nearby in the grass!!! So that's two males, one female and the first one that Sam recorded. Four in all. Incredible. Here is my best shot but they all came out badly. LARGE CONEHEAD!

A massive thanks to Dave and Sam for the best evening of natural history of the year! It was so exciting, with just the right amount of dipping, followed by finding, to be a perfect roller coaster. And I was so fortuitous to be there that night for so many different reasons. I am definitely going to spend more time at Dunge. It's 19 years since I was a volunteer at the RSPB but this helped me remember just how much I love it there. I am going to become a friend of the Obs and start getting out there more often! 

3 Response to "Dungeness Monsters"

Conehead54 Says:

Brilliant. Envious I wasn't there!

Megaloblatta Says:

The cockroach looks like a male Ectobius panzeri to me.

Graeme Lyons Says:

Many thanks Megaloblatta! I did think they seemed small at the time but it's amazing how different things can look at night! I have edited my post ad let Dave Walker know.

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