The daddy of all wasp mimics

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 25 June 2013 19:13

Well actually it's a mummy. I netted (and tentatively identified) this female Ctenophora flaveolata (A CRANEFLY) in flight today at Levin Down and I was pleased to see when I looked in the net that it was what I had thought had flown past me. That's right, this is Diptera and not Hymenoptera but I think it has to be one of the most convincing Batesian mimics out there after Volucella bombylans. Although this impressive beast has a conservation status of RDB2, there is also a reference that it no longer warrants such a status. I have only ever seen it once at The Mens deep in a Holly bush next to a fallen Beech but I couldn't get anywhere near it. I was pleased then to get a photo of it today but I was surprised to see a deadwood species flying across chalk downland..

Other highlights today included a male Drilus flavescens, Omaloplia ruricola, Garden Chafers, Orchid Beetles, a tiny Neon reticulatus and several very late Grizzled Skippers.

Land of the giants

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 20 June 2013 19:40

Had a hectic few days entomology at work whilst the weather has been more usable. Today at Old Lodge I caught up with Carabus arvensis, a big impressive carabid that I found under a stone of the scrape. Another highlight was the impressive Staphylinus erythropterus under a tin sheet.

However, it was a spider that stole the show again. Micrommata virescens showed up on the survey as a single female last month. This time however, we recorded five males (I had heard the males were much harder to find than the females - not so at Old Lodge!). It was nice to see such huge invertebrates that, thanks to the over cast conditions, were easy to photograph.

Yesterday was a much better recording day  and I recorded a number of interesting species at Filsham including Nigma puella and Philodromus albidus, both Nb spiders. Plenty of Silis ruficollis too, a nationally scarce soldier beetle, probably the most abundant soldier beetle there. 

Tales of the inexpectus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 16 June 2013 14:16

I attended the British Arachnological Society field event that Andy Philips and Chris Bentley organised yesterday at Rye Harbour. It was frustratingly windy but we did see the scarce Sitticus inexpectus which I saw in exactly the same place two years ago. The real excitement in this spot though were two really small spiders. The RDB3 Lathys stigmatista but best of all a tiny money spider that I took home to identify which turned out to be yet another shingle specialist. The RDB2 Trichoncus affinis. No photos of these two though.

I also connected with one of my bogey plants. Red Hemp-nettle! I don't know how I have managed to miss this shingle specialist for so many years but I have seen it now, albeit only in leaf. We looked at an area of upper saltmarsh next to Limekiln Cottage for the Na spider Enoplognatha mordax and Chris found one. The first live male he had seen but it wasn't up for a photo so I only managed this blurred shot.

Turning stones over in this area was quite productive. We found Bombardier Beetle, my first Anchomenus dorsalis and this Cassida nobilis. Now this is interesting because I have gone decades without seeing one of these and I only saw my first the day before at Seaford Head!
At the time of writing, my list stands at 4323 species and my spider list at 182.

You're gonna need a bigger boat

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 12 June 2013 17:11

When was the last time you saw SEVEN species of vertebrate you hadn't seen before in the UK? I can't remember. I also now that this time yesterday, I hadn't heard of a Reticulated Dragonet but I saw one today. I got up at the ungodly hour of 4.00 am to go and volunteer with Chichester Harbour Conservancy and Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority with some of their annual monitoring of fish populations. I was expecting a few new species, but six new fish and two new crustaceans was a real treat. I haven't been that excited since I first started moth trapping years ago!

Other highlights included three Great Pipefish all around 30 cm long. I also keyed out the spider crab you can see in the image below. There are several different species but this one was the Long-legged Spider Crab. I saw some unidentified pipefish under rocks on Anglesey years ago but these were a totally different looking beast.Much more like the sea horses they are related to.

Here is one of the beautiful Sand Smelt as it was being measured and put back in the sea.

I hadn't realised how many gobies there were, but I learnt how to identify Black Goby today. New fish number four!

We caught quite a few young Pollack. My fifth new fish of the day.

The final fish I hadn't seen before were Herring but I didn't get a photo of those. We also saw Common Goby, Shanny, Sea Bass, Long-spined Sea Scorpion and this Mackerel.

I picked up a very odd looking shrimpy thing which keyed out easily to Chameleon Prawn. Yet another new species! On the way back we saw a Little Tern, six Common Seals and two Grey Seals (one Grey is visible to the bottom right of this photo). A big thank you to Ed Rowsell and colleagues for the opportunity. I'll definitely be going back.

But that's only six vertebrates I hear you say. Well, the 7th was at the opposite end of the county in the Cuckmere. I just went and twitched a first summer male American Golden Plover that Matt Eade found yesterday. A nice bird and one of my bogies! So, after what seems like a very long day I end the day on 4314 species.

There's something in the wood shed...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 11 June 2013 19:45

Shaun and I called in at Knepp to look on the log stack for Pyrrhidium sanguineum that I dipped out on at the recording weekend and stumbled across this amazing chrysalis of a Silver-washed Fritillary. I had no idea they were so spectacular. The silver projections look like droplets of liquid metal. I have never come across one of these before. In fact I have never seen the early stages of any of the fritillaries before. I was quite fascinating by it. The droplets, I presume, appear as holes in the chrysalis (disruptive camouflage?) by reflecting the surrounding habitat back at the observer.

If you look at it from the front, it's even stranger!
That was when I noticed it looked like some strange creature hanging upside down. So I flipped the image! What a strange looking thing. It totally eclipsed the fact that we saw the longhorn beetle...

So here is one of the three Pyrrhidium sanguineum that we saw there. This being my 33rd longhorn beetle. Only recorded in Sussex once last year for the first time, it seems it is rapidly colonising Sussex. Smaller than I thought (this one was a really small female, the male ran off!) but stunning all the same. 

Pearl-bordered Fritillary found dead on a sundew at Graffham Common!!!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 8 June 2013 17:32

I can hardly believe it but I have the dead specimen sitting on my desk in front of me. I went to Graffham Common with Rachael today to show her the heathland restoration we have been doing there. In the wet heath area I was looking for Marsh Clubmoss, I spotted one plant but then about 10 cm away my eye was drawn to a dead butterfly stuck to a Round-leaved Sundew leaf. It was a small fritillary. At this time of year it had to be one of the good ones. A quick call to Michael Blencowe to check it wasn't a wind up and I realised it had to be Pearl-bordered Fritillary. What the heck?! Where on Earth has this come from? What a strange way to find it too! Sadly, it's hard to imagine another one turning up. There are no violets on site as far as I know and neither are there ever likely to be with the soil types present. It's just likely to be a freak occurrence. But still. Where did it come from?!
I was hoping to find a few invertebrates associated with bare ground, early colonisers of the new habitat we have created but this was something else! Only four months ago this was a conifer plantation with a tiny proportion of relict wet and dry heath. It's hard to imagine how this butterfly could have made it to the spot prior to the felling. A very exciting find. I hope the sundew appreciated the meal.

Other highlights today included the saproxylic hoverfly Microdon analis, the longhorn Pachytodes cerambyciformis (both new to the site) plus another Diaperis boleti

Where've you been for the last 45 years!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 7 June 2013 20:57

On Wednesday I had a fantastic day at Iping Common with our new Voluntary Trainee Ecologist, Shaun Pryor. I am setting up a new invertebrate survey of bare ground, which originally stemmed from the Heath Tiger Beetle release project there. There are many purpose made scrapes, created using a turf-stripper, that produce bare ground that many species require. However, it soon became clear that we don't know all that much about what uses these scrapes. And what scrapes are valued (location, size, age etc etc). So we have mapped them and are putting together a list of 'bare ground species' that can be surveyed. By the end of the summer I will have species lists for each of the scrapes and using GIS can look for patterns across the site. It will also help us decide where next winter's scrapes go.

After a long but excellent day we had recorded Heath Tiger Beetles on six different scrapes. A nice surprise was the awesome jumping spider Aelurillus v-insignitis which we found on about five different scrapes. I also recorded two more Anisodactylus nemorivagus (one of which I netted in mid air) but there were very few other carabids. Xerolycosa nemoralis (yet another nationally scarce spider) was abundant on the scrapes and a single female Alopecosa barbipes was recorded. Aculeates were very thin on the ground, with only Sphecodes sp. being common and a single Nomada sp. However, it was the tiny (3mm) jumping spider above that stole the show. Talavera petrensis has not been recorded in Sussex since 1968. It was recorded at Iping and was also known from Ambersham at the same time. We recorded two males on two different scrapes. Despite the size, it's highly distinctive with bright red hairs around the eye and black and white palps. So where has it been for the last 45 years? The answer, right there. It's just that it's easy to get missed when you're 3 mm long and with the exception of the survey we carried out last year, not that many people have been looking! What will we find out there next month?

I just hit 4300 species today.

Force of nature

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 4 June 2013 22:00

Rachael and I had a great time in Teesdale, the first time I have been up to that part of the world. I was impressed with the water falls High Force (above) and Low Force (below). The plants were pretty amazing with lots of arctic-alpine species, many of which I haven't seen since I went up into the Cairngorms in 2004. 
Spring Gentian, Bird's-eye Primrose, Globeflower, Mountain Pansy, Wood Horsetail, Beech Fern and Pyrenean Scurvy-grass were all over the place.

Alpine Bartsia was a new one for me. Any plant with purple flowers AND purple leaves gets my vote.

As was False Sedge which is a key component of the NVC community CG9d (a new NVC community for me too). 

Surprises included stumbling across Wood Stitchwort on the walk back down from High Force and also stumbling across this unfortunate Violet Oil Beetle Meloe violaceus. This gravid female had been squashed on a path and the bright orange eggs were all over the place. Amazingly the poor thing was still alive and recalled the end scene from Aliens. I imagined my first encounter with a violet oil beetle would have been a little different to this.
We were too early for many flowering species though such as Spring Sandwort and Yellow Saxifrage. The breeding waders were stunning. I have never seen so many Lapwings, Redshanks, Curlews, Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover. Oddly though, we didn't see a single bird of prey in the valley. Spotted Flycatchers were one of the commonest passerines too! 

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