I've seen more than a quarter of the UK's spiders already this year!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 17 April 2019 07:11

As it was my birthday I decided to have the day off. What this ended up being was me going to Levin Down and Iping Common to look for spiders. One thing I have learned though is if it FEELS like a day off, then that's OK. I had a few targets in mind and Xysticus bifasciatus was soon on the list. I love this photo as you can identify it from the palps. This area is always really good for this massive crab spider. Ozyptila nigrita evaded me though.

I have a confession to make. I really hate the genus Theridion. Well, I mean all the new names they have been split up to too. Not big enough to be real spiders, they have boring palps and also, no novelty heads like money spiders either. They are also only adult for about 30 seconds each year. Theridion mystaceum or whatever it is called now...

The real rarity was Phaeocedus braccatus though. I found these spiders at Levin in an area of moss a few years back and the young females were abundant yesterday. You can only just make out the six spots but they are there.

A novelty headed spider in the form of Hybocoptus decollatus which is abundant on the Juniper there. The highlight for me though was finding a beetle new to the reserve network, the tiny weevil Tychius squamulatus in the suction sampler. Violet Weevil was also new to the site.

Then I dashed off to Iping. It was cooler there sadly so my target species of a certain chevron-headed jumping spider was not to be found. I did add Hypomma cornutum, Evracha arcuata and Xerolycosa nemoralis though. It was however a male Araniella displicata that stole the show. What a beauty!

Another one I recorded months ago this year but a real beauty was Philodromus histrio. Here a pair were swept from the place I usually see them.

I recorded a total of eight new species for the year, making my spider list 172 species or 25.2% of the list. Collectively, the UK Spiders Facebook page has now recorded over a third of all the spiders too. Is it possible that I can get to 200 species in the first four months of the year?! Right, now I am off to set up a new survey in Surrey...

The importance of a baseline

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 15 April 2019 15:25

I have just got back from a fantastic weekend setting up monitoring at an exciting project in Norfolk. The Ken Hill Estate are planning to restore around 400 ha of farmland and woodland, predominantly through rewilding, and thanks to Penny and Dave Green I was able to get involved in setting up a baseline before any changes took place. This month saw the beginning of the invertebrate survey, the start of some BBS transects and of course lots of casual recording. It's really great that the Estate have been able to pull this baseline together in time and that I was in just the right place going part-time freelance too. It will be a great way to measure the huge biodiversity gains that are expected from this change in direction.

But before you can do that, you need to know what's there. You also need to do that in a way that's standardised where possible, simple and easily repeatable.

The highlight for me was finding two Heath Shieldbugs Legnotus picipes (nationally scarce). In Sussex, this has only ever been recorded from the Crumbles, I have looked for it many times (I even have a day this month pencilled in to look for it again). At Ken Hill, the two I found were on an area of open acid-grassland/heathland but both of them were found on small scrapes and it's great that this might continue. One was found in the suction sampler, the other found under a stone. 

On the first scrape, I also 'sucked' a single Ant-tiger Euryopis flavomaculata (also nationally scarce), which appears to be only the second record for Norfolk after Steve Lane found one in 2018 at Roydon Common. Overall I recorded 146 species last Friday, which was pretty good as it wasn't all that warm. That doesn't even include most of the beetles and bugs which have gone in vinegar until the winter. Spiders are currently at the number one slot with 46 species (but they have all been identified already), followed by beetles at 29 (this will overtake the spiders from this visit alone though). I'm expecting well over 600 species at this rate from this survey.

Oh and Gymnocheta viridis, a new tachind for me (thanks for confirming Tony), was everywhere. Wonder why I have not seen this in Sussex before?

I ended the weekend on 164 species of spider for the year too and added a few nationally scarce species from the dunes there that all seem to be new 10 km square records. Thanatus striatus, and Xerolycosa miniata (those were new for me this year) as well as Zelotes electus and Crustulina sticta.

The birds were really exciting with sightings of Spoonbill, Great White Egret, Barn Owl, Marsh Harrier, Red Kite and more Grey Partridge than I see in a decade. I was typically seeing around 50 Brown Hares a day and the Lapwings were also very plentiful. Quite something!

Back on the little scrapes where I was photographing the Heath Shieldbug, I noticed a few plants of Field Mouse-ear in flower, always love seeing this. Then I noticed in the same scrape I was literally kneeling on a patch of Shepherd's-cress (Near Threatened). I love the little 'jigsaw-puzzle' leaves of this little crucifer, always a good indicator. Was lovely seeing plants that I used to see much more in the RSPB days like Shrubby Seablite, Mossy Stonecrop and Flixweed too. I can't wait until the next visit.

Oh and a new skull! A Muntjac (minus the fangs though). It looks like they fall out easily.

Who wants my job?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 11 April 2019 16:14

If you're reading this, chances are you've seen quite a bit of what I get up to, the wildlife and the amazing reserves I work on at Sussex Wildlife Trust. I have decided to head out on my own as a freelance consultant entomologist and ecologist - well three days a week at least. I am moving on in the next couple of months to a new part time role at the Trust too. That means my current job will be up for grabs. Part of my new role will be mentoring and supporting my replacement, so I'll be around some of the time. I'll also be continuing with some of the more complex surveys and tasks, such as the invertebrates etc. The Land Management team are a great bunch and the Trust is a great pace to work. And what can I say, East and West Sussex are just the best counties with some amazing wildlife.

If this sounds up your street, have a look here and good luck!

WARNING: This spider is too cute for you to handle!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 8 April 2019 17:50

Meet Sitticus saltator. He's only 2.5 mm long. He's just had his hair cut by his Mum for his first day of school.
"The other kids sure are bigger than me".

"I better start taking some notes with my shiny new pencil".

There are not many spiders with a cephalothorax bigger than their abdomen, it looks like a head on legs. And boy can they jump. Actually it's more like a bounce. Such little characters.

OK enough mucking about, this spider though. Could it be any cuter?! I have only seen it twice before, back in 2014. In Sussex, it's known only from Camber Sands and Climping Dunes. It's nationally scarce and a dune specialist (mainly) and hasn't been seen at East Head since 1971 as far as I can tell. We saw three yesterday, all found by suction sampler. If you think the above photos are cute, you might just lose it when you watch this video of it cleaning its face. You have been warned!

Yesterday I started a survey for the National Trust at East Head with Lee Walther and a team of trainee volunteers. I said we should look out for Phlegra fasciata as I know Chris Bentley found it on a bioblitz a few years back. We found five! Having only seen one before at Rye Harbour, I was very pleased by this. This females of this nationally rare dune specialist are like a furry little humbug.

And another one that Chris had there a few years back, Crustulina sticta. We had one of these in the dune slack. Another nationally scarce species.

I actually had nine new spiders for the year and two were lifers! I didn't identify these until I got home. They were another coastal specialist which we recorded on the saltmarsh by sieving tidal litter, Zelotes electus (nationally scarce) which was recorded on the site back in 2007.

And also known from the site was Ceratinopsis romana, a nationally rare coastal species. This sieved from Marram litter on the mobile dunes. 

I ended the day on 151 spiders in all. Others new for the year were: Pardosa proxima (NS), Stemonyphantes lineatus, Walckenaeria vigilax and Cheiracanthium erraticum.

But there's a lot more than spiders there! The commonest bee by far was Colletes cunicularius which Mike Edwards tells me is likely to be a first for West Sussex! Here is a male, they were feeding on gorse and willow.

And what I'm pretty sure were their burrows. There were lots of females buzzing around here, a long way from where we saw the males.

My third lifer for the day though was a real surprise. We sieved this huge Broscus cephalotes from a pile of tidal debris, it's more of a surprise that I could see 1300+ species of beetle without seeing one of these to be fair. We do have very little of this habitat in Sussex though. What a beast though!

Later on in the mobile dunes, I sieved another one from Marram litter. I was convinced that it was dead but it wasn't! It's front two pairs of legs were clamped together, holding tightly to a Marram grass stem, while its back pair of legs were held backwards at 45 degrees. The head was back and jaws were wide open. It was utterly motionless as we took photos. Then it dropped off and ran away, an amazing experience!

And a new 10 km square for the awesome Rhombic Leatherbug! What a day! I can't wait until the next visit.

The Beasts of Butcherland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 2 April 2019 21:13

I did the lookering yesterday at Butcherlands and had a quick look for spiders as I went. I was keen to check up on the Pardosa paludicola that we found there back in 2017. It took about 30 seconds to spot one. They are HUGE compared to the wealth of commoner Pardosa that are everywhere. I saw two females and a male (all adult). They are very leggy and spiny compared to other members of the genus and have another skill up their eight sleeves; they're surprisingly good jumpers and unlike the other species, can jump clean out of the tray!

And a male.

Other species new for the year included a few young female Sibianor aurocinctus (I took this photo of a female last year).

Pardosa pullata
Walckenaeria antica
Pelecopsis parallela
Dictyna arundinacea

I found the cows. All good.

Then I had to service some of the dataloggers in Ebernoe and thought about what Matt said about searching Amaurobius webs for Oonops. On one very dark and shady oak in deep Holly shade there was a huge web (which in hindsight was probably a Tegenaria's). I shook this into the tray and found an amazing five specimens of the nationally scarce BAP Dipoena inornata (Silky Gallows-spider). Now this is only the second time I have encountered this spider (the other was as new to East Sussex from Eridge Rocks in a very different habitat - shaken from fern litter growing on sandrock) and was really surprised to see it in this habitat. New to Ebernoe and the 10 km square. They are meant to eat ants, I would imagine that this would just about be suitable for Brown Tree Ant Lasius brunneus but why were they in this web and in such numbers?!
And the male under the microscope showing the novelty front end. So funny.

Then today the weather wasn't any good for a lunch time jaunt until I saw Matt Prince was on 132 species too. So as I was leaving work I beat the soggy Box bush outside the office window and got THREE species new for the year in ten minutes, putting me on 135 species for 2019.

Clubiona comta (my 6th Clubiona for 2019)
Neriene peltata
Padiscura pallens

Watch a spider shed its skin under the microscope!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 28 March 2019 16:32

Yesterday, as well as four species of ladybird beaten from one branch of a Douglas Fir, there was also a sub adult male Araneus (either triguttatus or sturmi). Now sturmi usually favours evergreens and trigutattus deciduous trees according to the texts. So you would think that it's more likely to be sturmi. Being a young male though, it wasn't possible to tell. I fed him some springtails from the garden today to see if he would grow. An hour later I checked to see if he had eaten any of them and it appeared dead. No, wait, it's just started shedding its skin. So I dashed to the microscope and set up the camera and recorded it shedding its skin! So cool...

Turns out it is Araneus triguttatus which is much commoner in Sussex than sturmi. I have never seen one with this particular colour pattern as they are usually much more orange with a distinctive pattern, not these three pale dots. My 125th spider for the year and another new species for Burton Pond. I would have missed this if I had looked 10 minutes later, so feeling pretty lucky.

A ladybird in the tray is worth four in the bush

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 27 March 2019 16:39

No, that doesn't work or make any sense but it's too late now, I've said it. I'm ashamed of myself. I think I've been watching too much Alan Partridge. Jane Willmott and I spent half an hour recording at the Warren today, part of our Burton Pond reserve. I saw a beatable branch of Douglas Fir and thought it worth a tap. A girl band's worth of ladybird species popped out instantly. Three of the four ladybirds above were new to the site! From Left to right we have Eyed, Cream-streaked, Larch and Pine Ladybirds. Pine was the only one we had previous records for.

We had a quick go with the suction sampler in a recently cleared and scraped area that is regenerating into a heathy/acid-grassland glade. We were amazed to witness a song fight between THREE singing Marsh Tits that descended into a massive rumpus. Agonum sexpunctatum, Arctosa perita and Anoplius viaticus were all present.

This nationally scarce spider was new to the site, Euryopis flavomaculata. I have very few records of this spider. It has the English name of Ant-tiger, which I really like. The 'wild card' names that don't fit a formula really appeal, it is in a genus of of its own though. It doesn't make a web and predates ants.

Also new to the site (and the year for me) was Enoplognatha thoracia. Another spider that wouldn't keep still.

Bathyphantes approximatus and (finally!) Erigone dentipalpis make my spider year list up to 124 and the site up to 107.

"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 nudibranch but still a sea slug, and more closely related to terrestrial molluscs than sea hares (thanks to Cynthia Trowbridge for this info!), 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).

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