Apprentice forester

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 27 February 2019 21:03

Whilst grubbing about for spiders at Devil's Dyke this afternoon, I noticed a few of these hairy little larvae in among the Common Rock-rose. They looked a little bit like small, dull burnet moth larvae. The food plant clinched it though, they must be the larvae of Cistus Foresters. We have three species, Cistus Forester, Scarce Forester (feeds on Knapweeds) and the Forester (that feeds on Common Sorrel). Collectively known as foresters (note that this is a really important example of why species names should be capitalised, so that a distinction between forester in the generic sense can be made from the species the Forester). Cistus Forester is probably the most restricted in Sussex with Devil's Dyke and Malling Down being the main sites. The larvae feed on Common Rock-rose and it's one of the dominant plants there on the south facing slope. If you go at the right time of year, you can see clouds of the metallic green adults.

Competitive spider listing produces rare spiders found at Iping Common for first time in 50 years

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 24 February 2019 09:14

It's strange how the word competitiveness still has negative connotations, especially in the world of listing and natural history but I have no time for this attitude. I challenge it head, suggesting some people hide behind their lack of competitiveness as a way to never push themselves. They have become victims of binary thinking; incapable of seeing beyond their own assumptions about listing. If you hide at the back sniping people at the front, you don't have to stick your neck out, you don't have to take risks. And this is nice and cosy because it eliminates the fear of failure. But along with not taking risks comes not achieving anything. This has become more of a thing with social media and the rise of trolling. Yes, competitiveness for competitive-sake isn't great, but being honest, how much of that really happens in natural history and pan-species listing? Certainly there isn't any in my work or most of what I see happening in the PSL world. So when I saw Matt Prince was listing spiders in 2019, I thought I would get involved. The reasons: 

  • I knew there would be conservation gains from it.
  • I knew I would get some new spiders out of it.
  • I knew I would learn a lot and teach a lot.
  • I knew I would add some structure to my casual recording in 2019.
  • I knew I would generate some blog content. So you are already benefiting from it.
  • I knew it would benefit my role as county recorder.
  • I knew I would enjoy it.

Do I expect to win? No! Then why pick a fight I can't win? Matt's definitely got the edge on me with spiders but that's not why I am doing it. I am doing it for the reasons above. All the same reasons I am so totally convinced that pan-species listing is such an important movement in UK natural history. And I also think you should treat each field season like it might be your last. Life is short. Yet having said all this, you can probably tell I am braced for more negative comments.

Rant over, now for the good stuff. My spider list is on 60 species for the year. I am in no doubt that Matt has overtaken me today as he was on 59 on Friday. 

I headed to Iping Common yesterday having spent many days indoors recently. Brighton had been shrouded in low cloud on Thursday and Friday and I was also fed up of seeing people record spring invertebrates online. I met up with Shaun Pryor and John Burnham for a day of spider recording. We recorded 28 species. My target was to get to 60 for the year which incredibly I hit dead on. I wanted a new species for myself, one for the site, one new to the reserve network and some that hadn't been recorded since 1968 (a year when many species were last recorded on West Sussex heaths). We achieved all of this and more (except nothing new to the network this time). The spider above is the gorgeous heathland specialist Philodromus histrio. It's known from Iping and is a lot showier than the microscopic highlights the post title refers to. Phwoar!

Species new to Iping Common
Recording money spiders in the field is interesting. You get an idea what it might be but all the fun happens when you get home at the microscope as most of them are so small you can't get much on them even from a hand lens. Therefore, I think the most efficient way to record them is to grab as many as you can and whack them straight in the killing jar. I have to say there were not vast numbers, I recorded only one of most species. These two were very common species that had not been recorded from the site before. Usually associated with damper areas, this was definitely the product of targeting some of the bogs on the site.

Lophomma punctatum
Kaestneria pullata

This bring the site list to 215 species, firmly cemented as the biggest species list in both East and West Sussex.

A further three species were added to the site list too. Bristly Millipede and the weevils Pissodes castaneus and Hypera nigrirostris. This means we added five species to the site list yesterday, bringing the whole list up to 2959 species. Only 41 to 3000!

Species not recorded since 1968
After reviewing the spiders for the counties at the end of the year, it was clear that quite a large number of species haven't been seen in the county for half a century. I knew I had to target money spiders outside of the main field season on the West Sussex heaths in order to try and rectify this. And it paid off! These two species had not been recorded on the site since 1968.

Cnephalocotes obscurus
Micrargus herbigradus

These are common and ubiquitous spiders with adults peaking in the summer. However, I suction-sampled two VERY small spiders on the burnt area of the heath. They were so small that I put them in their own tubes for fear of losing them in the killing jar. Both were just over 1 mm long. The first up:

Mecopisthes peusi. This nationally scarce BAP/S41 species was last recorded there in 1968 (and last in Sussex in 1989 at Ambersham - it's only other Sussex location). I was glad that such a small spider had such massive and distinctive palps which made identification much easier. I was interested to see that it does well on burnt areas. A truly terrible photo but you get an idea of scale at least.

Buzzing from this I pulled out the second specimen. It was Tapinocyba mitis. Nationally rare, Endangered and BAP/S41 too! Not recorded in the south east for decades and the last Sussex record in 1968 from Iping. Looking at the autecology, it does well on sites that have recently burnt! I can't believe I found these two spiders with such specific habitat requirements without knowing they existed. Very pleased with this as I was hoping for some of these kind of species. Especially as I did a survey there targeting this habitat last year. The difference with these two species is though they do appear to have winter/early spring adults. So you are unlikely to get them sticking to the April to September survey window.

So next time someone says "PSL is too competitive" throw it right back at them with "No, you're not competitive enough" because competitiveness is a good thing and people like that don't get to use the word in a derogatory way! Let's own it!

I think it would be really cool to write up our finds next year and show just how much good we have done with this approach, what do you think Matt?

The lichen so good they named a Bond movie after it

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 17 February 2019 18:50

Did you know, Tina Turner is a keen lichenologist? So taken was she when she first recorded Golden-eye Lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus that she wrote the following song to celebrate its beauty, which was later used as a Bond theme tune! They even named a duck after it too! I imagine, like me, you always thought the Bond movie was named after the duck but it was, in fact, the lichen. You may recognise the particular shade of orange below on Pierce Brosnan's face, that's no coincidence. 

OK, none of the above is true but this is. I've wanted to see the Golden-eye Lichen for years, so was very pleased when Simon Davey mentioned that one had been found at Devil's Dyke. Then I had a message from Veronica Atalanta on Twitter with the gen. It didn't take too long to find it. I was totally wrong with the search image though, I was looking for something yellow, like the ubiquitous Xanthoria parietina but the Golden-eye Lichen is very much orange in comparison. I took this image below to show the difference between the colours of the two species, so it should be easier to get your eye in at a distance. It looks a bit like an orange Venus Flytrap!

Here are some more close ups. It's such a strange looking thing.
This lichen is listed as Critically Endangered and Nationally Rare but the Downs around Brighton and Lewes seem to be a hot spot for it, so keep your eyes peeled as it might be growing on some scrub near you!

The Human and the Centipede

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 15 February 2019 06:54

Last weekend I went to an area I don't go often; Western Road in Brighton, the main high street where all the big shops are. I wasn't expecting to find a species that hadn't been recorded in East Sussex for 50 years though. I nearly tripped over this massive centipede on the pavement, it caught my eye initially as a hairy caterpillar but I soon realised it was a dead Lithobius centipede. I was actually on my way to the beach to see if Storm Erik had washed anything up and to exercise my back, so I had lots of pots on me. I have never seen the much commoner Lithobius forficatus in the middle of town like this, so I  had a feeling it was something good and it was clearly very big.

I keyed it out and it was fairly obviously the nationally scarce Lithobius pilicornis. It's our biggest Lithobius and can reach over 35 mm (this was 32 mm). Many thanks to Steve Gregory for confirming. Here are the details that show it's this species with short projections on segments 7 and 9 (the small sections sitting between the larger ones below) and more importantly, key spines in the right place on the hind coxae.

And here is the BMIG page for the beast. The last record for East Sussex was at Rye some 50 years ago! I have seen it once before in South Wales with Christian Owen. So, the moral of the story is, don't go anywhere without a pot!

Snow Flea Circus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 2 February 2019 19:59

Have you ever taken a 400 mile trip for a flea? Well me neither. Snow Flea Boreus hyemalis is actually a mecopteran, basically a small, wingless, winter-adult scorpionfly. Less than a week ago I got a message from Tony Davis saying simply "How's your back?" I knew this meant he had another crazy mission for us and I had the weekend free, definitely a great opportunity for some escapism...all the way to the Wyre Forest. We were just into Shropshire, just a few kilometres from my home county of Staffordshire but a part of the world I know very little about. The names of the towns and villages there completely alien to me. The last time I went to the Wyre Forest I was at school, |Steve Copper took us there to look for Drab Looper moths.

It took 25 minutes to find the first Snow Flea, the female above. We then went on to find a further six in a total of two hours of searching (two females and five males in all). Tony had the gen pretty much perfect. Here is how the first female appeared to the naked eye at first.
And the habitat. A south-facing bank with dense Sessile Oaks. Plentiful mosses at the bases of the trees are where we searched and this payed off. I thought there was some association with the moss Dicranum majus (which you can see in the image above to the left).

Here is the habitat...

And some video of the female.

And here is the male, with the strange vestigal wings and unusually-shaped first abdominal segments. I think their 'beak' looks quite like that of a Cormorant.

And some footage of him. I had no idea that they can jump quite substantial distances. I didn't manage to capture it (they behaved very well for me, not so much for Tony) but pretty obvious where the English name comes from after seeing this. A big thanks to Tony for arranging this and driving most of the way, never thought I would see these bizarre and fascinating insects. Now, I wonder if I can find them in Sussex...

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