The Phantom of the Diptera

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 26 June 2015 13:23

Last month I blogged about a survey we are conducting at Malling Down and Southerham and this week we carried out our fourth visit and it was rather good. The highlight was hearing Chris Bentley bellow "DOROS!!!". Not knowing if he had caught it yet, I legged it down into the Green Pits at Malling to find Chris looking very pleased with himself and something large and wasp like flying around inside his net. I've always wanted to see the Phantom Hoverfly Doros profuges as it's one of the few species that has acquired an English name, albeit via the BAP process. It's a cool name none the less. It is genuinely rare and difficult to find and is quite a convincing wasp mimic, even moving like a wasp. Thanks also to Chris for the photo.

However, that was not the rarest find of the survey. I swept a bee that got James and Mike excited and this turned out to be the RDB1 Halictus eurygnathus! This species really is restricted to the chalk around Lewes and Eastbourne and is so poorly known that we were informing the autecology of the species just by sweeping it off plants it's currently not known to nectar on. Also in the Coombe at Malling Down James recorded the Na bee Andrena fulvago. Cistus Foresters and Rose Chafers were also recorded and we were all in agreement that the site couldn't look better with a wide range of structural diversity and nectar being available. Here you can see masses of Common Rock-rose, Dropwort and Bird's-foot Trefoil. Go an have a look this week, it's amazing!!!

Also of note was this larva. It was by far the most abundant larva we were sweeping and was present in all six areas surveyed. The only noctuid moth I could ever remember seeing up there in any numbers was Dusky Sallow. A quick Google search and we soon realised this was indeed the larva of Dusky Sallow. Another tiny piece of the infinitely large jigsaw puzzle added!

Who is this Bechstein anyway?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 12 June 2015 18:20

This week I finally caught up with one of the rare mammals that is so significant on some of our West Weald woodland sites, the Bechstein's Bat. This rare woodland bat is heavily protected and was captured as part of a survey by fully licensed bat specialists. It's a fairly big bat with large ears, noticeably bigger than Natterer's Bat which we also saw.

But who was Bechstein? A quick Google and I found this page. It seems Johann Matthäus Bechstein was one of the first naturalists concerned with conservation and the bat was named in his honour. It was described by Heinrich Kuhl, who it seems was a younger contemporary of Bechstein's who died at the age of 24 in 1821, only a year before the much older Bechstein passed away. What I find remarkable is that the naturalists at this time (nearly 200 years ago) were able to catch and describe this and other species like it, with very little of the equipment we have today. It must have been such an exciting time with so many species being undescribed then. I guess the only way we'll ever witness a period like that again is if we find another planet with life on and start describing that too...

13/06/2015 UPDATE: So I accidentlay wrote that Bechstein's Bat is my 49th beetle (this is clearly not true as I have seen many more than 49 beetles). This was brought to my attention by Dr Robert Hoare of New Zealand who left me this comment which I just had to include here...

I've recently determined that
the Bechstein's Bat is not a bat...
What observations sway me? Many:
the 'ears' are saucer-like antennae...
that fuzzy 'fur' (I'm sorry sweetie)
is clearly Coleoptera setae
(the kind that keeps a chafer safe
when other chafers start to chafe)...
those wings, apparently of hide?
Elytra (highly modified)!
It has six legs, but due to frost,
two pairs have recently been lost...
and what are these? Surprise, surprise:
they're single-facet compound eyes!
My stark deduction bears repeatal:
the Bechstein's Bat's a bloody beetle!

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