Species of the week- 11

Bryophyte is the traditional name for all Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts (Mosses and relatives). Recently, I’ve been going Bryophyte mad! Until two weeks ago, I had almost no knowledge of Bryophytes at all, but since buying the amazing (and quite substantial) Field Guide to the Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland, I’ve been finding and identifying loads. I’ve found 21 new species in the last ten days alone!

So, as you might have guessed, species of the week this week is a Bryophyte: the Common Tamarisk Moss, Thuidium tamariscinum. Prepare yourself… here it is!

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The Common Tamarisk moss is one of the most distinctive Bryophytes in Britain. It takes its name from the Tamarisk bush, to which this moss appears a minute replica. By moss standards however, the Common Tamarisk Moss is quite a giant, having shoots of up to 25cm in length!  Thuidium tamariscinum can be found in a variety of habitats, particularly on damp soil in woodland (which is where I’ve found it on every occasion so far). There are two similar, but much rarer species: Thuidium delicatulum and Thuidium assimile. T.delicatulum is found mostly in rocky upland areas, whereas T.assimile is found in grazed calcareous grassland. Both of these species are usually smaller and more delicate than T.tamariscinum.

The Common Tamarisk Moss is a pleurocarpous moss. This means it is in the large group of mosses which generally have a branched and sprawling growth form, as opposed to the individual tufted growths of acrocarpous mosses. This branching can be seen very clearly in T.tamariscinum, which usually has three divisions off the main stem (it is tripinnate).

This moss may well be my favourite so far. It’s recognisable from a distance (at least 6ft 4 away from what I can work out), it’s pretty, it’s easy to spot, and its appearance jogs my memory for its name! I’d recommend finding some for yourself, which shouldn’t be too tricky, as it’s very well distributed throughout the UK! However, things may be harder if you live in nearly-woodless Southern Lincolnshire, or the driest bits of East Anglia. Here’s its distribution map:

https://data.nbn.org.uk/Taxa/NHMSYS0000310759/Grid_Map

I hope that my new found Bryophyte based enthusiasm has come across. I encourage every naturalist (if they haven’t already) to start looking at moss!

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Species of the week- 10

It’s been another two week gap without a blog due to university work, so this weeks species is a real stunner: the Rhinoceros Beetle (Sinodendron cylindricum)! Sinodendron roughly translates to ‘hollow tree’, which may refer to the habitat where the Rhinoceros Beetle is usually found: deadwood. cylindricum refers to the body shape of the beetle, being quite cylindrical! This beautiful beetle is one of three British members of the family Lucanidae, the other two being the Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) and the Lesser Stag Beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus). The Rhinoceros Beetle is a fairly large beetle, usually just over 15mm in length, but is dwarfed by the others members of the family. Lesser Stag Beetles can be over 30mm, and Stag Beetle males can be 70mm! Here is the Rhinoceros Beetle:

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And here’s the Lesser Stag Beetle:

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As you can see, Rhinoceros Beetles are very distinctive! Males can easily be told from females by the presence of the horn at the front of the head, which is absent in females. The horn may be used to compete with other males for mates and resources. Adult Rhinoceros Beetles feed on tree sap, whereas their larvae feed on rotting wood. The individual in my photo was found (along with several other Rhinoceros Beetles) by my friends Ben and Max, whilst chopping wood for a fire. I suspect those beetles may have been newly hatched, or going into torpor for the winter.

Adults are strong fliers, and are active from March to October. During these months, they could turn up just about anywhere with a few trees, from gardens and parkland, to ancient woodland and farmland. The Rhinoceros Beetle is widespread throughout Britain, but is scarce in Scotland, and much of the extreme South and East of England. The Beetle in my picture above was the first that I’d ever seen! Here’s its distribution map:

https://data.nbn.org.uk/Taxa/NBNSYS0000011450/Grid_Map

This charismatic little invertebrate is well worth seeing, even if (like me) you can’t find your own and have to cycle a few miles to see it! I think it’s the first beetle I’ve ever twitched!

(For any non-birders, twitching is going out of your way to see an unusual or rare bird, or beetle, in this instance).

 

 

Species of the week- 9

I had to take a break from species of the week last week due to several assignments coming along at once. I’ll blame it on that, and not the fact that I’ve become slightly addicted to birding in Cornwall! It’s hard to say no to an afternoon out, when I can go and see three new birds in a day, after thirteen years of birding. Yesterday the new birds were Great Skua, Lapland Bunting (4) and Rose-coloured Starling, with other highlights including Merlin, Yellow-legged Gull and a self-found Cattle Egret!

Anyway, enough about birds, and on to the species this week: Cercopis vulnerata, also known as the Red and Black Froghopper. This species is one of the largest British froghoppers, reaching over 10mm in length. It is also amongst the most attractive, here it is:

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Cercopis vulnerata is found in a variety of habitats, but usually in lowland woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. I have found the species to be very abundant at Woodwalton Fen NNR (the location of my photo above), an ancient fenland site made up of reedbeds, wet woodland and fen carr. Due to its size and colouration, the species can be found relatively easily by direct searching on vegetation at the right time of year (April-August). Another method of finding the species is to sweepnet long grasses and reeds. The nymphs of this species are rarely encountered unless a targeted search is carried out, as they feed on underground roots.

The Red and Black Froghopper is fairly widespread in England and Wales, but is apparently absent from Scotland, and much of the midlands. It currently has very few records in Cornwall, which is something I’ll try to change next summer! However, due to how conspicuous and distinctive the species is it’s likely to be well recorded where it is present, so it might be that the species is genuinely rare in the far South-west. Here is its current distribution map:

https://data.nbn.org.uk/Taxa/NHMSYS0020705260/Grid_Map

Certainly a species to look out for next year!