Sunday, May 28, 2017

A new arrival...

This turned up in the post today

I have about 10 species of spiders on my list so this may go some way to inspire me to look a little more closely at some the easier ones to identify.

This book is good at pointing out the limitations of field ID of many/most species but it could help in getting to family or genus for many spiders that you'd potentially find.

Having said that I have enough on my plate trying to get to grips with beetles so I suspect this may only make brief appearances from the shelf over the coming months.

We will see. Looks very nice though.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What a difference a week makes...

I was recently chatting to a fellow beetler who reminded me of a section in the Coleopterists handbook about how to attract species of beetles that utilise the various stages of decaying carcasses. The idea implanted and I decided to have a go. What's the worse that could happen?

The perfect receptacle seemed to be an old Cambridgeshire Council recycling box filled up with about 4-5 inches of sand (courtesy of B&Q).

All I needed now was a body.....any body.

Over the following few days I came across lots of dead badgers and a couple of muntjac, all of which were just too big for the box. What a I really needed was a rabbit......

But just when I really needed one, rabbits at the perfect point of death were non existent. However fate was at hand as I drove to the tip one Saturday and saw what appeared to be a dead duck by the side of the road.

On the return trip (much to the embarrassment of my son) I stopped and examined the freshly dead female Mallard. The apparent victim of hit and run. In to the car she went and once home, she was lovingly placed on the bed of sand. 

I then covered the box with some plastic chicken wire and attached it firmly to the box to prevent any foxes or badgers making off with my hard won quarry!

All that was left to do was wait......

A week went by and the temperatures weren't too high. I went to check the duck which had now been christened 'Donald' despite the obvious sexual misnomer.

A few blowflies were on the carcass but when I turned it a small beetle tried to hide in the sand (what appears to be a histerid(?) but need some further work to ID). This was potted and the duck was returned to its resting state.

A week later (today) and on returning home after 3 rather lovely days on the Gower peninsula in south Wales (more on that later) I decided to check on 'Donald'.........

Wow, almost no flesh left and a writhing mass of thousands of maggots.

A bit of a more thorough investigation revealed 3 (possibly 4) species of staph which have now all been collected to put under the 'scope for IDing. Let's hope that goes better than some of my previous goes at staphs......

Just to give you the full immersive experience. Here's a short video (plus guest appearing staph)!!


Friday, May 5, 2017

A big pile of sh*t

Picture the scene, a family walk through the Suffolk Sandlings, Willow Warblers singing and the sun beating down on our heads (well that last bit is an exaggeration).

Suddenly there in the middle of the bridleway is a fresh, steaming pile of horse manure. What to do?

Grab a small stick and start poking about, that's what!

Quickly found this fella, a male Onthophagus similis. 

Before I could find much else there was the call of 'snake!' from the kids up ahead. So put the stick down and had to go marshall the viewing of an adder!

Alexanders the not so great

I spent last weekend in the glorious count of Suffolk. We were based a fair way inland but seemed to gravitate coastwards most days.

I took my actinic moth trap which proved pretty much a waste of time apart form a record of what surprisingly appears to be a lifer, Lunar Marbled Brown Drymonia ruficornis

I even had a go at identifying some plants (shock horror) as I've been really slack at recording these and consequently have no real idea of how many I've even seen in the UK.

By far the easiest was Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum an invasive member of the umbellifer family. It was on every road side verge as we walked near Orford and was attracting a fair number of flies and hovers. This plant apparently originates from the Canary Isles and is slowly spreading west and north as the climate gets warmer.

Its original name meant ‘Parsley of Alexandria’ which was changed to Alexanders at a later date. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans, as its stems, leaves and flowers are 'apparently' all edible (raw or cooked) and have a flavour not unlike celery.

Spring time spectacle

Work took me on a trip to Snettisham RSPB reserve last week to do some filming. Situated on the Wash, it's not somewhere I know very well so I was rather looking forward to it.

The first 3 hours involved standing in the p*ssing rain and it was also very cold, especially given it was the end of April. Pretty miserable. The rain eventually cleared and we were treated to some exceptional 'big skies' and spectacular cloud formations.

There was also lots of wildlife. Med Gulls and Short-eared owl were nice to see but it was the waders that really delivered. Thousands of Knot, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit interspersed with several other species gradually amassed as the tide came in before making the hop over our heads on to the safety of the pits to roost.

The following video doesn't quite do the spectacle justice!


Monday, April 17, 2017

The benefits of a collection

In a recent post I was struggling with some comparative features of a Xantholinus rove beetle. From the keys it seemed like gallicus was the best fit but as I had limited-to-zero experience with that genus, I took the specimen down to the NHM when I visited earlier this month for the weevil workshop.

Max Barclay kindly got out the examples from the NHM's British collection of that genus and once I had them all lined up it was clear that my specimen was a linearis the most regularly encountered member of the genus.

The NHM's British specimens of Xantholinus
gallicus. These looked distinctly different to my specimen,

This reinforced the importance of being able to compare things to a well curated reference collection as many of these features only become clear when you can compare 100s of individuals side by side. Later in the day this was even more relevant as we looked at Sitona weevils!!

I also had a look at a few light-trapped Amara that I have kept hold of and compared them to similar species in the NHM collection.. I think they are consularis but this genus seems particularly subjective so I'll hang on for further specimens to compare to!

A selection of Amara

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fear no weevil

I've not really delved much into weevils apart from the glaringly obvious ones. I collected a few last year but had ended up putting them in the box of unidentified beetles.

This all changed on April 1st when I attended a weevil workshop run by Mark Gurney (Weevil scheme organiser) and hosted at Natural History Museum by Max Barclay.

The two main things I learned (apart form lots about weevils) was
1. I need a better microscope
2. having a range of specimens to compare to is invaluable.

It was a great day and I learned a fair bit. It was great to have someone there to help you spot your mistakes and by the end of the day I had managed to put a name to all the weevil specimens I had brought with me.

Max also gave us a tour of the beetle collection at the NHM which was an unexpected bonus and impressive in its scale.

Also met some other folk with similar interests which is always nice.

All in all a grand day out.

Check out Mark's free guides to the British weevils here.

Exapion ulicilis. Only 3 or 4 of millimetres. Rather pleased with my carding!