The Pride of Kent

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 31 March 2013 16:41

Ten years ago I started working in the ecology department at the RSPB where I worked alongside some great naturalists and made many life-long friends. Matt Self, Malcolm Ausden, James Cadbury, Mark Gurney and of course, Mark Telfer. On the 6th August 2003, I went out into the field with Mark Telfer to Elmley Marshes on the Isle of Sheppey, north Kent to look for a very rare RDB1 beetle, the Pride of Kent Emus hirtus. I knew VERY little about beetles back then so the enormity of seeing one of these beasts almost as soon as we got out of the car was mostly lost on me. We then spent more than four hours searching cow pats for another individual on the hottest day of the year so far but to no avail. I even followed the back end of a herd of cows so we could search the freshest pats but we must have just been in the right place at the right time. 

There are some old records in the SxBRC database for this species but it's been a very long time indeed since someone has reported one in Sussex. So if you see something that looks like a cross between a devil's coach horse and a bumblebee hanging a round a cow pat, you may just have seen the Pride of Kent in Sussex. Many thanks to John Walters who took this photo of the very same specimen back in the day before it was released back into the wild...

P.S., don't confuse the Pride of Kent with the Maid of Kent. The Maid of Kent is a little larger, is always found near water and lacks the golden pubescence...

Vertigo antivertigo

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 23 March 2013 16:36

Must be one of the best names in natural history and I found a couple of these tiny snails on Thursday at Filsham Reedbed. Alice and I have started an invertebrate survey there to inform management and I was pleasantly surprised to have recorded 53 species on a cold day in March! That's just the species I could identify quickly. We have adopted the 'timed-count' methodology which has been so useful at other sites. Sieving was the main method we were using this time though rather than beating or sweeping and it was really productive! 

So far I have identified 23 beetles, 8 snails, 8 bugs, 7 spiders, 2 leeches, one moth and earwig. Eleven of these were new to me but the species I was perhaps most pleased to see was this tiny snail, Vertigo antivertigo. At 1.5 mm long, it would have been really easy to overlook it. I did manage to 'ping' one specimen with my forceps as I was trying to count the teeth!

Other highlights included three nationally scarce carabids; Demetrias imperialis, Odacantha melanura and Pterostichus anthracinus. I managed to identify a couple of female money spiders too, including the oddly patterned Lophomma punctata. This survey will carry on until the September or October and is the first completely in-house invertebrate survey we have carried out at the Trust. I expect we will get quite a list and learn lots about the site. Also heard my first Bearded Tit at Filsham. My list stands at 4192 species.

The Sycophant

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 12 March 2013 11:08

I would literally trade in family members to see this beetle. Sadly, the Sycophant Calosoma sycophanta is only ever a very rare vagrant to the UK so I am not likely to see one any day soon. So why am I featuring this at all...

...last Saturday I attended the carabid workshop at Dinton Pastures ran by Mark Telfer and John Walters. It was a great day, it's hugely important NOT to be an entomologist in isolation and having the opportunity to work through a correctly identified reference collection is worth its weight in gold. It's so great to see specimens of beetles that you have only ever seen in photographs. You really can't get the scale and the jizz from just a photograph. Mark and John are great at explaining things and the guides they are working on are really ground breaking. I particularly like Mark's English names for beetles. They are really well thought out but memorable and imaginative too. Naming species like this is a great responsibility, not just for entomologists as a memory aid but I think it's also part of our national heritage. Look at the English names for macro moths. Did they know when they named them that they were leaving behind one of the most fun things in natural history? I don't know if they did but natural history would be a poorer place without them and I feel Mark is doing something similar with carabids. I hope they are well used!

After an inspiring talk by John (including a section on Philorhizus species, making me realise just how significant a dip it was when I missed the tiny carabid Mab's Lantern Philorhizus quadrisignatus that Dave Gibbs found whilst torching oak trunks last year at Parham). I then spent the rest of the day keying out several families which I rarely encounter representatives of beyond the extremely common ones: Dyschirius, Anisodactylus (I will remember how to identify the Heath Shortspur Anisodactylus nemorivagus BASED on its name!) and Amara. I have been to both the carabid and the staphylinid workshops at Dinton Pastures. They are free although they often get fully booked and you don't need to be a member of BENHS to attend.

I am now getting the beetle bug back and I can't believe I am planning on starting invertebrate surveys in a couple of weeks time, as I am now sat at home writing this on a snow day as Woods Mill is closed and the server is down. Now, I think I will work on my presentation to kick off my 'Introduction to Beetles' course...

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