A Storm of Swords

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 31 May 2016 08:53

Finally connected with a new species of orchid, here is Sword-leaved Helleborine. This Hampshire Wildlife Trust (Chappetts Copse) is right next to one of the farms I am surveying but I missed them five years ago. There are hundreds of them there, if not thousands. Lots of Sweet Woodruff too.

Prior to this I went and helped Susy Jones get to 1000 species. This is significant in its own right but particularly so that she is  now the 100th person to reach a 1000 species! Go and have a look at the top 100 listers and sign up if you haven't already! We even found a really scarce bug Dalman's Leatherbug Spathocera dalmanni which I've only seen once before.

Rare bee flips me the middle finger

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 27 May 2016 11:31

Last week we carried out an invertebrate survey at Seaford Head and it was peak Potter Flower Bee Anthophora retusa time. We saw lots more retusa than we did plumipes but it was great to catch them and see the differences so clearly. We found them on three of the seven compartments we looked at. I struggled to get decent photos that show the critical identification features that separate them from plumipes but here are the best. Above is the female and below is the male.

I was frustrated at these shots but never mind. In this one he even seems to be 'flipping me the middle finger' (or front tarsus to be precise), which my camera kindly focused on.

I also saw Bryony Mining-bee Andrena florea for the first time. Yesterday, I must of seen 50 of them at Friston Forest where it was the commonest bee.

The Thin Red Line

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 22 May 2016 13:41

This is the stunning Chrysolina sanguinolenta (Na). It's quite unusual how I came by seeing this awesome beetle. About a month ago, I received a Twitter message from Jane Hawkins and Vicki Morgan (it was Vicki and her daughter Tilly, who found the original specimen) saying they had found an odd looking beetle on their allotment at Craven Vale & Whitehawk Hill in Brighton. I went up to look for it but couldn't find it. Several weeks later, they found another but this one escaped. Finally, third time lucky I went and had a look. I love the genus Chrysolina, has to be up there as my favourite genus. What I wouldn't do to see cerealis! What's your favourite genus? Anyway, a big thank you to Jane and Vicki.

Here he is again playing dead. This rare species hasn't been recorded in Sussex for some time. It feeds on toadflax so it's food stuff is hardly in short supply. It's very distinctive though and I think it's unlikely that it has been over-looked.

I am a big fan of Terrence Malick. Most of all the film The Thin Red Line. I'm not really a fan of war films but this is something else. Beautifully slow, full of internal dialogue and perfectly shot scenes of wildlife and landscape. This is a war film for people who don't like war films. It's a powerful movie. I often think about my Great Great Grandfather who we'll never know the name of but who died at the Battle of the Somme without knowing his partner was pregnant and without knowing he would father six generations. He died alone thinking his partner had forsaken him when what was really happening was her mother was intercepting the letters he sent, so she thought he had left her. All those people that exist because of that guy and he never even knew it. So, whoever you were. Thank you.

When the rot sets in

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 19 May 2016 07:32

Back in 2009, we carried out many surveys at Ebernoe including one looking specifically at deadwood beetles with Mark Telfer and another looking more generally at invertebrates across the common with Mike Edwards. We are currently repeating the work with Mike Edwards seven years later so it's not easy to add new species of saproxylic invertebrate to the list but we have certainly done that over the last two months!

Back then, a lovely huge Beech had lost its limbs, one every year for three years or so providing plenty of habitat at just the right stage of decay. It was where I first saw Platystomos albinus and cut mt my teeth on saproxylic invertebrates. Six or seven years later and the fallen tree has mostly passed through the exciting stage of decay. Most of the bark has fallen away, the fungi present are hard (Lumpy Brackets and Ganodermas) and full of little other than Cis species. I suddenly remembered on the previous visit, a more recently fallen Beech with intact bark. It also had on the April visit some very fresh oysters which I figured would be nice and rancid by now. They were indeed. I broke one open and the following fell out.

Mycetophagus quadripustulatus
Mycetophagus multipunctatus
Pycnomerus fuliginosus
Triplax aenea (no other Triplax species sadly)
Glischrochilus quadripunctatus
Pediacus dermestoides
Cartodere nodifer
Rhizophagus sp.
Several staphs to be looked at later

A diverse mix but probably nothing new to the site. It was our very keen budding entomologist and trainee warden Oly Sayers who handed me a beetle I recognised instantly as the RDB3 Corticeus unicolor! Oly is close to the end of his placement with us at the Trust and he has only been out with me a few times but has proved to be good at finding rare and scarce deadwood invertebrates! It does also go to show however that the wood decay process is a dynamic process. A continuous supply of deadwood with various stages of decay is needed for a site to have a good saproxylic fauna. Everything always changes and that's also true for deadwood species. This is one reason why I have such a problem with log stacks, they promote the idea that wood decay is not a process but a static and continuously productive habitat. A log stack is really only marginally valuable for deadwood invertebrates for a few years when after that, it will mostly become a home to woodlice and centipedes and then worms (that's fine by the way - just don't kid yourself it's for deadwood invertebrates).

Anyway, back in 2011, I was with Mark Telfer when he found Corticeus unicolor new to Sussex at Cowdray. It's since been seen at Knepp and now it's been found at Ebernoe Common. I have heard its arrival in the south from its stronghold in the north has been dismissed as an introduction via timber movements. I have a problem with this as all the sites it's been found on contain old growth trees with lots of other saproxylic interest. 

Anyway, having seen some 18 longhorns at Ebernoe, Including three I have seen nowhere else, I was hoping for some longhorns this week. Despite beating plenty of hawthorn, all I saw were two Tetrops praeustus and two Grammoptera ruficornis. Mike did pick up two of the amazing Criorhina asilica from the glades which has to be my favourite hoverfly. However, it was tipulid larva Mike and I found in standing deadwood that was previous cleared of Holly that proved to be most exciting. Mike took it home and it emerged as Tipula selene which is also RDB3 and is only the second time he has seen it in 20 years! Ebernoe keeps throwing up surprises. There are also plenty of species there which I have seen nowhere else, such as this lovely leaf beetle on the willows in the glades Gonioctena viminalis.

Big fat hairy legs

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 13 May 2016 16:21

Secondary sexual characteristics of spiders can be quite unusual, like this male spider's funny hairy front legs. This is Bianor aurocinctus, a nationally scarce (Na) jumping spider that I have wanted to see for several years now. We found it on some dead wood right at the end of in invertebrate survey of Levin Down. It looks like it's only the second record for West Sussex which is really exciting. Michael Blencowe came out with me but was too scared to look at it closely with the hand lens, so he will pleased to see I have provided a photo of it down the microscope! You can see the detail of the palps also.

It was quite a damp day but we pushed on anyway. In the compartments that contain Juniper, I always concentrate my efforts there and this time it paid off with a cracking little micro moth which seems to be only the second site for it in the whole of Sussex. Argyresthia arceuthina is a really distinctive gold moth with a white head. Here is the Sussex distribution and the UK Moths page for the species. It's nationally scarce (Nb) and feeds only on Juniper!

We also spotted this bug beaten off Juniper and it seems this is an alien species that mainly feeds on garden plants such as cypresses. I'm not sure if this is also a species new to the counties!

Other highlights included Platyrhinus resinosus (on the same log I recorded it new to West Sussex last month) along with a mating pair of Platystomos albinus. Plenty of Grizzled Skippers, Dingy Skippers, Speckled Yellow and the first soldier beetle of the year Cantharis rustica.

Biology Road

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 10 May 2016 08:20

What road do you walk down?

October 1988: I made my first biological record aged ten (without really knowing what a record was) with the help of Ewart Gardner. It was a Goldeneye at Blithfield Reservoir.

September 1991: Steve Cooper showed me a moth trap for the first time on my school roof. Angleshades and Canary-shouldered Thorns blew me away.

October 1996: Partly through frustration at my A-level biology teachers ("that's not a rock-rose Graeme, it's a buttercup" - really? Is this what it's gonna be like if I do biology at university?) and partly for reasons that will forever remain a mystery, even to me, I started a degree and masters in astrophysics at Sussex University.

July 2001: I started my career in conservation at Dungeness RSPB.

May 2016: I returned to Sussex University to teach students from all over the UK about entomology.

I have just had one of the most rewarding weekends! Six month's ago Dr Alan Stewart of Sussex University asked me and a number of other specialists to come and help teach students in entomology at the campus as part of a BENHS event. For me, coming back to the university after all these years was very strange. Especially as I often used to look across from the maths and physics blocks up to the biology department thinking, "I really should be over there". I remember seeing the Biology Road sign all those years ago. So to go back and teach entomology, all be it just for a weekend, provided a great deal of catharsis for me. I gave talks on beetles, spiders and biological recording. The weirdest thing here was the lines and lines of calculus on the chalk boards, all very familiar but totally forgotten by me.

Anyway, the real stars of the show were the students. I was amazed at how keen they were, many of them turning up with reference collections and lots of equipment! On the first day we spent our time in the field by a dew pond on the campus (next to where twenty years ago Richard Attenborough gave us an introductory talk and I specifically remember him mentioning how important extra curricular activities are! - this could not be more true in the field of entomology) and the chalk-grassland at Stanmer Park. Alan and I had our petrol and electric suction-samplers respectively and this produced a wealth of material to show students. I was encouraging students to take carabid specimens to key out (the other half of the students split off with Mike Edwards to look at bees and flies).

I even managed ten new beetles with the help of Peter Hodge but it was back in the lab where the real work started walking students through keys for the first time. It was so great to see students get their first correct identification. One student picked up what I thought was a small Harapalus in the field which turned out be a male Ophonus. I helped really only by dissecting the aedeagus but the student managed to card the beetle and mount the aedeagus and we tentatively put the name Ophonus schaubergerianus which might even be new to East Sussex. I'm going to get a second opinion on this one. Sadly I didn't manage to get many photos of specimens or students. I did manage this photo of Chris Bentley and I at the microscopes.

On the second day we opened some moth traps. The highlight was the most well hidden Mullein, perfectly adapted to hiding on pegs.

We did more survey work on the campus and the highlight was finding yet another of the RDB1 Cassida denticollis. This area is clearly a hot-spot for this very rare beetle as we recorded it at Malling Down and Southerham last year. We picked it up (and two much commoner Cassida) in the suction-samplers. What was great was seeing students in the field come back with specimens they had caught such as Green Hairstreak, Rhinoceros Beetle, Andrena fulva, at least eight species of shieldbug and the saproxylic weevil Phloeophagus lignarius. The whole weekend was so exciting and I really felt like I helped make a difference. Well done to all the students and teachers alike, I hope this becomes a regular event!

Four years with my head in the stars seems like just a drop in the ocean now for me as I continue my life long journey down biology road.

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