Pincers of Peril

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 22 December 2018 17:52

I don't often post about earwigs. Mainly because there are so few species. I have just had a lifer from some samples I took in west Kent in September though. I have finally seen a Hop-garden Earwig! It's not been recorded in Sussex. It seems the best part of the world to see it is in Kent, Suffolk and Essex, so it's likely to turn up in north East Sussex if it ever will. The females look quite like Lesne's Earwig females but the males have quite different pincers to one another. Both species lack the visible hind-wings peeping out from under the fore-wings that is so obvious on a Common Earwig (which I don't have a photo of).  You could easily mistake either of them for an immature Common Earwig if you don't know what you're looking for. They look neater and a bit more translucent and less substantial than Common.

Here is the male Hop-garden.

And the male Lesne's Earwig.

I have 149 records in my database of earwigs. One for Hop-house and 13 for Lesne's, showing  that Common hugely dominates in the field. But I have seen a fourth species that has not made it into my database at it's in the log book at work for the Woods Mill moth trap. The tiny rove-beetle-like Lesser Earwig turned up a few years ago. This really is a midget, half the size of the other species. This one does have very obvious hind-wings protruding through. 

How many of you got the popular culture reference in the title? I wonder if anyone did because I always thought it was Power not Peril but then so did half the Internet...

Who spread the Warlock's Butter?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 15 December 2018 15:41

I absolutely LOVE the English names for fungi. They are so wonderfully creative, it's so hard to tell which were the ones that were made up in recent years and which have been here for generations because the modern names have been so well thought through. With other taxa, I am yet to see any species names created in bulk that work so well. The bryophytes for example are too long, logical and structured with too many hyphens and syllables. They are therefore not widely used (but I get they also perhaps don't lend themselves to such creative names lacking the plethora of shapes, colours and smells that fungi have). I often find myself drawn to finding a species of fungi just because it has an unusual name. It's this that's lacking in other taxa and I do hope that we learn from this. You're not just classifying species for identification when creating these lists of names, you're creating a piece of our national heritage. It should be fun as well as informative. I think it's usually too big a job for just one person to do and perhaps the national specialists are not always the right people to do it. Having a great imagination and an ability to take risks has clearly worked for fungi.

So when I saw a black Exidia fungus that didn't look quite right for Witches' Butter, I was pretty sure it was the less common Warlock's Butter Exidia plana.  A key that Clare Blencowe provided came up with the same answer (thanks Clare). It's been recorded there before but it's not common, with less than 20 county records. This was growing on a fallen Beech in the southern end of Ebernoe. Here is a close up.

Thanks to Bill Mansfield for putting me back in contact with the paper written by Liz Holden in 2003. You can see it here. I think this quote from the paper says it all:

"Word play and humour have been included wherever possible. Names such as Crowned Tooth, White Knight, Funeral Bell, The Flirt, Strathy Strangler, Dogend, and Nettle Rash hopefully reflect this".

They sure do! And also the fact that so much 'folklore and legend' were also put into it makes me very happy. Yet here's the thing. I have written all this and I can't see Warlock's Butter on the list! But all of the above still applies. I would be very proud if I had given this great gift to the world of natural history to use and enjoy so I wanted to celebrate Liz Holden's work, my autumns are annually richer for this great work. I often think about how enjoyable it must have been putting the names together. Yet where did this specific name come from?! Who spread the Warlock's Butter?

16/12/2018 UPDATE: Thanks to Richard Shotbolt, it turns out there was a second and maybe a third tranche of names from the consultation group headed up by Liz Holden. So we can thank Liz for Warlock's Butter too.

There's not mushroom for anymore fungi at Ebernoe Common...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 28 November 2018 18:13

...yet we managed just that on the course I ran there on the 8th November. This is the third year I have ran the 'introduction to fungi' course there and despite a huge site list, we usually find something new there. The aim of the course is to show the limits of what can be done without microscopy. After a brief indoor session talking the attendees through the anatomy of fungi, we headed out onto the site. In 2016 we recorded around 50 species in the field, last year it was 60. This year it was a little less at just over 40 due to the dry autumn. It is perhaps a little unfair that some of the most exciting species were identified after the course but I will start with one of them as it was so striking.

First up we have a fungus with a conservation status. Not new to Ebernoe (last seen there in 2004) but it was new to me. This is the Gilded Bolete, a Near Threatened species that has only a couple  records in Sussex and these were both from Ebernoe. Well done to the attendee who spotted this one. It keyed out really well using Kibby due to the small size, pink & slimy cap and exceedingly bright (the photo above does not do it justice) and large pores. Here it is from above, you can see flies and other detritus stuck to the slimy cap. I was pleased that Martin Allison agreed on the ID.

This species has been turning up all over recently, it wasn't too much of a surprise that one attendee spotted Plicatura crispa (I was surprised to see it now has an English name in Recorder being Crimped Gill). I recorded this new to all reserves two years ago at Flatropers, it's now been recorded on four of our reserves at least. 

We bumped into Pete Flood who I met a couple of years ago on a lichen day in the New Forest and he tagged along and was a great help. I was pleased that by weight of numbers, we were able to find Holly Parachute without too much effort in the poor light. Thanks to Pete for letting me use this photo. I had never noticed how much this looks like human skin with hair coming out of it. Like someone crossed a fungus with a person. What a weird little thing, love that it only grows from dead Holly leaves.

Nearby (and another one of Pete's photos) we found some Pipe Club.

The Spectacular Rustgill we found was a candidate for one of the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen. It was utterly spectacular but without anything in the image to scale, I was left with an underwhelming brown mass in the photo below that looks like a Vic Reeves drawing of a face. Seriously, it was amazing. You had to be there.

Visual highlight of the day would have to go to Parrot Waxcap in the churchyard. We went on our annual pilgrimage to Ebernoe Cricket Pitch and for the first time ever, there was not a single waxcap anywhere to be seen. Sadly no Pink Waxcaps in the churchyard this year.

And Scarlet Caterpillar Clubs were also good value.

Who doesn't love a Magpie Inkcap?

But it was this earthstar that turned out to be the real highlight. First up I need to apologise to everyone for incorrectly identifying this in the field. Last year there were earthstars in the same area that were spotted by Mark Colvin and I was pretty sure we had identified them as Sessile Earthstars and that's what I incorrectly called this as on the course. When I got home and looked at the photo I came to think it might actually be Rosy Earthstar. A quick text to Mark and he was able to go and locate the exact specimen the next day and get it to Martin. It was in fact Arched Earthstar, which I have knowingly seen only once before in Easebourne Churchyard. This is a great record being not only new to Ebernoe Common but also new to all SWT reserves! Thanks Mark and Martin.

And this moth was also new, not an easy thing to get for Ebernoe being heavily 'mothed' over the years. Grey Shoulder-knot, the 659th moth recorded there.

We have recorded 1389 species of fungi on our 32 reserves so far and 967 of them have been recorded at Ebernoe Common, that's 70.0% from one site! No wonder it is one of only around 10 sites in the UK to be designated for its fungi. I love that we are still learning about that too. How long will it take to find another 33 species and get to a 1000?!  A big thank you to everyone who attended and also to Pete, Mark and Martin for their input too. 

Here is the full species list for the day (those marked with an asterisk were confirmed before or after by Martin Allison):

Vernacular Species
Arched Earthstar Geastrum fornicatum *
Bay Bolete Boletus badius
Beech Jellydisc Neobulgaria pura
Beech Milkcap Lactarius blennius
Beech Woodwart Hypoxylon fragiforme
Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus
Blackfoot Polypore Polyporus leptocephalus
Blusher Amanita rubescens
Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa
Butter Cap Rhodocollybia butyracea
Candlesnuff Fungus Xylaria hypoxylon
Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis
Clustered Bracket Inonotus cuticularis *
Crimped Gill Plicatura crispa
Dead Moll's Fingers Xylaria longipes
False Death Cap Amanita citrina
Fluted Bird's Nest Cyathus striatus
Fly Agaric
Garlic Parachute
Amanita muscaria
Marasmius alliaceus
Gilded Bolete Aureoboletus gentilis *
Glistening Inkcap Coprinellus micaceus
Glue Crust Hymenochaetopsis corrugata
Golden Waxcap Hygrocybe chlorophana
Hen Of The Woods Grifola frondosa
Holly Parachute Marasmius hudsonii
Lemon Disco Bisporella citrina
Lilac Bonnet Mycena pura
Magpie Inkcap Coprinopsis picacea
Oak Bracket Pseudoinonotus dryadeus
Parrot Waxcap Gliophorus psittacinus
Pestle Puffball Lycoperdon excipuliforme
Pipe Club Macrotyphula fistulosa
Porcelain Fungus Oudemansiella mucida
Saffrondrop Bonnet Mycena crocata
Scarlet Caterpillar Fungus Cordyceps militaris
Scurfy Deceiver Laccaria proxima
Sheathed Woodtuft Kuehneromyces mutabilis *
Snowy Waxcap Hygrocybe virginea
Spectacular Rustgill Gymnopilus junonius
Stump Puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme
Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare
Tawny Grisette Amanita fulva
Tiered Tooth Hericium cirrhatum
Trooping Funnel Clitocybe geotropa
Turkeytail Trametes versicolor
Tyromyces chioneus Tyromyces chioneus *

Buffed up

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 27 November 2018 11:37

On the 8th June this year, I ran a day's training for Seaford Natural History Society up at Seaford Head. The aim was to show how much you can do in the field but equally how much you can't do. I took a print out of the species list from the spreadsheet so we could tick off species as we went and also so we could know when we had found a species new to the reserve. In all we named 106 species in the field and 13 (12.3%) of these were new to Seaford Head. It's interesting that whenever I do one of these events, even on sites I have heavily surveyed for several years for invertebrates, we always get just over 10% of the species new to the site.

The star of the show wasn't one of these though, the Clouded Buff was last recorded at Seaford Head in 1961, some 57 year earlier. With all the recording that myself and SNHS do up there, I think it's unlikely this striking relative of the tiger moths has gone unnoticed. Interestingly, it is the only record I have ever made of this moth away from heathland. It is listed as eating several foodplants but heather is the main one. This explains much of the distribution, particularly the West Sussex heaths, Ashdown Forest and Chailey Common. What is less obvious is the unusual distribution at the east end of the South Downs (of which Seaford Head lies on the western edge - across the Cuckmere). Waring, Townsend & Lewington lists Sheep's Sorrel, Devil's-bit Scabious, Common Dog-violets and plantains as just some of the foodplants. Now there is quite a lot of chalk-heath in this area (but not at Seaford Head) and it may well be that this is the reason for the stronghold at the eastern end of the Downs as this would explain why it's not everywhere along the Downs. Hot off the press are these new maps from Bob Foreman...

Here is SNHS enjoying the Clouded Buff.

This is Ethmia terminella and IS one of the 13 species we recorded new to the site. It is nationally scarce a and feeds on Viper's-bugloss so is a good record for the site.

We also found Variimorda villosa, a nationally scarce 'tumbling flower-beetle' that is common enough at this time of year.

Other species new to the site included Blue Shiedbug, Chrysolina hyperica (below), Malvapion malvae, Hemicrepidius hirtusm, Taeniapion urticaria, and Tetrops praeusta.

Fungus among us

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 16 November 2018 12:09

Found a few nice fungi recently while walking around Graffham Common. I noticed what looked like a dirty oyster on a birch stump (not the usual place for an oyster) and when I turned it over noticed it had quite striking lilac gills. I was pretty sure it was Lilac Oysterling after a flick through the books and thanks to Martin Allison and Andy Overall for confirming, A new record for the site. Here it is from above.

Also new to the site and only the second time I have encountered it was Plums & Custard, it's not rare and very distinctive so I don't know why I have encountered it so infrequently. These grow on dead pines so it's not surprising that it's found at Graffham Common. The photos didn't come out so well, these are really attractive fungi.

Last Saturday I took the Sussex Fungi Group around the good bits of Ditchling Beacon (which probably tripled the site's fungi list) and was pleased that we came across Toasted Waxcaps in several areas. This is my 21st waxcap and a subtly beautiful one. It really does seem to be limited to chalk-grassland in the county so is a really good indicator.

Spiders of the Sussex Uplands

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 3 November 2018 20:18

After hearing of the success of Thanatus formicinus being found in numbers two weeks ago in Nottinghamshire, I thought I would try and have another go for it at Old Lodge. I didn't find any. However, I did get three new spiders for me and six new spiders for Old Lodge. First up though, I found quite a few immature Micrommata virescens. This is the spider that grows up into a huge luminous green huntsman (an old image is shown below). This time of year they are pretty small and look quite like Tibellus. Of the two I photographed, I wonder if they are a young male (above) and female (below) as they are quite different looking even at this small size.

And here is what they'll become next year. Ashdown Forest is the main stronghold in Sussex for this amazing spider, nice to be able to record it in November. Actually, I recorded around 20 species today using the suction sampler. 

This one was new to Old Lodge. Agroeca proxima. Agroecas look at first glance like wolf spiders but they are a different family. I do'r record them very often, in fact, this is only the 7th Agroeca record I have, this probably due to their late season.

The three money spiders that were new for me were also new to the site. Two of these, Ceratinella brevipes and Tenuiphantes cristatus are widespread species with a strong north-western distribution. Typical for Old Lodge to be home to species like this that are uncommon elsewhere in the county. There really is no reason to go up north when you go to the Ashdown Forest, it's like a bit of north-west England down here in the south. The third was also new to the reserve network, it's the nationally scarce species Notioscopus sarcinatus or the Swamp Lookout Spider. It's less than 2mm long and has a really odd feature in the male. A finger like projection that sticks up in the middle of the cephalothorax just behind the eyes. I couldn't get a decent photo down the microscope but here you go. The 387th spider recorded on our reserves.

Also new to Old Lodge were Ero furcata and Walckenaeria cuspidata.  There were also dozens of the nationally scarce Hypselistes jacksoni which I recorded there last March. It was possibly the commonest money spider in the bog. It has a really interesting shaped head too.

So, didn't find the target species but it was well worth it. Can't remember the last time I added three new spiders in one day and Notioscopus is a really good find.

Daily abutilons

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 23 October 2018 21:01

Do you get your abutilons confused with your punctatonervosus? Then look no further. Looking like a couple of gormless smiling evil aliens from Dr Who, are the two species of Scticopleurus we have in the UK. On the left we have Stictopleurus abutilon and on the right Sticopleurus punctatonervosus. Now in Sussex at least punctatonervosus is much commoner than abutilon. I have 23 and 3 records respectively. I see punctatonervosus all over but in huge numbers on Common Fleabane. It's all over Knepp and Butcherlands for example. I have never seen abutilon in in numbers like this though and don't know about any particular plant associations. How do you tell them apart though? 

Here we have S. abutilon. There is a curved pale ridge with no dark punctures present running almost parallel to the leading edge of the pronotum. As these are tough bugs, you can hold them in your fingers and see this with a hand lens easy enough.

And the commoner S. punctatonervosus which basically doesn't have the unpunctured pale ridge.

So that's that sorted then. As these two rhopalid bugs are both on the Sussex Shieldbug Atlas, you've got no excuse to not record them now. I await the flood of records. Somehow I don't think I will get double figures of these two in a year on iRecord (unlike the double figures of Western Conifer Seedbug I am getting on a nearly daily basis now). 

Waxing lyrical

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 19 October 2018 13:46

I can't get enough of waxcaps. I mean, look at them! They're some of our most charismatic species, they're also extremely good indicators of good quality, well-managed, nutrient-poor grasslands. On Tuesday I went on a grassland fungi training course at the Kent & Sussex Cemetery in Tunbridge Wells. Andy McLay of the Natural England Field Unit lea the course and Janet Whitman made the whole thing happen. Thanks to Clare Blencowe for inviting me too.

There is a scoring system for five main groups of grassland fungi known as CHEGD. Each letter refers to the first letter of the genus. The H is for Hygrocybe or waxcaps and that's what I am particularly interested in. I had seen 16 species up until Tuesday but thanks to Andy we saw 11 species on the day and four of these were new to me making my list now stand at 20 in all. 

In the above image from top left to bottom right you have: Oily*, Blackening*, Parrot*, Snowy*, Goblet*, Crimson*, Earthy*, Splendid, Slimy, Scarlet, Golden*, Pink, Fibrous, Cedarwood, Dune, Meadow*, Honey* and Heath (I have no photos of Butter or Spangle*). Those with stars we recorded on the day.

The best thing about the course was realising that these fungi are better identified from macroscopic characters rather than microscopic ones. The other was that I have always been worried I am overlooking Crimson Waxcap among the Scarlets and Splendids. I now realise that I have not been doing so, I have just never seen it before. Until Tuesday that is. Here is Crimson Waxcap, quite a beefy or blood-red colour with a robust and fibrous stipe.

This is the Oily Waxcap. It smells of bed bugs apparently but having not seen a bed bug, I have also never smelt one. Turns out that the smell is actually just the general smell that most bugs release, it's the reason that shieldbugs are called stinkbugs in the USA. So I was able to temporarily 'acquire' a bug (a Juniper Shieldbug I found on the toilet wall). Once people had smelt the actual smell, it was much easier to pick up the same diluted version of the smell in the fungus. It's like an overpowering chemically-version of coriander. A great example of different areas of natural history interacting. 

Andy got excited about this one, the Earthy Waxcap, with unusually arched gills where they join the stem. Other than this it's a pretty boring looking one but it's a really good indicator.

And Goblet Waxcap. A bit more matt to the naked eye compared to the miriad of shiny Spangle Waxcaps it was hiding amongst. Well spotted Clare! A bit 'scurfy' under the hand lens, you can just about see that here.

This one's not a waxcap but it is the commonest member of the genus Dermoloma (or the D in CHEGD). Also known as Crazed Cap and you can see why here.

I also realised that a waxcap that I stumbled across in Badlands back on the 14th July 2016 happened to be quite a goody. I don't think I ever featured it on this blog but here it is. Fibrous Waxcap. A big, robust waxcap, incredibly fibrous all over and with white-chocolate coloured (and textured) gills. The early fruiting time is also key, I wonder if that means it is under-recorded? That said, I have never seen it doing quadrats before anywhere.

A massive thank you to everyone involved in this course, particularly Andy for sharing his incredible knowledge. It has totally reinvigorated my interest in fungi and I am now thinking I might try and go and look for some of the other species we have in Sussex that I have not seen yet, Such as Toasted Waxcap. This just leaves me one question that I forgot to ask on the course.

Why on Earth are they so brightly and variably coloured? What is the point?! Is it a deterrent to grazing animals?

Pandora's Box

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 16 October 2018 21:32

Introduced species are the second greatest cause of extinction. So it was bittersweet to catch the first Boxworm for a Trust reserve today at Southerham, this seems to be one of the most rapidly expanding introduced species right now. There were lot of migrants too, such as the smaller Palpita vitrealis you can see next to it. I used to think this was a real rarity. There were two of those in the trap last night too. So this image really conveys how much our moth fauna has changed, and continues to change, through Human behaviour. I'd never heard of either of these moths 20 years ago.

Until today, I've only seen two Boxworms (in London) so I was pretty surprised to the melanic form, what an incredible moth. It has a purple sheen not unlike the Purple Emperor.

Probably the best migrant was a single Small Mottled Willow. I've only ever seen a handful of these.

There was also a Vestal.

A Delicate.

Several L-album Wainscot and White-points too. I guess you can't really call them migrants now being pretty well established.

More aliens though. On the wall of the office was the first Western Conifer Seedbug for Southerham. A species from the other side of the Atlantic originally, it's now very well established. As verifier for Sussex records of Heteroptera in iRecord, nine records have come in today alone across Sussex! There was only one other shieldbug record in the same batch. This has been the trend for the last four or five weeks. I'm amazed at how many people who's names I don't recognise are recording this bug. iRecord really is a great way of capturing these records. So it might be another invasive but it's another big, impressive, eye-catching beast so at least it's getting people recording wildlife.

Finally I was showing Alex some of these species in the fridge when I noticed a tiny piece of symmetry in amongst the mud on the floor of the kitchen Symmetry = invertebrates. It was only a lifer for me!!! Finally, a mouse spider! Scotophaeus blackwalli. Also a new record for any Trust reserve leaving us on 10,147 species. I wonder why I have not seen this synanthropic species until now. It is certainly not common in Sussex.

Nature Blog Network