The Hunchback of the High Weald

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 23 June 2020 14:20

The last time I saw a hunchback fly was five years and one day ago on 21st June 2015 when I last surveyed the private estate of Wadhurst Park. This is the nationally scarce Ogcodes pallipes and yesterday I beat this adult from there. Reading up in Stubbs & Drake, it's interesting to find out that this clumsy looking thing is a parasite of spiders! Unlike the more familiar external parasites though, this one develops inside the abdomen. The host spiders listed seem to be mainly ground-dwelling species. The grassland where I found this (actually it was beaten from an elm) was thick with spiders in the sward, overwhelmingly dominated by Neoscona adianta. I would say at a greater density than anywhere else I have surveyed. All the ID features to key this out from the other two in the family are visible in this photo. 

Very soon after this, I swept what I assumed was a male, as it was half the size. I actually realised that this was one of the other species of hunchback fly! This is the nationally scarce Acrocera orbiculus, and a new one for me! Later on that day I beat another one of these from Gorse, actually it was dead in a spider's web. A weird kind of symmetry there. So three hunchback flies in one day. Why here? I have surveyed plenty of dry grasslands with a wealth of spiders over the last decade and have not seen one of these anywhere else. Is it because of the altitude and actually these are more north western species? 

Other highlights included Andrena labiata, Stelis ornatula, Theridion pinastri (new to East Sussex!) and this striking little micro Euspilapteryx auroguttella that I swept off Slender St. John's-wort. It's much more metallic than I was expecting and seems to be quite scarce in East Sussex.

Is this the UK's strangest spider!?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 19 June 2020 15:50

So I wasn't even going to year list spiders this year but it started happening without my consent in early January. I got quite a list together by early March but have not been out doing spiders for fun since then. As a freelancer though, I have been out doing fieldwork full time since 1st April, so as of 15th June I hit 300. It's now 301 with Enoplognatha latimana yesterday.

The 300th was a corker though. Ever since I first opened Roberts on the Walckenaeria page, I've always wanted to see 'the one with a duck on its head' as I called it. This is the nationally scarce Walckenaeria furcillata. What on Earth does it use this for!? Holding files together? A hair clip? The best thing about this though, as it's really not clear from the illustration in Roberts, IS THAT THE DUCK APPENDAGE IS FORKED! Look! It has these kind of backwards-pointing flaming hair-like scales at the tips of the fork, a bit like angel's wings, just about visible in this microscope image. There is so much going on with this spider!
The only thing I was a bit gutted about was not realising what I had picked up in the field, I would have loved to try and get some live shots. It was quite small for a Walck.

I imagine the 'duck' kinda has semi-independence. "It's so stimulating being your head!"

While actually Mark Gurney said "it looks like it's got an iron for a head" (backwards pointing for those that can't see it). And now I know that Rob Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne were singing about this spider all this time! I bet you didn't know they are keen arachnologists either?

So 300 spiders is possible in six months. I only need 92 spiders to beat last year's total, which feels extremely doable at present. I might even go out looking for spiders again away from work sometime very soon...

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