Pretty as a picta

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 21 August 2021 18:30

I went back to Amberley Chalk Pit today but this time, Tylan was with me. We got one of the target species. This is the first record of Eratigena picta in the UK since 2009. It was first found in the UK at Amberley Chalk Pit in 1982, but it hasn't been seen there since 1997. Now I am pretty sure I have been rearing a tiny one for the last two months since I first went there in early July, it's shed its skin twice but is still way smaller than all the ones we saw today. It's a nationally rare/vulnerable species only ever known from four hectads, and last recorded by Scotty on the North Downs in 2009.

As an adult, this thing is maybe just a little bigger than Tegenaria silvestris (which is abundant here but more tied to the scree).

Tylan was really good at finding them and it soon became clear it wasn't in the scree (like the one I found in July was) but on the slopes around the roots of the plants. The gentle rain helped highlight the webs.

Here are some more shots. I really like the speckled cephalothorax. It's really unlike any spider I have seen and the epigyne looks more like a big liny's, such as a Neriene. Here are some more shots.

And a fungus-infected Amaurobius ferox. What a strange looking thing. I have retained the specimen and will hopefully get it sent to the county specialist for identification.

That's 345 species for the year. Great to see Tylan after nearly a year. A nice distraction from everything else that's going on. He's closing on me now though, so it's still all to play for, for 2021!

A big thanks to Amberley Heritage Museum for their help too!

Why English names of species should ALWAYS be capitalised

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 19 August 2021 15:59

So this has been a pet hate of mine for years. And after a rant on Twitter recently, I thought it was best to put all my thoughts down on this in one place. Firstly, this is not a rant at inexperienced naturalists,  those with a passing interest or those new to the subject. This is very much directed at those who are intentionally spelling the names of species in lower case. It's mainly nature conservation charities, natural history writers and journalists. And of course, Wikipedia! New nature conservation projects that start up are now incorrectly following this trend and there isn't really a resistance pushing back on this. Just because its written like this on Wikipedia, it really doesn't mean it's right!

But before anyone says it, I am 100% pro scientific names. This isn't about that. This is about having a standardised, scientific and useful structure to how we write about species in English. Quite often, I would find any scientific names would be kicked out of any writing I did BUT on top of this, the correctly capitalised English names would be written in lower case. It's infuriating. I'm also not talking here about globalised names like Eurasian Nuthatch. It's a Nuthatch as far as I am concerned. But that's a different argument. 

Since I started this blog over eleven years ago, I have only ever displayed just the English names, ONLY when they are in regular use. So, for macro moths, butterflies, dragonflies, crickets etc. Beyond that I tend to use English names with the scientific name or just the scientific name if there is no standardised/regularly used English name at all. Many people new to entomology will not know that many English names have been created in recent years and are not in wide use by entomologists. This can lead to a difficult situation where newcomers are talking a different language to specialists. For this reason, I am not condoning using English names over scientific names at all and I encourage beginners to not be afraid of scientific names and to embrace them even. 

This is is simply about having a standardised approach to how we write these common names. The dumbing down of English names and the resistance against using scientific names are connected though. They are both areas we are failing in our nature writing, assuming people can't cope with anything complex. We are pandering to the lowest common denominator and it's a big part of why so many complex issues in conservation are so poorly understood by the general public. 

But get this, the natural world is REALLY, REALLY complicated. Simple solutions to complex problems do not work. In fact they are really harmful. So we should be embracing complexity and nuance.

I digress. Here's why it's a bad idea to write species names in English in lower case.

It's confusing

I once wrote a piece about Scarce 7-spot Ladybirds. The name was reduced to scarce 7-spot ladybird and an image was sourced of a 7-spot ladybird with the adjective scarce put in front of it. As you know, 7-spot Ladybird is not scarce. In fact, it's my most frequently recorded invertebrate. While Scarce 7-spot Ladybird is indeed quite scarce. A totally different species with a very different ecology.

But this works the other way around too. I once had my adjectives in front of scientific names mistaken for species names in a report. Well, if your house style is to do this, why would you assume any otherwise? Another reason to not have such a ridiculous 'house style' in the first place, especially when you have limited knowledge of the species you are publishing information on. It went like this. I had written something like "the scarce deadwood click beetle Ampedus elongantulus". Now the scientific name was discarded to find the text now talking about the 'scarce deadwood click beetle' as if it were a species name. This was done to a number of species from some text I had written. Infuriating!

There is more info in these capitals than some people realise

We have three species of forester in the UK (metallic green day-flying moths). Yes, you read that right. It's lower case because I am not referring to a species here, in fact I am referring to three species from two genera. They are; Cistus Forester, Scarce Forester and the Forester. It's very easy to get the Forester in the strict sense of the species confused with forester in the generic sense. There's the rub. There is meta data in those capitals telling you that it's a species. Distinct from being a genus, family or some other way of grouping things together. They are all shown at the top of this post but here is the Forester, perhaps the hardest one to find in Sussex.

And not far behind the lower case names is the abandonment of hyphens

Not always the case but if hyphens are going to be dropped or used incorrectly, it's often when species are written in lower case. Take for example the plant White Beak-sedge. In lower case it reads white beak-sedge and if you drop the hyphen, it's now white beak sedge. Now how can you tell what genus that's in? Is it a sedge (Carex) or a beak-sedge (Rhynchospora). There is yet more more meta data here. And you know what? No one should get to take that away and leaved behind some reduced form of a name that has less information in it, in the name of 'style' or easy reading. 

The arguments for using lower case are utterly unconvincing

They are: it's too complicated. Rubbish. Is it too complicated to write your name, a book, a film or a place correctly? Of course it isn't. It is only confusing because we now have two systems (and some other variants in between these two systems) working concurrently. It's no surprise when newcomers reach for Wikipedia that they start writing them incorrectly in lower case. It doesn't read well. Again, total nonsense. Just look up and see if it reads badly. Or read British Wildlife or any of the other publications that get it right. No one ever died from reading a capital letter or two in the middle of sentence. Capitals are going out of fashion. Yeah this one really doesn't wash with me for all the reasons under 'it's too complicated'. I'm aware language can change but not all change is good or should be embraced. It's grammatically incorrect. And finally we get to the real sticking point. They are not proper nouns (apparently). Hence why we end up with the hideous chimera of naming styles, such as Cetti's warbler and Mediterranean gull. Yuck! And here I will explain why I believe it is perfectly correct to think of these names as proper nouns...

There can be no better use of proper nouns than to denote species names

When we talk about species, we are not talking about individuals. We are talking about genetically distinct life forms, each with a near enough UNIQUE genetic code. It's the code we are really talking about. This is therefore a more than adequate reason to use proper nouns when referring to them. It would also draw the naming inline with the scientific nomenclature to some extent. It would result in less confusion.

These names mean a lot to naturalists

I have met very few recorders, naturalists and entomologists who actually like the lower case names, literally less than five people I've encountered have ever strongly stuck up for it. While I have met hundreds of naturalists who detest it. To me, it is a significant part of the name, in many cases taken away from us by people working outside of the field. And as said above, there is a reduced name left behind, with considerable margins for error. I just can't keep quiet about it any more. So I decided to get organised.

I mean how can a Subaru Forester be seen as a 'compound proper noun' but a Cistus Forester isn't? Yet more examples of how the natural world is seen as inferior to things that have been created by people. OK, I see why Subaru is a proper noun, it's a make. Fair enough but the Forester part? Each of those vehicles coming off the production line follows a blueprint that makes them similar to one another but different to other models of that make. So how is that any different to what I'm talking about here? The grammatical rules are not clear cut and as mentioned above, can you think of a better example than to use them? Language is fluid and flexible. We should use a set of rules IF they work in favour of bettering that area of language. There is a clear case for that here.

Having a standardised and structured approach to English names would therefore benefit recording and the natural world. With less ambiguity on how names are written we can bring some of the rigour that we have from scientific names into the English names of species. There is no better time to be having this conversation as so many new people are getting into wildlife recording and ecological restoration and as mentioned above, they are usually hungry for English names of species at first.

What can you do?

Well if you're having this thrust upon you by your organisation or boss, tell them that you're not happy with it and why. Try and push them in the right direction. Feel free to send them this blog.

When you write an article for someone, tell them how the names are going to be written. Use it as a negotiating point for giving someone the work. You can only use my photo or text if you spell the name correctly etc.

If these things don't work, just write them correctly and see what happens. If enough people have to spend ages putting names into lower case then surely they will get the message one day. It's the naturalists providing the content, I really think we have some leverage here.

When new projects are set up, give people a steer in the right direction. There is a tendency to reach for Wikipedia. But you would be better reaching for a field guide, British Wildlife, the NBN gateway species accounts or the JNCC Taxon Designations spreadsheet.

Let's properly get organised. If there is anyone out there that feels as passionately about this as I do, drop me a message or a comment and you can join a growing number of us who are proper fed up with this.

You might also detect a little anger in my tone here. You'd be right! To have this inflicted upon you from the very first piece of writing you ever did for years is utterly infuriating. But we did work on Sussex Wildlife Trust over the years and they have brilliantly switched to writing species in capitals, a really positive move and this shows how much this particular wildlife trust puts recording, wildlife and science over style and trends. A really progressive step forward. So it can be done! 

Who would you rather be on the side of? The style gurus and the grammar police or the passionate naturalists who actually write the content and know what they are talking about? 

I really don't think this should ever have been a 'choice'. We should have one system.

The Revolution Starts Here!


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 13 August 2021 19:10

*sigh* So long, old friend.

Three weeks ago, I had a rare weekend off. The plan was to meet up with my mate Thomas Curculio (you should see his rostrum - he puts Gonzo to shame) and head to Wybunbury Moss on the Saturday and Chartley Moss on the Sunday. Both sites we had permits for and both being dangerous floating mires (or schwingmoors), it was good having someone who had been there before to guide. I love floating mires, probably the most exciting habitat for spiders. But being close to where I grew up makes them all the more exciting.

Now there were three targets at Wybunbury that I really wanted to get. And as I was researching them the night before from gen provided by Richard Gallon (thanks, man!), an incredible coincidence occurred. Stewart Sexton copied me into a Tweet (thanks, dude!). Joshua Styles (thanks, fella!) found one of the target species at a second UK site. Just over the border in Cranberry Bog in Staffs. As the crow flies, it's only 3 miles from Wybunbury in Cheshire. So I offered to go and have a look after Wybunbury, to try and find another and confirm it. Both Thomas Curculio and I have tried numerous times to access Cranberry Bog and failed...

But first, Wybunbury. The only bog I have seen with Common Cow-wheat growing in the bog. It's really odd but looks really cool (Josh was telling me this is a unique community). And more White Beak-sedge than I have ever seen before. 

It didn't take long to find a Gnaphosa nigerrima (nationally rare and vulnerable - not surprising given that it's only ever been known from the one bog)We saw maybe 15 of these, mostly adult females and one sub-adult male. Much smaller than I was expecting and actually not far off a big Zelotes/Drassyllus. In Sphagnum but also in the suction sampler. Actually it was dwarfed by an adult female Haplodrassus signifer I found there.

It did however take three and a half hours to find Calositticus floricola (nationally rare, near threatened). Thomas found two adult males in the last few minutes of our time there. The other goody there is a tiny liny Carorita limnaea (nationally rare, vulnerable), so would have to wait until I got back to the microscope to see if I had found that one (but I was pretty sure I had picked up a few females).

Back to Calositticus floricola though. This might be the best jumping spider I have ever seen. Up close, it really is something else. Here is a whole sequence of the male.

And I mustn't forget this Wybunbury speciality! Thomas was great at finding these wonderful Cryptocephalus decemmaculatus. A lifer indeed (thanks, mate!). Every species in this genus is a joy.

So, onto Cranberry Bog, Staffs. The same frustrating access antics AGAIN. How on Earth do we get into it?! I mean, we could see it through the trees, oh help me someone, help me please! Sorry, went all Kate Bush for a minute there. But the black peaty water under the Alders between us and the bog was not an option. We nearly gave up but I spotted some tracks through and eventually spotted the Indiana Jones style 'rope bridge' that Joshua had told us to look for. We were in! But we would never be the same again.

First sweep net had THREE Calositticus floricola in it. That'll be new to Staffordshire then. Here is the adult female I caught. It's so much easier to find this at Cranberry than Wybunbury. How can this have been overlooked all these years? We reckon we found 30+.

And it didn't take long to confirm Joshua's amazing record of Gnaphosa nigerrima at it's now second UK site! What I love about this is that I never would have gone there that day if I hadn't seen that tweet. So this jumper is also in part down to that. Also there were a few Pirata piscatorius there, another species scarce in Staffs. This bog is way wetter than Wybunbury and Chartley.

And a big patch of Marsh Cinquefoil. Here with a Blue Shieldbug on it.

For the year, that's me on 339 species of spider. The 400 is still very much on the table but August can pretty much do one as far as I am concerned.

Going through the specimens back at the accommodation was, as ever, thrilling (I did indeed get Carorita and a few other goodies I wouldn't see down south). Just like that though, my world turned upside down. I got the kind of text you never want to get. One of my favourite people in the whole world was gone suddenly. My old friend Tony Gowland. I was proper heart broken and have found it hard to write this blog until now. To be honest, spiders have took a back seat for a few weeks. Twelve years ago, it was Tony that got me my old desk, which I use every time I look down the microscope or write a report. In fact, most of these blog posts. So know this Tone, every single freelance conservation project I do or have ever done, you've helped me with it and in turn, you've helped nature. But not only that, it looks bloody brilliant in the process.

Sometime in 2009 a telephone call went like this...
Tony: "Alright Graybags, do you want a desk?"
Graeme: "I just bought one, thanks mate."
Tony: "Not like this you ain't. It's a Victorian gentleman's desk."
Graeme: "Errrr-"
Tony: "You need to say now though, as I need to empty the van."
Graeme: "YES PLEASE!"

I would literally pay people to keep calling me Graybags. How little you realise how important such a daft name is until it's gone.

I will miss you, brother.

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