Battle of the Bastard-toadflax

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 29 May 2019 11:58

Now Game of Thrones has all finished, you might need a new hobby. I suggest natural history as it's just as brutal, even more complicated and never ends with a disappointing conclusion. The chalk this year is feeling the spring drought, late and shy flowering. After a hard winter graze, the area we affectionately call the 'Bastard-toadflax area' has sprung to life. There is more Bastard-toadflax there than I have ever seen and masses of Chalk Milkwort too. It just goes to show that there are always winners and losers. I have for example, never had the fortune to photograph them both together like this.

But it doesn't have it easy. There were more Bastard-toadflax Shieldbugs Canthophorus impressus there than I have ever seen before, I saw five adults crawling around on the plants. You are lucky to see one! 
Bugs have been doing reusable straws forever. Look at this video of one cleaning its rostrum after feasting on some Bastard-toadflax juice. They also drop very quickly once they have seen you and disappear, burrowing unto lose chalky-soil very quickly. 

You shouldn't feel too sorry for the Bastard-toadflax, it's also hemiparisitic on other plants in the sward, It's a dog eat dog world out there! Or it's a Bastard-toadflax Bug eat Bastard-toadflax eat Chalk Milkwort world out there.

And like busses. On Saturday night I sucked up the first Small Plume in Sussex from a site in Eastbourne (I was looking for a spider with the suction sampler - you would be surprised how many moths you get in them). Yesterday I walked right up to one on a bank full of the foodplant, Mouse-ear Hawkweed. This a Nb species that until this week I had only ever seen in the Burren in Ireland. I wonder if it is having a good year? Has anyone else seen this moth this year?

A Rye Smile

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 26 May 2019 19:37

The Rye Harbour spider trip was awesome. Even if there was only five of us. Chris Bentley showed us around and I made good use of the electric suction-sampler and as ever I learnt lots from Matt and Chris. I added at least nine spiders for the year and got one lifer. It was great to spend some time with Matt too during the 'big year', I hope we get another chance to meet up later this year. Totally forgot to get any pictures of Humans though.

Star of the show was always going to be Pellenes tripunctatus (nationally rare) so I am gonna get that out of the way first so I can focus, that's pretty much what happened yesterday too. Above and below is the male. What a dude!

And a wee video of him.

And I saw my first female. It's really big for a jumper, I think only Marpissa muscosa is bigger.

Other highlights included Enoplognatha mordax and Phlegra fasciata but I didn't manage a photo of these. I saw an adult male Phlegra but it disappeared down a crack in the ground. The kind of crack you'd normally see at the end of summer.

New for me was the nationally scarce Haplodrassus dalmatiensis.

Also we added Trichonchus affinis (nationally rare) and Lathys stigmatisata (nationally rare). I tried to get a few non-spider species new to the site but it's really hard. I did manage a few bugs that had not been recorded since 1989. This weevil Polydrusus pulchellus (Nb) was new for me. I sucked it off the edge of the saltmarsh by targeting Sea-wormwood. I see it has the English name Sea-wormwood Weevil so that makes sense.

We were missing a few jumpers but the weather wasn't great so we headed to Camber Sands...

It took quite a lot of effort to find Marpissa nivoyi but here it is. About equally matched to the Dactylochelifer latreilli.

We also found Cheiracanthium virescens (NS) and Zelotes electus (NS - this was also at Rye Harbour). This one wouldn't keep still so you can have a look at its underside. Some immature Agroeca too. 

I was desperate to see Philodromus fallax. Or the 'f-word' as it is now known. We found several sub-adult Philodromus and despite me trying to convince everyone it was fallax, I am now convinced they weren't either. Putting a spider on sand does not make it fallax. You can see why I got excited though.

A quick dash to Castle Water and we soon saw Trichopterna cito (NR) and Hypsosinga albovittata (NS). That's THREE lifers I found Matt yesterday so no one can say this spider challenge is anything but a civilised affair. I'm hoping there might be a few more coming my way from Matt's dets. The only photo I took at Castle Water was of this Small Copper larva, first time I have ever seen one. Which is nuts because I have seen quite a few adults.

Rye Harbour is an exceptional site and has a huge list of rare and scarce spiders. 

Now a normal person would have gone home happy but I had to try for Euophrys herbigrada on the way home near Eastbourne. I didn't find it but I did get two records that I have only ever had in Ireland and Jersey, both in the suction sampler. The first was Small Plume (which feeds on Mouse-ear Hawkweed - there are only three dots on the map for this species in Sussex) and the second was the bug Capsodes sulcatus which was a first for East Sussex! Last seen in West Sussex in 2002.

It was a great day and I am currently on 266 spiders for 2019!

World of Leatherbugs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 22 May 2019 07:37

I've just got back from my monthly visit to the Ken Hill Estate where I am carrying out a series of baseline surveys before they restore some 400 ha to a more natural state. Wow, what a place. On Sunday I recorded the most invertebrates in a day's work I have ever recorded. Currently at least 275 species and with all the specimens collected it will be over 300. It was the bugs that stole the show though. Above is the nationally rare and Critically Endangered Breckland Leatherbug Arenocoris waltlii. I found two of these during the timed counts on a sandy arable field covered in Common Stork's-bill. You can see the 2nd segment of the antennae expands towards the tip and it lacks the white 'v' on the pronotum of the closely related Arenocoris fallenii. Tristan Bantock was telling me that this species is expanding its range but this record is likely to be the most northern record in the country.

After the count was finished I really felt like I needed to cover this area in some more detail so went back for an hour and it really paid off!

Here is the nationally scarce Slender-horned Leatherbug Ceraleptus lividus.

And the very hairy and fairly common Denticulate Leatherbug Coriomeris denticulatus.

I found a Rhombic Leatherbug Syromastus rhombeus too! As I was photographing this, I saw in the view finder that it ran in front of another bug. Which turned out to be the species closely related to the Breckland Leatherbug mentioned above... is the nationally scarce Fallen's Leatherbug Arenocoris fallenii. Both a pale/contrastingly marked one and a browner one closer to the Breckland Leatherbug above. In both individuals though you can see the second segment to the antennae is parallel sided towards the tip and there is a white 'v' of tubercles on the pronotum.

But it didn't stop there! This is what I assume is an early instar Alydus calcaratus nymph (also nationally scarce). An amazing ant mimic.

Other nationally scarce species associated with Common Stork's-bill were Megalonotus praetextus.

And Hypera dauci. It really is just like the Brecks. There was a Woodlark singing nearby too (that refused to show itself during the bird survey). Oh and another Heath Shieldbug Legnotus picipes was there which I picked up last month on a different part of the site!

And to show how sandy it is, the nationally scarce Zelotes electus was also present. This spider is usually found on sand dunes and also the Brecks (see the BAS page above). Oh and I also hit 250 spiders for the year!

Here is that amazing bank and associated fields. With extensive grazing, it's highly likely that this already rich habitat will greatly expand. The continued presence and expansion of these kind of swards in the south could therefore act as a measure of success of the restoration.

Elsewhere in the woods there was also some excitement, with Dendroxena quadrimaculata (nationally scarce b) just sitting on a bramble leaf. This silphid is unusual in that it specialises in hunting caterpillars. It's only about the fith record I have made of this species.

And the striking deadwood cranefly Ctenophora pectinicornis. This nationally scarce species was beaten from recently fallen deadwood.

And how is it that I have seen a third of the UK's beetles but not this before?! Despite seemingly spending half my life beating oak. It's clearly not common in Sussex. The Oak Leaf-roller.

Just looking through the list, it might be the most shieldbugs, squashbugs, leatherbugs and allies that I have ever recorded in one day. Here is the full list in no particular order, 19 in all.

Bishop's-mitre Shieldbug
Slender-horned Leatherbug (NS)
Heath Shieldbug (NS)
Dock Bug
Juniper Shieldbug
Birch Shieldbug
Sloe Bug
Cinnamon Bug
Breckland Leatherbug (NR)
Fallen's Leatherbug (NS)
Rhombic Leatherbug
Denticulate Leatherbug
Small Grass Shieldbug
Green Shieldbug
Rhopalus subrufus
Stictopleurus abutilon
Alydus calcaratus (NS)
Parent Bug
Gorse Shieldbug

Now for some plants. I found a few Wild Service Tree saplings in the woods.

The Vulnerable Prickly Poppy on the sandy field to the south.

And the Near Threatened Hoary Cinquefoil on the Plain.

The bird survey was wrapped up and the highlights included Turtle Doves, Cuckoos, Whimbrel, Woodlark and much more. Wow, if May was this good, I cannot wait until the June visit! The vegetation surveys will start then too rather than just casual observations of plants.

I love Uloborus

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 14 May 2019 13:45

A couple of years ago we found a new population of the rare heathland specialist spider Uloborus walckenaerius at Graffham Common. On Sunday evening I popped over to add it to my year list and do a bit of recording. I swept this big one in the first sweep net and then didn't see another. It really wouldn't keep still so the photos are not great. Here is a celebration of this unusual spider. I love the tufts on the abdomen.

Also there was an immature Philodromus margaritatus, also known from the site.

A female Araneus sturmi.

Also I finally got Evarcha falcata for the year. These making my spider year list up to 242 species. I swept three Ampedus elongantulus, really don't think this is all that scarce down here now. Also my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year. 

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