Invertebrates of a Heathland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 19 August 2017 19:29

Yesterday I ran a new course for the Trust entitled 'Invertebrates of a Heathland'. The idea was to show the participants how to find and identify some of the many species of invertebrate that thrive in this habitat. So where better to run it than at our third most speciose site and arguably the richest heathland in Sussex than Iping & Stedham Commons?

It was a good group with 11 in attendance including staff from Sussex Wildlife Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Species Recovery Trust, National Trust and Thames Basin Heaths Partnership. My approach was to get them to get their hand's dirty, so nets and pots were handed out and id didn't take long until we built up quite an impressive list. I have included below the whole list as promised to the course attendees with some notes on the species they saw. 'N' is new to the site (14 in all), 'NN' is new to the site AND the reserve network (amazingly there were three of these!) and GL was new to me. I had four new species taking me into 7th places on the PSL rankings.

Taxon group Species Status
beetle 7-spot Ladybird
beetle Cream-streaked Ladybird
beetle Exapion ulicis
beetle Heather Beetle
beetle Heather Ladybird
beetle Micrelus ericae
beetle Neliocarus sus
beetle Paradromius linearis
beetle Pine Ladybird
beetle Poecilus cupreus
beetle Protopirapion atratulum N
beetle Silpha atrata N
beetle Sitona lineatus
beetle Sphaeriestes castaneus NN
beetle Striped Ladybird
beetle Welsh Chafer
butterfly Gatekeeper
butterfly Red Admiral
butterfly Small Tortoiseshell N
butterfly Speckled Wood
centipede Lithobius forficatus N
centipede Lithobius variegatus N
crustacean Porcellio scaber
dragonfly Azure Damselfly
dragonfly Black Darter
dragonfly Emperor Dragonfly
earwig Common Earwig
harvestman Paroligolophus agrestis N
harvestman Phalangium opilio
hymenopteran Ammophila pubescens
hymenopteran Apis mellifera
hymenopteran Bombus lapidarius N
hymenopteran Bombus pascuorum
hymenopteran Bombus terrestris
hymenopteran Cerceris arenaria
hymenopteran Colletes hederae N
hymenopteran Epeolus cruciger GL
hymenopteran Formica fusca
hymenopteran Formica rufa
hymenopteran Formica sanguinea
hymenopteran Neodiprion sertifer NN, GL
hymenopteran Nomada rufipes
hymenopteran Philanthus triangulum
lacewing Chrysoperla carnea group
moth Angle Shades
moth Beautiful Yellow Underwing
moth Eupoecilia angustana N
moth Fox Moth
moth Horse-Chestnut Leaf-miner
moth Large Yellow Underwing
moth Lesser Yellow Underwing
moth Rush Veneer
moth Setaceous Hebrew Character
orthopteran Bog Bush-cricket
orthopteran Common Ground-hopper
orthopteran Long-winged Cone-head
orthopteran Meadow Grasshopper
orthopteran Mottled Grasshopper
orthopteran Roesel's Bush-cricket
orthopteran Speckled Bush-cricket
spider Agalenatea redii
spider Anelosimus vittatus
spider Araneus diadematus
spider Araneus quadratus
spider Arctosa perita
spider Argiope bruennichi
spider Evarcha arcuata
spider Evarcha falcata
spider Gibbaranea gibbosa
spider Hypsosinga albovittata
spider Labyrinth Spider
spider Linyphia triangularis
spider Mangora acalypha
spider Metellina segmentata
spider Philodromus histrio
spider Pisaura mirabilis
spider Simitidion simile
spider Theridion sisyphium
spider Thomisus onustus
spider Trochosa terricola
spider Zygiella atrica
true bug Dolycoris baccarum
true bug Drymus sylvaticus
true bug Gastrodes grossipes
true bug Heath Assasin Bug
true bug Himacerus apterus
true bug Kleidocerys resedae
true bug Macrodema micropterum
true bug Nabis ericetorum
true bug Neophilaenus lineatus N
true bug Orthotylus ericetorum
true bug Phytocoris insignis NN, GL
true bug Pilophorus cinnamopterus
true bug Rhyparochromus pini
true bug Scolopostethus decoratus
true bug Stenodema calcarata
true bug Ulopa reticulata
true fly Chrysotoxum festivum
true fly Dasysyrphus tricinctus N
true fly Episyrphus balteatus
true fly Hornet robberfly
true fly Machimus atricapillus

The most exciting find for me was Phytocoris insignis. This rare heathland species that looks like a small and dark Phytocoris varipes was swept from Heather on Stedham. It's only the second Sussex site for this RDB3 species.

But the stars of the show were the Hornet Robber Fly and Thomisus onsitus. Hornet Robber Fly because it was new to all the attendees and was the biggest one I had ever seen. What a beauty! Thomisus onistus because one of the attendees stated at the beginning how much they wanted to see this strange spider. I instructed that it was best to sweep Bell Heather and after some furious sweeping, she turned up the only one!

Bee Wolf was EVERYWHERE!

And Epeolus cruciger was a new one for me. It's hard to believe this is a bee!

Spiders came in at 21 species, with the stonking Philodromus histrio a real favourite.

Another attendee found Ivy Bee new to the site too. So it was really great to not only give people some guidance but also to show that they can directly contribute to the recording of such well recorded sites. Of the 102 species mentioned above, 14 were new to the site! This really surprised me and some of them seem like they might be errors on my part when I put the master spreadsheet together (Small Tortoiseshell and Bombus lapidarius particularly). The reserve network now boasts records of some 9908 species and 2781 of these have been recorded at Iping & Stedham. We didn't add any new spiders though, it's really tough going to find a new spider for this site. No Heath Tiger Beetles but we were cut short on that one by a monster of a storm. It was a great atmosphere and I would definitely run this kind of course again.

Is this the feeding damage of Donacia dentata?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 August 2017 08:53

If you want to find invertebrates that specialise in feeding on only one plant, then it's a good idea to look at areas that have LOTS of that plant. So when I was out surveying ditch plants at Amberley Wildbrooks last week, I spotted a lot of Arrowhead in one ditch. Now this is the only place I have ever seen the scarce Donacia dentata and then only ever once. Try as I might I could not find any reed beetles on this particular patch of Arrowhead but I did notice these feeding signs. Now, is this likely to be Donacia dentata and if so, is it enough to make a record?

17/08/2017 UPDATE: Clive Turner via Facebook has confirmed this is the case.

Lots of Anthocomus rufus everywhere at the moment. Even had one on the office door at Southerham, a chalk-grassland site, far away from its wetland habitat!

Amberley has incredibly varied soil types, I was working on the more acidic areas last week. There the sandy ditch-slubbings are a brilliant home for Green Tiger Beetle burrows once consolidated, here at a greater density than I have ever seen before.

Some of the ditches here are looking AMAZING. really wide with a gently sloping shelf-like profile and a messy edge. Full of flowers and insects everywhere!

The one species that I had not seen before was this gall on Nettle caused by the fly Dasineura urticae. Also new to the entire reserve network.

Critically Endangered plant seen at Malling Down after not being recorded for 30 years!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 7 August 2017 16:48

During a routine grazing assessment of Malling Down today, I decided to have a quick look for the mythical Red Hemp-nettle that has not been seen there for well over a decade (word of moth from a previous site manager) and it would seem not recorded there since 1987 according to the SxBRC and the reserve spreadsheet. I've looked for it four or five times to no avail. Then today I walked up to an area I thought looked suitable and recorded 17 plants! It really goes to show that persistence is key in natural history. It would have been really easy to give up but I had a hunch this species was still there, ticking along for all these years. Perhaps it's having a good year or in previous years I was maybe too early.

I've only ever seen this plant at Rye Harbour, it's stronghold in the county along with Pevensey Bay and Pagham. What's all the fuss about though? Well this plant is classed as Critically Endangered on the Red List, basically the highest level of assessment you  can get before going extinct. So it's great that this little plant with big flowers has been re-found at Malling Down after all these years, as it's now only known from a few dozen sites according to Plantlife. You can read up on it here. At Malling, the 'natural' (it's an old quarry) creation of chalk scree formed by erosion in the quarry is all that is needed to keep this habitat open, although long-term it will probably need some scrub clearance. Being an annual, it must have been here all along as I don't think it's been lurking in the seed bank.

It's a poor competitor, and likes bare, loose chalky or sandy soil. At Rye Harbour it grows on the vegetated shingle, at Malling, it's at the bottom of a huge quarry, right where I always thought it would be! Why I have not seen it before, I don't know but I suspect I have been looking too early. Here is a shot of the habitat.

We GPS'd 17 plants in all, 13 in one cluster, then three and then a singleton, all quite close together.  As the 1987 area was given only as a six figure grid reference, we now have more detailed records to eight figures of where the plants are growing. Suitable looking habitat further up the slope held no more plants. There is another area in the quarry that would take a bit of getting to that might be worth a look though. Brilliant news!

Other plants new to the reserve today included two Hairy Buttercups growing in the bottom of a damp dew pond and some Pellitory-of-the-wall at the top of the quarry. Walking around the quarry we saw several Galium Carpets. A bit like a Common Carpet but more black and white and with a slightly concave leading edge to the fore-wing.

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