Species of the week- 20

I’ve been doing lots of fieldwork recently, and have seen loads of cool stuff, so its been hard to choose a species to write about! I’ve been getting started on learning my bees this year, using Stephen Falks brilliant bee guide. So this weeks species is a bee, Gooden’s Nomad Bee: Nomada goodeniana.

 

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Nomada goodeniana male

 

Many people are surprised by the diversity of bees in Britain, we have nearly 275 species! One of these species is the Honeybee (Apis mellifera), roughly 25 are Bumblebees (Bombus spp.), and all of the other species are solitary bees. Of those solitary bees, 34 are in the genus Nomada, which are all roughly wasp-like in appearance, and cleptoparasitic on Andrena mining bee species.

Nomada goodeniana is cleptoparasitic on the common Andrena species A.nigroaenea and A.nitida, as well as the much scarcer A.thoracica. The female Nomada finds the nest hole of one of its host species, and sneaks in whilst the adult is absent. They lay one egg in the wall of a nest cavity, containing a grub of the host with its food store. The Nomada larva then eats the host Andrena larva, and all of its food store!

Recognising a Nomad bee isn’t too tricky, but identifying it to species can be. First you need to figure out if its male or female. Males are slightly slimmer, with slightly longer 13 segmented antennae. Females are stockier with shorter, 12 segmented antennae. Males are then identified by having no red or brown marks on the abdomen, 0 or 2 yellow spots on the propodeum (never 1 large spot), an unbroken yellow band on tergite 2 and mostly orange hind tibiae. All of these features can be seen in the photos above and below. Females are recognised similarly by having only yellow and black abdomens, 2 yellow dots on the propodeum and a complete yellow band on tergite 2.

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Nomada goodeniana is frequent throughout southern Britain, becoming scarcer and more localised further North (a pattern seen in many bee species due to their thermophilic tendencies). Here’s its distribution map (may not be complete due to the NBN atlas not having all datasets yet):

https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NHMSYS0000876427

I look forward to finding more bees, especially Nomad bees, soon!

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Species of the week- 19

Yet another two week gap since my last blog. I don’t like leaving it so long, but exams had to come first. I’m now home for a month, and although working, will try to blog more often! The species I’ve chosen this week is extra special to me, as it was the 3000th species (of anything and everything) that I’d seen in the UK. I found it for the first time last sunday. The weevil Neliocarus nebulosus.

 

Neliocarus
Neliocarus nebulosus

 

With its portly figure and plodding movements, I find it to be a rather friendly looking little weevil. Its identification isn’t ever so easy, but the features include: 3-4mm long, keeled elytral base, eyes asymmetrically curved to give a swept-back appearance and pronotum widest at or behind the middle.

This weevil is typically found on low growing plants, often near the roots, where it presumably feeds on the roots and/or foliage (I can’t find any specific information on its diet!). It is most frequent on light and sandy soils in fairly open habitats, such as heathland, or coastal grassland. I found my individual by beating Gorse bushes on a Cornish clifftop.

Neliocarus nebulosus is quite widespread in England and Wales, becoming rarer further North. It is almost absent from Scotland. It seems odd that a seemingly generalist beetle is quite rarely recorded. Though widespread, records are thin on the ground. The excellent new NBN atlas (replacing the NBN gateway) shows this well: https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NHMSYS0020152778#overview

Another excellent feature of this new site is the records shown in each Vice-county. As you can see, West Cornwall is the best place to find the species! https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NHMSYS0020152778#records

Though it may not look like the most exciting species, I’m very fond of it, and it marks a pan-species milestone!

Species of the week- 18

It’s been a truly hectic couple of weeks at uni, and it’s not looking like its going to ease off until the Easter break. I’ve taken some time off this weekend to get out, do some birding, find some new insects, and write this blog! It’s about a species that I’d been wanting to see for ages, and last week, saw my first. I’ve yet to find one for myself though…

The species I’ve chosen this week is a striking, and truly fascinating little spider, the Spitting Spider: Scytodes thoracica! Thanks very much to Will Hawkes (website: https://www.willhawkesphotography.com/) for finding this spider, showing it to me, and letting me use his amazing photos!

Wills pic

The Spitting Spider is a completely unmistakeable species! It is unique in many ways: firstly, it has only 6 eyes (the vast majority of spider species have 8), secondly, it’s the only spider in Britain with this colouration, and finally, its method of prey capture is amazing!

The Spitting Spider doesn’t move very fast, so can’t outrun its prey. It also doesn’t make a web. What it does do is creep up to its prey and squirt it with a venomous, sticky, silk-like substance, fired from its chelicerae at a range of around 10mm (pretty impressive when you consider the spider has a body length of 3-5mm!). It even waves its chelicerae from side to side as it squirts out the substance, in order to completely cover its prey, ensuring that it is gummed down. Prey consists of a variety of very small invertebrates, such as small flies. The Spitting Spider also uses its long-range weapon to ward off attacks from larger spiders.

Wills pic 2

Due to its small size and slow movements, Scytodes thoracica is no doubt under-recorded. That said, this species appears to be genuinely quite uncommon. Wills record looks to be the first one in West Cornwall! It is only found in and around houses, and has a distinct southerly distribution bias. Here is a link to the Spider Recording Scheme website for extra information, and a distribution map: http://srs.britishspiders.org.uk/portal/p/Summary/s/Scytodes+thoracica

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what must be one of Britain’s coolest Arachnids. Keep your eyes peeled, they could be living right under your nose!

 

February pan-species additions

This year, I’m trying to see 1000 species new to myself in the UK. I’m finding it a huge undertaking, but managed to stay ahead of schedule in January at least, with 98 additions. February was a worse month for pan-species lifers, but I still managed 67 new species. This means that for January and February together, I’m almost exactly on target! Here’s a summary of the new things I managed to find from across all the groups.

Algae: 6 new species found in February, all seaweeds (marine algae if you’re trying to sound scientifically respectable). That brings my total for the group to 30.

Lichens: 5 new species this month, bringing my group total to 17. I’m still not really making much headway with the group.

Fungi: 4 new species, taking my total to 108. Struggling on slowly.

Bryophytes: Now here’s a group I’m making some headway with! 30 new species this month, taking my total to 178. This month included some really nice species, some of which are shown below.

 

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Bartramia pomiformis
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Cephaloziella turneri
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Phaeoceros laevis

 

Vascular Plants: 3 new species this month, including Fumaria bastardii. Well, it was quite hard to identify… That took my total to 871.

Molluscs: 3 new species this month, taking my total to 101. These included the shelled Slug Testacella maugei, and the introduced Snail on sand dunes Theba pisana.

 

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A cute baby Testacella maugei

 

Bryozoans: 2 new species, taking my total to 3. Membranipora membranacea (Kelp Bryozoan) and Alcyonidium diaphanum.

Annelid Worms: 1 new species. That took my total to 13.

Arachnids: 1 new species, the Linyphiid Drapestica socialis. 76 my new total.

Myriapods: 1 new species, taking my total to 50! Cylindroiulus nitidus.

Crustaceans: 3 new species, including the Codworm Lernaeocera branchialis from a fish dissection.

Hymenoptera: 1 new species, bringing my total to 67.

Coleoptera: 3 new species, bringing my total to 220. These included the Carabid Asaphidion curtum.

 

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Asaphidion curtum

 

Diptera: 2 new species, including the Cranefly Tipula rufina seemingly ‘in off’ at the beach in Falmouth to take my total to 89.

Moths: 1 new species added, Dotted Border. Total now 483.

Birds: 1 new species, the Hume’s Leaf Warbler on Portland. 254 birds now seen.

So there we go, I’m just about managing to keep on track! With 83 new species needed in March however, I may leave myself some catching up to do when the insects appear in the summer.

 

 

 

 

Species of the week- 17

The species I’ve chosen this week is something completely different to anything I’ve written about before, it’s Velella velella, otherwise known as the By-the-wind-sailor. It is in the phylum Cnidaria, (along with jellyfish and anemones), but is itself a colonial hydrozoan. This means that each By-the-wind-sailor is actually composed of many small organisms, some of which are specialised to feed and reproduce, others of which are specialised for protection. Though there are other colonial hydrozoans, the By-the-wind-sailor is unique enough to be the only member of its genus globally. Here is one of many By-the-wind-sailors which were washed up in the Penzance area following recent high winds.

 

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Velella velella

 

Velella velella is unusual in that the colony has no control over where they are travelling, their direction of travel changes with the wind, which blows their sail-like structure. Some By-the-wind-sailors have their sail running diagonally across the ‘float’ from NE to SW, whereas others have their sail NW to SE. This means that under the same wind conditions, different individuals may drift in completely opposite directions! At first this might seem counterintuitive, but I believe (I haven’t done my research into this) that it’s a very clever adaptation. Relying purely on the wind as a form of locomotion is risky, and can cause mass strandings of V.velella. By having two forms which travel in opposite directions in the same wind conditions, it is ensured that whilst some individuals are blown towards land, others will be blown away. That’s my idea anyway…

V.velella can be found in all of the worlds oceans, but is rarely seen close to land. It feeds on whatever small organisms get caught by its dangling tentacles, which can include shrimps and young fish. In the UK, this unmistakeable species is rarely recorded away from the far Western coasts, nearest to the Atlantic Ocean. Here is its distribution:

https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NBNSYS0000178601#overview

The recent strong Westerlies have caused many NE to SW sailed By-the-wind-sailors to wash up on the Cornish coasts. These individuals will have been blown North-west from the central Atlantic Ocean. The strong westerlies haven’t just been bringing Velella velella to our shores, but rare birds too! Today, a cracking 1st winter Bonaparte’s Gull (from North America) turned up at Helston boating lake, and an American Herring Gull was reported further West! I suspect flocks a Ring-billed Gulls to be reported over the coming days. It could be a good week of birding… Here are a couple of phonescopes of the Bonaparte’s Gull from earlier (off-topic but it’s a beauty).

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Species of the week- 16

I’ve been doing a lot of fieldwork during the past week, so was spoilt for choice with cool species to choose from for this blog. In the end I settled on this species, as it’s from a kingdom I’ve not yet covered in species of the week: the fungi. The species is the Scarlet Elfcup, Sarcoscypha austriaca. It’s a truly beautiful little cup fungus:

 

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Probably Sarcoscypha austriaca

 

Any mycologists out there will have realised immediately why my image is captioned ‘probably’. There is a very similar species known as the Ruby Elfcup (Sarcoscypha coccinea), which can be very tricky to tell from this species without microscopic examination of the spores. However when not worn off, S.austriaca has coiled surface hairs, which aren’t coiled in S.coccinea. I must admit, I didn’t check this individual, so it could’ve been either. That said, S.austriaca is currently the commoner of the two species (it used to be the other way around).

I chose this species because it’s been an amazing few weeks for seeing it down here in the South-west. Every other twig on a damp woodland ride seems to have its own petite red cup. In places it’s quite a spectacle!

The Scarlet Elfcup typically fruits during late Winter and Spring, during mild, wet periods of weather. It is very widespread throughout the British isles, and is best looked for on damp, rotting twigs of Maples, Sycamore and Hazel, growing amongst mosses and leaf litter. Here is the distribution of S.austriaca/coccinea:

https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NHMSYS0001497077

According to the NBN Gateway, neither have a record in West Cornwall (Vice-county 1) yet, so I’d better examine the next few I see more closely! It appears that even the brightest of fungi can be as under-recorded as invertebrates.

 

 

 

 

Bryophyte ‘Big Day’

I recently saw on twitter that the Cornish bryophyte recorder Matt Stribley had found some really interesting and rare bryophytes along the Truro river, that I really wanted to see! I got in touch with Matt, and he very kindly agreed to show me them, along with a selection of other good local species.

First stop was the local park in Truro, which (being just over the road from Matt) contains a selection of nice species. First up was Syntrichia latifolia, for which this is one of (if not the most) Western site in the UK. It usually grows on silty trees and rocks next to rivers, but has taken up residence in Truro on the path! A little further along the path, some bare patches of mud were home to good quantities of the Hornwort Phaeoceros laevis, a species new to me. Hornworts are a very unusual group of bryophytes; they aren’t mosses, but they aren’t liverworts either! The large female reproductive parts of the plant project high above its rosette growth form.

 

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Phaeoceros laevis (Smooth Hornwort) showing female reproductive parts

 

On the walls of the park, several Didymodon and Orthotrichum species were present, with Schistidium crassipilum and the epically named Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum thrown in for good measure. Amongst a patch of Bryoerythrophyllum, I spotted something very shiny… a ground beetle! None other than Notiophilus bigutattus, a ubiquitous species.

 

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Notiophilus bigutattus

 

After all of that, we headed down to the Truro river for a real rarity: a minute species of liverwort, Cephaloziella turneri. This species grows almost exclusively in the far South-west of England and Wales, and is found only on crumbly soil among tree roots next to coastal creeks. To add to the difficulty of finding it, the leaves are only 0.1mm long! It had taken Matt many hours (days even) to find the species, so I’m very grateful to him for showing me it! Here is a microscope shot of a very small sample (from a large patch) of C.turneri, note the diagnostic asymmetrical toothed leaves.

 

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Cephaloziella turneri–  a mega rare Liverwort

 

On the walk back from the river, Matt showed me a small patch of another nice species: Bartramia pomiformis growing on a large rock. It seemed to grow on the face of the rock with had previously been embedded in the rock face above, thriving with a lack of competition from other species. The spherical capsules on long, red setae contrast with limey glaucous green leaves to make a very pretty and sculptural moss!

 

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Bartramia pomiformis

 

Our final site was Idless woods, which contained a whole host of nice species. The main target (which we just about found!) was another tiny, rare Liverwort that Matt had put in the hours to find: Colura calyptrifolia. Our specimen was in the process of being outcompeted by various Metzgeria species, so only a few leaves were visible. Here’s a link to the BBS online field guide page, showing a beautiful example:

http://rbg-web2.rbge.org.uk/bbs/Activities/liverworts/Colura%20calyptrifolia.pdf

Other nice species we found included the Liverwort Cololejeunea minutissima, and the moss Leucobryum juniperoideum. Whilst searching through the clumps of mosses, I found a species which is a personal favourite of mine, the Harvestman Megabunus diadema! I didn’t manage a photo, but wrote an article about the species for the January edition of New Nature magazine (Species focus, page 14):

https://media.wix.com/ugd/15ec9b_00bf32bbc7514e23a48a38a93c00ad02.pdf

What a great day out! And it bumped my UK bryophyte list up to 174, putting me 15th for the group in pan-species listing.

http://www.brc.ac.uk/psl/group-rankings/bryophytes

I look forward to bryologising again soon, at the BBS Cornwall group meeting in March!