Portslade Man o' War

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 13 October 2017 17:32

So I'd planned a rare day of doing very little and somehow find myself writing a blog on spiders and rewilding for two hours. I thought I'd check my work email quickly and there was a message from Charlotte at work saying a member of the public had spotted a Portuguese Man o' War on Shoreham beach. I emailed them asking for more detail but then realised I had better chance it and  just started walking west along the strand-line until I found one! And then less than hour later I'm looking at one. Now, I've been up and down the beach several times over the last few week searching for one of these so really pleased to find my own one.

It was incredible to find this only slightly more than a mile from my house. It took a bit of searching for though. I was very twitchy about everything blue I could see up ahead.

Portuguese Man o' Poorly Secured Livestock. Tentacles: Check. Air sack: Nope. Onwards.

Portuguese Man o' Obsessive Cleaning. Air Sack: Check. Tentacles: Nope. That doesn't look right either.

Portuguese Man o' Weight Loss. No, that's not it. Although it has an air sack of sorts and some kind tentacles. Not transparent enough though.

Portuguese Man o' Colonic Inspections. Tentacles: Check. Air sack: Check (although deflated). Translucence: Check! But it doesn't smell right. Eww.

Portuguese Man o' WAR!!! All that jazz at the bottom is far stranger than I was expecting. Quite a bizarre alien like thing indeed. This one seemed to be lacking the big sail, more of a transparent pastie sitting on top of a bubble gum flavoured Slush Puppie. Awesome. Only one guy walked by and asked me why I was taking photos of a condom. I told him what it was and he actually took a photo and got really into it. 

Rewilding and spiders

Posted by Graeme Lyons 12:48

Butcherlands is a small (c80ha) series of fields adjacent to Ebernoe Common which were in arable until 2001. The site boasts some thick hedgerows but lacks veteran trees. It sits on Wealden clay so is very wet in the winter and the vegetation is neutral to slightly acidic in places. Sussex Wildlife Trust mainly manage Butcherlands by 'pulse-grazing', that is only grazing part of the year, say backing off with heavy grazing over the summer and moving animals back in in the winter for  a harder graze. We do not always stick to this plan though, in some years grazing a part of it harder and in other years not. We have maintained a network of fences and gates that allows for this flexibility. Fences act like predators by forcing animals to move around the site, it's vital that we keep them. 

We are also moving towards breaching one of our 'limits of acceptable change' when it comes to the amount of bramble cover present and so will intervene mechanically to control this. Grazing of woody vegetation by the livestock we have available is simply never going to control this plant and so a compromise has to be made or else we will lose the species-rich and invertebrate-rich grassland we have created over the past 16 years.

Which brings me to the invertebrate survey that Mike Edwards and I have been doing this year. We just finished the last visit to the site on the 9th October. Pretty late in the year but a good visit none-the-less. This also ends my season of terrestrial invertebrate survey field work! Wahoo! Anyway, I still have many jars of beetles to identify and all of Mike's records to add to the species list but my list currently stands at 447 species for the site. The one taxa I have completed is the spiders and that's what I am going to write about here.

I have been struck as I carried out this survey by how rich the spider assemblage is here considering it was arable only 16 years ago. Ebernoe Common is our second most speciose reserve (we count Butcherlands as part of Ebernoe), it's just gone over the 3800 species mark. It's actually Butcherlands that's pushed it over. You could say that the spiders have simply colonised from Ebernoe but many of these are species that have never been recorded on Ebernoe before. A total of 73 species were recorded on the survey of which 7 (or 9.6%) have conservation status. This is really high and really respectable for spiders on a nature reserve, one of the highest I have seen away from places like Iping and Rye Harbour (heathlands and coastal sites basically). So what's going on? Well, I believe it's all about the sympathetic structure provided by the pulse-grazing. It produces plenty of structural types in the sward that cannot be provided by all year round steady state grazing. In addition, plenty of structure is also being provided by the developing woody vegetation but as you will see this does not provide much of the habitat for the scarcer species.

The survey took the form of six visits. On each visit, the seven main fields were visited for half an hour each and the methods appropriate to the season were used to record invertebrates. These seven species lists were then bulked over the survey period giving a species list for each field and for the whole site. The order they were carried out in was varied. So here are the seven species lists. The conservation status is shown after the species name as being either Nationally Scarce (NS) or Nationally Rare (NR).

  Brick Nine Hill Church Lime High Spark
Species 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Achaearanea simulans 1            
Agalenatea redii 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Agelena labyrinthica 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Anelosimus vittatus 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Anyphaena accentuata             1
Araneus diadematus   1   1   1 1
Araneus quadratus 1 1       1 1
Araniella cucurbitina   1   1 1    
Araniella opisthographa     1        
Argiope bruennichi     1 1      
Bathyphantes gracilis     1        
Ceratinopsis stativa     1        
Cercidia prominens (NS)         1    
Clubiona brevipes     1 1      
Clubiona diversa   1          
Clubiona reclusa 1            
Clubiona subtilis 1            
Cyclosa conica           1  
Dictyna arundinacea 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dicymbium brevisetosum             1
Erigone atra 1 1 1   1 1  
Erigone dentipalpis   1 1 1 1    
Ero cambridgei 1 1 1     1 1
Ero furcata           1  
Evarcha arcuata (NS) 1   1 1   1  
Gibbaranea gibbosa 1           1
Heliophanus flavipes             1
Hylyphantes graminicola   1          
Hypsosinga pygmaea 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Hyptiotes paradoxus (NS)             1
Lariniodes cornutus 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Lathys humilis     1        
Linyphia hortensis         1    
Linyphia triangularis         1    
Mangora acalypha 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Marpissa muscosa (NS)   1 1 1     1
Metellina mengei 1 1   1 1 1 1
Metellina segmentata       1   1  
Misumena vatia   1 1 1      
Neoscona adianta 1 1 1 1 1    
Neottiura bimaculata         1    
Neriene clathrata   1 1 1   1  
Ozyptila brevipes     1 1   1  
Ozytila simplex           1  
Pachygnatha clerkii     1 1 1    
Pachygnatha degeeri 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Padiscura pallens       1      
Pardosa amentata 1            
Pardosa nigriceps         1    
Pardosa paludicola (NR)   1 1        
Pardosa pullata         1 1  
Pelecopsis parallela   1          
Philodromus aereolus         1    
Philodromus albidus 1       1   1
Philodromus praedatus           1  
Phylloneta impressa   1 1        
Phylloneta sisyphia   1 1   1 1  
Pisaura mirabilis 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Platnickina tincta           1 1
Robertus arundineti 1            
Sibianor aurocinctus (NS) 1   1 1 1    
Tallusia experta         1 1 1
Tenuiphantes flavipes         1    
Tenuiphantes tenuis 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tetragnatha nigrita       1      
Tibellus oblongus 1   1 1 1 1  
Trematocpehalus cristatus (NS) 1       1    
Trichopternoides thorelli           1  
Walckaeneria antica 1     1 1    
Xysticus cristatus 1 1 1 1     1
Xysticus lanio           1  
Zilla diodia     1     1  
Zora spinimana 1     1 1 1 1
TOTAL 29 28 33 31 32 32 25
Total spp. with cons status 3 2 4 3 3 1 2
%age spp. with cons status 10.3 7.1 12.1 9.7 9.4 3.1 8
So Hilland came out on tops and this has mostly been reflected in other taxa across the site. It sits a little higher than the rest and is more free draining (slightly sandier too) and this may explain it. Of these 73 species, only 10 (13.7%) were recorded in all seven fields while 31 species (42.4% were recorded in one field only (these are known as 'unique' species). This fairly typical for a survey of this type and shows just how hard it is to thoroughly survey a site as well as how some species naturally occur at such very low densities.

The seven scarcer species are as follows:

Cercidia prominens (NS). Only one of these beautiful spiders was found, an adult male during the October visit (photo of which is at the top of this blog). Found on Common Fleabane in Limekiln Field. I have previously only seen this on heathland and once on chalk downland. It was new to Ebernoe as well as Butcherlands. A species here associated with the grassland rather than the woody component.

Evarcha arcuata (NS). Before I started this survey I regularly would see this jumping spider at Butcherlands (especially in longer grass at Hilland). At this point it was new to Ebernoe Common. This species is abundant on the west Sussex Heaths. I have never seen it anywhere away from Heather except here at Butcherlands. I've also never heard of anyone else finding it  away from heathland so it's interesting what it's doing here so well established yet so far from heath. It's sandier here but a long way from being acid grassland. This survey proved it was widespread turning up in four of the seven fields. A species here associated with the grassland rather than the woody component.

Hyptiotes paradoxus (NS). I was amazed to find I had swept an immature one of these incredible spiders from Juncus in Sparkes Field! Nothing like what the text say it likes. This is only the second time I have seen this spider and only the first time I have seen it in Sussex. In fact this spider would have been a first for west Sussex if I had encountered it three days earlier (it was recorded at Kingley Vale). It was new to ALL Sussex Wildlife trust reserves not just Ebernoe. Although I encountered this in the grassland, it is known for being more arboreal.

Marpissa muscosa (NS). Our largest jumping spider was already well recorded from Ebernoe and is strictly not a grassland species. It's not all that scarce in Sussex, we get it in the kitchen at work! Rather this specie favours old trees and gate posts, especially if they are in the sun. In fact, it was on the gate posts that this species was more often recorded. It was recorded in four of the seven fields.

Pardosa paludicola (NR). The star of the show. By far. This massive blackish wolf spider was a totally unexpected find. It's only known from a few sites and was only the second record for Sussex (it turned up only two miles from here many years ago). In fact it's so are it hadn't even been recorded in the UK since 2004! This species is clearly an early successional species and would not do well here if it all went to scrub. So was it always here or has it moved in? (Photo above by Evan Jones). It occurs in two adjacent fields in a wet area not huge in extent and it was abundant in both those fields.

Sibianor aurocinctus (NS). This little grassland spider seems to be turning up much more frequently. I only recorded it for the first time last year but since then i have recorded it quite a few times. In this survey it was recorded in four of the seven fields and always in the grassland. Again dense blocks of scrub and woodland would not benefit this species. It was new to Ebernoe Common during this survey.

Trematocephalus cristatus (NS). This small but highly distinctive money spider was the only money spider of the survey to have conservation status and was recorded in two fields. An arboreal species already common in Ebernoe, it would also do well in a more woody dominated system not requiring a sward at all it would seem. However I have always found more of them on the edge of woodland so a mosaic of woodland, scrub and grass would be ideal.

Which is precisely what we are trying to achieve here at Butcherlands. So can you say rewilding is good for spiders? I don't think that would be fair, I haven't seen similar results at other sites where heavier grazing produces a less desirable sward for spiders. I think it's fairer to say that sympathetic and pulsed conservation grazing and the application of natural process is what's worked here. Would you call that rewilding? Many would but I see the human intervention of pulsing the grazing is what's worked here to produce a rich and varied structure so vital for spiders and many other invertebrate groups. Some might not call that rewilding but I think it's really important that we do and don't adopt a purist 'all or nothing' approach to it. It's important that we don't get tied up in semantics. 

The key thing here is to monitor and continuously adjust the management so that the grazing and the natural processes we apply (or their analogues when a more natural tool isn't available - such as the planned bramble cutting) are the best they can possibly be for wildlife. We have created some wonderful species-rich grassland here and it would be unfair to allow it to drift entirely into a scrub dominated system (and then eventually woodland) just because rewilding is the main approach to management. And that is what would happen with the livestock we have available, make no mistake. As far as I am concerned, this is the only way rewilding can ever work as a part of conservation, otherwise we are simply blindly walking into the dark being lead only by our own confirmation bias.

A hole in the groyne

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 7 October 2017 10:15

As Portuguese Men o' War have been creeping there way up the channel (seen in Dorset and even Hampshire I am informed last week) I have been searching the strand line after any easterly winds here in Hove but to no avail. Cornwall and the Scillies have had huge numbers over the last month. Walking along this beach is tedious due to the number of groynes there but one always catches my eye as it has a large hole at the end where water drains out. It's usually inaccessible when I walk by but a couple of days ago it was open and I stepped inside...

...there wasn't much in there accept this chiton. Now I only ever see the same species when rock-pooling in Sussex (Lepidochitona cinerea) so I was very pleased to see an Acnathodchitona, unlike Lepidopchitona, these species have a broad, spongy edge interrupted with little bristly tufts, the armour only covering about a third of the body. I am pretty sure this is Acanthochitona crinita due to the pear-shaped tubercles on the shell and the small size (it was about 3 cm). I have seen Acanthochitona fasciularis which is twice the size when adult and has much smaller, rounder tubercles. I have however only seen these on Jersey (the lower image is this species).

Christmas has come early

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday, 4 October 2017 16:13

Abut six weeks ago actually. I saw that Jim and Dawn Langiewicz, along with Mark Colvin, had found a Tiered Tooth Hericium cirrhatum at Ebernoe Common growing out of a fallen Beech. Now, as this fungus is known to be a bit of a delicacy, I promised I would wait a few weeks until I posted about it. I have to say this was the best looking fungus I have EVER seen. I was totally transfixed with it, I couldn't stop taking photos!

It conjured up images of flying into Superman's Fortress of Solitude. It was like someone had bought me a white-chocolate fondue set for Christmas and I was coating everything in it! It was like reading the Northern Lights by the actual light of the Northern Lights whilst eating coconut ice-cream. It was like exploring an ice-cave on Svalbard with Werner Herzog. Anyway, you can probably tell I was quite taken with it, enjoy some more photos of this spectacular fungus.

Mark had also found some Felt Saddles which amazingly was a new species for the site. It's really well recorded for fungi so it's not easy to find new species there.

And nearby plenty of Fluted Bird's-nest Fungi! What wonderful little creations these are. A huge thank you to Jim, Dawn and Mark for spotting all these wonderful fungi.

They're here!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 23 September 2017 07:01

So I have been looking for this shield bug for the last few years but I thought it might turn up in the north of the county first. This is the nymph of the alien species Southern Green Shieldbug Nezara viridula. The nymph is strikingly different to the nymphs of the much commoner native Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina but the adults are oddly similar.

Anyway, it wasn't me who found it. I logged into iRecord to verify a few records to find a glitch in iRecord was showing huge number of already verified records as unverified. However, on the first page of these 1000 records, I could clearly see that someone had had this species new to Sussex in Rustington. Strange thing is I hadn't verified it! After a bit of digging around I realised someone was verifiying lots of shield bug records nationally from Sussex which was hindering me from being able to fulfill some of my role as county recorder. So that's stopped now and I can be a bit more linked in with people recording bugs in Sussex. The first thing I did was get the email of Dr Paul Sopp from Bob at work and headed over to see his garden of alien bug nymphs. Dr Sopp and the Garden of the Alien Bug Nymphs, sounds like a sci-fi!

So I think it's really interesting that this was first recorded by someone who doesn't usually record a lot of shield bugs. It's made a right mess of Dr Sopp's beans and it was this that first brought them to his attention when his wife commented on them. So it's only going to be a matter of time before this alien species spreads. Originally from Africa its been well established in London for over a decade now. Here are cluster of different instars. So they are clearly distinctive and eye-catching!

I was struck by how many there were, 50+ nymphs with a number of adults were reported but it's likely there were many many more than that and they have to be established elsewhere in the county, this surely can't be the only colony. If you have beans in your garden or allotment can you go out and have a look?

Here is the adult. It's a shade yellow-green than Palomena but the key feature is the front of the pronotum. It has a row of three white dots with a pair of black dots either side of these. 

And the cream leading edge to the pronotum and head are also different.

Here is a nymph feeding at the base of a bean flower, this will ultimately end up with the flower not growing and the bean failing which is what has happened to most of the crop. A big thank you to Paul for letting me see his bugs and remember to go and check your beans this week! Please submit any records via iRecord.

My Ero

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 19 September 2017 08:26

This is Ero tuberculata, a nationally scarce species that is mostly a heathland specialist. The individuals at Graffham are quite bright orange compared to ones I have seen before, they are very well camouflaged against the old flowers of Bell Heather and this is indeed what I swept it from. Yesterday we hosted a BAS field meeting but the weather wasn't great. I added eight spiders to the site list but these were mostly common ones. I've just had Andy's determinations in too and it just takes the site to 139 species, which makes Graffham our third best site for spiders! This is remarkable given that it was mostly under conifers five years ago. Here are some more shots of my Ero.

Andy added three species new to the entire reserve network, this included the ichneumon wasp that parisitises the larvae of Pine weevil being Dolichomitus tuberculatus. Amazingly Tegenaria silvestris had never been recorded on an trust reserve (which is crazy as we cover the spiders in intimate detail and have recorded 382 species so far). The best one though (that I didn't see) was Rugathodes instabilis. And that pretty much wraps up my invertebrate survey at Graffham for the year.

The pond life in the acidic pools of Chailey Common

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 16 September 2017 06:45

Last Saturday I ran a course for the Freshwater Habitats Trust's PondNet project up at Chailey Common. I've just got around to identifying everything. We only really had time to sample four ponds in detail but we also managed a quick diversion to a number of other sites around the common. We started with a couple of small man-made ponds full of Bog Pondweed, Floating Club-rush and Marsh St. John's-wort. These ponds are very acidic, with dark peaty water so we expected to find the more specialist aquatic invertebrates. I told everyone we would see the distinctive Notonecta obliqua, the most distinctive of our four backswimmers and it was indeed the commonest bug in the pools. We actually recorded all four of our backswimmers in these four pools. In the above image one of our (around 40) species of water boatman (this one of two species of Hesperocorixia recorded in this one pond) can be seen in the background. Most backswimmers are much bigger than water-boatmen, it helps to be bigger than things that you eat!

Nice to see some Marsh St. John's-wort and Floating Club-rush.

The first pool had two species of Dytiscus in and it was nice to be able to key these out in the field. Thanks to Fran Southgate for this photo of the commoner Dytiscus marginalis on the left and Dytiscus semisulcatus on the right. However the nationally scarce Hydrochus angustatus was perhaps the most interesting being a species I have not recorded before.

One pool had an adult 13-spot Ladybird in it and I'm pretty sure that this is also the larva but it looks a little bedraggled.

This is the most Floating Crystalwort Riccia fluitans (one of  our few aquatic liverworts) I have ever seen. You usually see a few little plants floating on the surface, not a huge mass like this!

We called in and had a look at the Marsh Gentians on Romany Ridge that have responded to the grazing there. A great success.

But the highlight for me has to be a diversion to Lane End to look for the Mud Snails that were relocated there last year after not being recorded for many years. The dried up woodland pool they were found in looked quite unsuitable for anything else. In fact next to nothing else was found in there but we did see two Mud Snails! This is typical for this scarce species. It was very dark and dingy in the woods by this time so apologies for the photo. Note to self: next time look for this first. Look at the state of the kit!

A big thank you to everyone who attended. a full species list will be send to the Freshwater Habitats Trust and the records synced with the SxBRC as always (I've nearly entered 10,000 records already this year!)

So, here is the full list which includes 14 aquatic bugs, 15 aquatic beetles but only two molluscs (acid sites are not so good for shell building). Here are my records for the day including a few random things like Devil's Fingers that are nothing to do with aquatic life.

Taxon group Species
annelid Erpobdella testacea
annelid Helobdella stagnalis
annelid Theromyzon tessulatum
crustacean Asellus aquaticus
crustacean Crangonyx pseudogracilis
flowering plant Water-plantain
flowering plant Downy Birch
flowering plant Callitriche sp.
flowering plant Star Sedge
flowering plant Floating Club-rush
flowering plant Marsh Gentian
flowering plant Floating Sweet-grass
flowering plant Marsh St John's-wort
flowering plant Yellow Iris
flowering plant Sharp-flowered Rush
flowering plant Bulbous Rush
flowering plant Compact Rush
flowering plant Soft-rush
flowering plant Water-purslane
flowering plant Purple Moor-grass
flowering plant Creeping Forget-me-not
flowering plant Small Pondweed
flowering plant Bog Pondweed
flowering plant Lesser Spearwort
flowering plant Ivy-leaved Crowfoot
flowering plant Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot
flowering plant Grey Willow
flowering plant Branched Bur-reed
fungus Devil's Fingers
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Acilius sulcatus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Agabus bipustulatus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Anacaena limbata
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Anacaena lutescens
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Water Ladybird
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Dytiscus marginalis
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Dytiscus semisulcatus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Haliplus ruficollis
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Haliplus flavicollis
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Helochares punctatus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) 13-spot Ladybird
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Hydrobius fuscipes
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Hydrochus angustatus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Hydroporus pubescens
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Ilybius fuliginosus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Laccophilus minutus
insect - beetle (Coleoptera) Noterus clavicornis
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Southern Hawker
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Migrant Hawker
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Emperor Dragonfly
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Downy Emerald
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Large Red Damselfly
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Ruddy Darter
insect - dragonfly (Odonata) Common Darter
insect - moth Brown China-mark
insect - moth Broom Moth
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Corixa punctata
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Eurygaster testudinaria
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Gerris gibbifer
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Gerris odontogaster
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Gerris thoracicus
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Hesperocorixa castanea
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Hesperocorixa linnaei
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Hesperocorixa sahlbergi
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Nepa cinerea
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Notonecta glauca
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Notonecta maculata
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Notonecta obliqua
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Notonecta viridis
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Plea minutissima
insect - true bug (Hemiptera) Sigara limitata
liverwort Floating Crystalwort
mollusc Musculium lacustre
mollusc Omphiscola glabra
spider (Araneae) Pachygnatha clercki
spider (Araneae) Trochosa ruricola
spider (Araneae) Pirata latitans

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