The Emperor's Old Clothes

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 30 September 2019 21:02

I finished an invertebrate survey at Holmwood Common today for the National Trust in Surrey. I was pleasantly surprised by how much stuff I found today but the lep. larvae were the highlights. This is the first time I have see a Purple Emperor larva, so you won't be surprised to see I took a LOT of photos of it. Enjoy!

What a cute little dude! Hard to believe next year this could become our biggest butterfly. If it's lucky!

Nearby I beat some gorse and got this remarkable looking lichen mimic moth larva. At first I thought Brussel's Lace, then a Light Emerald and thanks to Jeroen Voogd on the Caterpillars UK & EUROPE Facebook group he pointed me in the right direction. It's not a geometrid at all. It's Beautiful Hook-tip. A moth I have seen hundreds of times but another larva tick!

And then, a massive Pale Tussock! I couldn't get it to unfurl.
The black stuff on Pale Tussocks is like that Vantablack paint, it reflects no light at all. I was staring into that blackness when I was reminded of the Fast Show...

Bird droppings with horns

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 24 September 2019 19:16

I have just got back from a slightly abbreviated visit to Ken Hill where I started the NVC map and finished the invertebrate field visits. I have so far this year recorded 747 species of invertebrates there. Definitely the biggest list for any site I have carried out a six-visit survey on, with 662 species recorded alone so far from the six standardised visits. There are dozens of tubes of specimens yet to process too. Will we get to a 1000 species? I was pleased to find Pogonocherus hispidulus by beating twigs and this proved a hit under the microscope. So I took some time today to get a good sequence of photos and I'm pretty pleased with them. This little longhorn beetle is a thing of exquisite complexity and beauty up close. Yet looks like a stinky old bird turd from a few feet away. A great tactic to avoid being eaten. Only works if you're really small though.

Not had enough Pogonocherus? OK, here's the other common one. Pogonocherus hispidus. Possibly the two most confusingly named species I know of. It's literally just missing the 'lu' at the end. A smaller less-contrasting beetle that didn't want to pose.

And the two together. Pogonocherus hispidus is a smaller beetle and has a smaller name than hispidulus. That's how I remember these two.

And Cassida vittata is always a pleasure to see.

Elsewhere on the site, a late flush of Corn Marigold (with Corn Spurrey it makes up the NVC community OV4) was growing after the Spring Barley had been harvested. Really didn't feel like late September at this point!

And Night-flowering Catchfly (on the left) identifiable long after flowering from the similar White Campion (right).

Birds were very quiet. Hardly any passerines about. Hobby and a Tree Pipit over were the highlights. One more visit to go though so maybe October will produce some rarities? Can't wait!

East Head Case

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 11 September 2019 12:16

My first season as an almost full time entomologist is drawing to a close. It's been an incredible summer and one of the most exciting surveys has been the East Head survey I carried out for the National Trust in West Sussex. On Saturday I finished the sixth and final visit. It was one of those visits where you don't really feel like you've found very much, until you get home!

First off I thought I had found a new spider for me, being Agroeca inopina. After I got this male home, it was evident that this was actually the much more widespread Agroeca proxima. I did take the time to get some photos though. These late summers spiders look quite like small skinny wolf spiders with slightly wrong proportions. I took a female from a few metres away too. And I was really surprised that that one turned to be Agroeca inopina. This spider was new to me but known from the site. That makes 306 spiders for me this year. I am still way behind Matt. The spiders are done for the site with 13 of the 61 species recorded having conservation status! A whopping 21.3%. Here are the rare and scarce spiders for the site.

Alopecosa cuneata (NS)
Araneus angulatus (NS)
Argenna patula (NS)
Ceratinopsis ramosa (NR)
Crustulina sticta (NS)
Enoplognatha mordax (NS)
Nigma puella (NS)
Pardosa proxima (NS)
Phlegra fasciata (NR)
Sibianor aurocinctus (NS)
Sitticus saltator (NS)
Thanatus striatus (NS)
Zelotes electus (NS)

I could not find Marpissa nivoyii at this site but a more striking absence is that of the wolf spider Xerolycosa miniata which is usually common in sand dunes. This spider remains absent from West Sussex.

I still have 30 tubes of invertebrates to identify over the winter but this survey is definitely one of the most distinctive in terms of its statistics. It's by far the lowest in terms of overall diversity (I'm currently on 298 species) but the proportion of species with conservation status continues to be the highest I have ever surveyed. It's currently at 49 species, that's 16.4%! It was 17.4% after July, 16.2% after August so feels like it's oscillating around this area and won't change massively with the addition of the microscope work.

Under some tidal debris I found this this lively noctuid larva, which I believe to be Sand Dart. A Nb coastal specialist.

Other new species with status for the survey included Protapion difforme, Orthotylus rubidus and Sibinia arenariae. However, the highlight of the day and possibly the whole survey came in the last hour when I ran the suction sampler through some short sandy turf at the end of the dune slack. A funny orange carabid which turned out to be Bradycellus distinctus. This is Nationally Rare and Endangered and Mark Telfer says he can't recall hearing of any records  since he wrote the carabid review in 2016! Last recorded in Sussex was in 2000 at Rye Harbour and only known from there and Camber Sands in Sussex. Here it is!

The next day I was at the Secrets of the Heath event and the first family that came up to look at the inverts in the tray asked "were you at East Head yesterday hoovering up the dunes?"

Secrets of the Heath exposed

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday 9 September 2019 13:42

I helped out yesterday for the second year in a row at the Secrets of the Heath event at Petersfield Heath. It was really great seeing so many kids getting into entomology and it was particularly nice to tell them when they had found a scarce invertebrate. The idea that you can do either public engagement or rigorous and complicated recording and not both is simply not true. I filled four pages in my notebook and recorded seven species with conservation status and used scientific names all day long. Not one kid questioned the use of scientific names, taking it all in their stride. The enthusiasm was incredible and we didn't stop from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm! 

First up though is a lifer for me. Above is the nationally rare Rhopalus rufus. I am pretty sure I picked one up last year but was not as convinced by this one and Tristan gave it the thumbs up too. This next photo was from last year but they were also present this year, the closely related Rhopalus maculatus.

These two were both caught by children with sweep nets. A real smart looking beast and one of my favourite bugs, the nationally scarce Alydus calcaratus. This one kept still enough for some photos.

And Sibianor aurocinctus is now turning up on nearly every site I survey in the south east. This is an adult male taken down the microscope, the one caught yesterday was a sub adult male.

And in the suction sampler, a completely green Cassida prasina. Also nationally scarce. Also recorded in the suction sampler was the tiny Nb ladybird Scymnus schmidti.

There is masses of Sheep's Sorrel there that wasn't present last year, something I have seen on a few sites this year. We think that it's likely due to Wavy Hair-grass being burnt off in last year's heat wave. I have looked at a few large patches of this and ran the suction sampler over it looking for Spathocera dalmanii and after quite a lot of effort, I found it in a tiny patch of the food plant right behind the Trust's stall. Another nationally scarce species that seems to be on rise. For a day's recording in September, considering the primary focus was public engagement, 63 species wasn't bad. Coupled with seven species with cons status, that comes out at 11.1% which suggests a pretty good site indeed!

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