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.


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.


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.


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!


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:

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):

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.

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


Species of the week- 15

I’ve recently been setting out dry pitfall traps on campus, to see what invertebrates are active, and keep my pan-species list on the increase! So far, it’s been mostly Carabid (Ground Beetle) larvae, with a few adult Carabids and Staphylinids. A few days ago, I caught a really cool little Ground Beetle: Asaphidion curtum, which I decided must become species of the week! It has almost alien bulging eyes, and is strikingly sculptured with a strong metallic sheen.


Asaphidion curtum


The photo was taken using ipad-microscopy. It nearly came out well, but the cling film from my cling film petri dish invention reflected the light a little too much! A.curtum is diurnal, and an active, fast-running hunter. It hunts mostly by sight, feeding on springtails, protura, and other small soft-bodied invertebrates. Although it’s only 4.5mm long, this species is a fearsome predator!

Asaphidion is easily recognisable as a genus: 4-6mm long, with very large bulging eyes and elytral striae (lines on the wing cases) replaced by heavy sculpturing and deep pits. Identification of A.curtum itself is a little more difficult. It was only split as a species from A.flavipes in 1986. The main features are: length at most 4.5mm, legs nearly all pale (femero-tibial joint darkened slightly), antennae all pale or gradually slightly darkened (not abruptly darkened from segment 5 onwards) and finally, the pronotum has its sides sharply angled in the middle. Nice and easy!

A.curtum is best found by pitfall trapping or direct searching on heavy soils, in relatively open habitats. It can be found in open woodland in leaf litter. The individual that I caught was in a pitfall trap in light leaf litter amongst a few Lime trees in a parkland habitat.

This species is fairly widespread in the UK, becoming rarer further north, with very few records from Scotland. It seems, however, to be rather patchy in where it occurs, though this could be due to under-recording. Here is its distribution:

Hopefully more people will be on the look out for this great little beetle, and more dots can be added to the map! Identification is tricky however, so make sure to get the specimen checked. A half decent close-up photo can often be enough!

Species of the week- 14

A little while ago, I claimed that in order to keep my species of the week blogs variable through the winter, I’d be choosing some summery species, otherwise it’d become slug of the week! It’s been brought to my attention that I haven’t actually had a ‘slug of the week’ yet, so here goes…

The species this week is Arion owenii, currently given the vernacular name Tawny Soil Slug, though I’ve always known it nicknamed the Irish Garden Slug. Here is the marvellous little creature:

Arion owenii at Kennall Vale nature reserve in Cornwall

I’ve particularly like slugs, as they were one of the very first invertebrate groups that I learnt about more seriously. This species however, I found for the first time only last year, since living in Cornwall at university. Arion owenii is fairly common in Devon and Cornwall, and isn’t especially choosy when it comes to habitat, though from my experience it favours woodland. There are also smaller hotspots for the species in South Wales and Western Scotland. Outside of these areas, it is rare, but strangely widespread. Here is its distribution map:

Arion owenii, like many slugs, spends a great deal of its life in the soil where the moisture content it high. It therefore feeds on both the roots and shoots of living plants. That said, it is rarely abundant enough to be considered a pest species. Copulation in A.owenii, as in all slugs, is quite odd. They are hermaphrodites, impregnating each other simultaneously using penises of similar length to their bodies!

Identification of this species can be challenging at times, but with experience becomes more straightforward. There are two species which resemble A.owenii, they are: A.distinctus and A.hortensis. Both of these species are much commoner the A.owenii, and are more likely to be found in synanthropic habitats (near humans: in gardens, allotments etc.). However, it is not infrequent that all three species occur together. Coming up is a table I’ve made to help with identifying these three species. Unless you’re a serious slug identification fan (like me), I’d scroll past it.

Species Arion owenii Arion hortensis Arion distinctus
Base Colouration Typically a warm orangey-brown with dark pigment along the centre of the back. A dark blue-grey-black colour, rarely with any hint of brown. A mid-dark brown to grey-brown.
Lateral Bands Dark brown, extending almost to, or to the foot fringe, though diffuse at base. Blackish, with paler pigment beneath. Clearly not extending to the foot fringe. Dark brown to blackish. Broad, usually reaching foot fringe.
Mantle Bands Dark brown, +- parallel when viewed from above. Running over/through breathing pore. Blackish, +- divergent when viewed from above. Usually running over breathing pore. Dark brown to blackish, +- convergent when viewed from above. Running through-under breathing pore.
Tentacles Black to purple-brown. Black to red-brown. Black to blue-black.


Coarse, giving a slightly prickly appearance, particularly when dry and/or at rest. Small and relatively fine. Small and relatively fine, containing very small dots of yellow pigment.
Adult size 25-40mm when extended. 20-35mm when extended. 25-40mm when extended.
Adult season Probably all year. Usually autumn-winter, occasionally all year. Usually spring-summer, occasionally all year.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog! It’s ended up being rather more detailed than usual. The identification paragraph was meant to be quite short, but one thing lead to another, I got carried away, and now there’s a whacking great table sitting in the middle of my blog. Hopefully it helps somebody out…. happy slugging!



Pan-species update

I decided at the beginning of this year that I would be trying to see 1000 species new to me in the UK during 2017. It’s a huge undertaking, and means I must average between 19 and 20 new species every week! This blog is an update on my progress towards this target during January.

January isn’t the easiest month for finding pan-species lifers, as there are very few insects to be found! I knew I’d have to work extra hard on my latest undertaking, bryophytes, to stand a chance of the 85 new species I’d need to be on target. Here is a summary of the new species that I’ve found…

Lichens: I bought a few lichen guides which were on offer, intending to keep them on the back burner, and start work on them more seriously later in the year. I spent a morning out at the local woods however, and added 7 new species, bringing my total to a rather sorry 12!

Fungi: I always struggle with these, but managed 3 new species, bringing my total to 104.

Bryophytes: I put a lot of time and effort into this group, and went along to the first Cornwall group BBS (British Bryological Society) meeting. 62 new species was my reward! Bringing my total to 148.

Ulota phyllantha, found at my local woods near College Reservoir

Vascular Plants: A few Cornish naturalised species, and a couple of ferns (Hay-scented Buckler-fern and Borrer’s Male-fern) added 8 new species, bringing my total to 868.


Common Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis), a no doubt long overlooked species by me!


Springtails etc.: I doubled my species list! From 1 to 2… Pogonognathellus longicornis. A monumental name, for the giant amongst springtails.

Orthopteroids: 1 new species, the German Cockroach, taking my total to 23.

Hymenoptera: 4 new species, all gall-causers. Takes my list to 66 species.

Diptera: 2 new species, both leaf miners: Phytomyza chaerophylli on Cow Parsley and Chromatomyia primulae on (yep you guessed it) Primrose. Takes my fly total to 87 species.


Phytomyza chaerophylli leaf mine on Cow Parsley



Chromatomyia primulae (whitish corridor leaf mine) on Primrose


Lepidoptera: Moths: 1 new species, the Herald! Takes my total to 482.


The Herald


Tunicates: 1 species added, missed off list previously. The ‘Star Ascidian’.

Birds: 5 new species, taking my total to 253. They were: Blue Rock Thrush (potentially dodgy), Ring-billed Gull, Pacific Diver, Lesser Scaup and Mandarin.


A stunning drake Mandarin



Mammals: 3 new species added, taking my total to 38 species. They were: Bottlenose Dolphin, Common Dolphin (missed off list previously), and Lesser Horseshoe Bat.

Somehow, that equates to 98 new species this month, putting me well ahead of my target! I have a feeling though that I’ve found a lot of the common bryophytes in the area, so I may have to think seriously about starting lichens in February. I’ve also secured permission to get some pitfall traps out around campus, so I’m hoping for some extra beetles. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it!


Species of the week- 13

Wifi issues meant that I couldn’t upload this blog yesterday, but here it is now! The species that I’m focussing on this week is the centipede Lithobius variegatus, nicknamed the Variegated Centipede. In my opinion, it is one of Britain’s prettiest myriapods (centipedes, millipedes and relatives), with its purple banded legs, and mottled brown upper surface.


April 2013- monks wood 015.jpg
Lithobius variegatus featuring the pill millipede: Glomeris marginata


Lithobius variegatus is one of the most easily identified British centipedes, by its colouration alone. It is a fairly large species, typically reaching 20-30mm in length. The species which it is most easily confused is the ubiquitous Lithobius forficatus, with which it frequently occurs. Lithobius forficatus is a uniform chestnut brown, with unbanded legs.

Lithobius variegatus is common throughout the West of Britain, but is scarce or absent in the extreme South-west of England, and South-western Scotland. There are scattered records from East Anglia and London also. Here is a link to the BMIG (British Myriapod and Isopod Group) website, showing the distribution and other information:

The best way to find this species is to look under logs and stones in rural areas of Western England, particularly in ancient woodland. The best times of year to look are autumn and winter, particularly in mild and wet spells. If you do find it, it’s likely to run away very fast! All Lithobius species can move with considerable speed, as they are active predators of springtails and other small invertebrates which share their microhabitats. Large individuals have jaws which may be strong enough to give a small nip to any person who annoys them enough, so handle them with some caution! That said, I’ve handled many individuals, and haven’t been bitten yet!

If you do find the species, take some photos and put it on iRecord. Records are urgently needed for a new centipede atlas!


April 2013- monks wood 018.jpg
Lithobius variegatus






Species of the week returns (12)

It’s been a long time, too long in fact, since my last species of the week blog. I don’t do new years resolutions, but if I did, it would be to write species of the week nearly every week (the nature of university life makes every week unrealistic!). So here we go with the first species of the week of 2017: the Slender Groundhopper (Tetrix subulata). Here is the lovely little creature:


The Slender Groundhopper (Tetrix subulata)


Groundhoppers are in the order Orthoptera, the same order as Grasshoppers, Crickets and Bush-crickets. They are however, in a family of their own: Tetrigidae. At first glance, groundhoppers look very similar to grasshoppers, but there is a simple difference. In grasshoppers, the pronotum is short, and so sits neatly between the head and thorax. This means that the wings of grasshoppers are fully visible from above. In groundhoppers, the pronotum extends backwards over the abdomen, completely concealing the wings. Here are the two side by side for comparison, with the label pointing to the end of the pronotum on the grasshopper.

Slender Groundhoppers, like many insects, are found in the spring, summer and autumn. Immature adults may overwinter, and mature into adults in early spring. From May to July, nymphs can be found, and from late July onwards, adults can be found again. Both adults and nymphs are herbivorous, feeding on algae and mosses.

Slender Groundhoppers are typically found in damp but unshaded and warm locations, typically with sparse vegetation. Streambeds which run dry in the summer are a classic location for finding this species. A similar species, the Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata) is often found alongside the Slender Grounhopper. T.undulata can be told apart from T.subulata by the length of the pronotum, which only just reaches the tip of the abdomen in T.undulata, but extends well beyond in T.subulata (shown in the top picture). T.subulata is marginally the larger of the two species, at 11-14mm in length. There is a much rarer species, Cepero’s Groundhopper (Tetrix ceperoi), which is extremely similar to the Slender Groundhopper. T.ceperoi is told apart by having its eyes less widely spaced apart than in T.subulata. It also occurs almost exclusively on the South coast of England.

Despite preferring slightly damp habitats, the Slender Groundhopper is thermophilic, so is most frequently found in Southern and Eastern England. It also occurs in South Wales, and there are isolated records from as far North as central Scotland. Its distribution can be seen here:

This is definitely a species to look forward to finding in the warmer months. I’m hoping to find all three British Groundhopper species this year on the Lizard peninsula!



Bryologising, Birding and Blowouts

To celebrate the week of exams coming to an end, I’ve been out Friday, Saturday and today: Birding, Bryologising, and birding again for good measure.

Bryologising- A possibly made up word denoting time spent looking for, or at Bryophytes.

On Friday, Toby and I birded Gerrans Bay, and the Gannel Estuary. Gerrans produced good birds, with 14 Great Northern Divers, 3 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes, 1 Slavonian Grebe and a calling Firecrest. We visited the Gannel to target the 1st winter Ring-billed Gull, and roosting Cattle Egrets. We hit both targets, with 9 Cattle Egrets in to roost at 17:10!


1st winter Ring-billed Gull, phonescoped record shot


On Saturday, Ben Porter and myself met up with Cornwall’s Bryophyte recorder Matt Stribley, and several other amateur bryologists to record from a tetrad with no bryophyte records. We focussed our search in the woodland of Herodsfoot deerpark.

I’m fairly new to bryophytes, having only started learning them in November 2016, so I surprised myself in being able to name (or at least key out) a good proportion of the 70 or so species we found through the day. It was an excellent day out, and I learnt so much from being around several experienced bryologists for a day. By the end of the day, my head was full (and spilling over) with new names, features and information! The day is best summed up in photographs, which show the amazing diversity of forms that bryophytes can take. All of these stunning photos were taken by Ben Porter, check out his awesome photography here:

Loeskeobryum brevirostre with Polytrichastrum formosum
Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus (A.K.A: Big Shaggy-moss)
Dicranum majus with the Liverwort Diplophyllum albicans (bottom right)


Frullania dilatata  (a liverwort)



Spagnum capillifolium with at least 4 other bryophytes!


Now on to today (Sunday), which has been a very eventful days birding with Toby and Liam! The plan was to head East to Devon, attempt to see the elusive Bonaparte’s Gull at Dawlish Warren, and then stop via Cirl Buntings, Desert Wheatear, American Wigeon and Lesser Scaup on the way back!

Toby’s car was due to visit the garage on Monday, to find out what was causing the slightly bumpy ride. We had checked the car over several times before, without finding any issues. However, out on Bodmin Moor (on the A30) disaster struck. There was a loud thud from the back of the car, followed by a rather unnerving juddering! Luckily there was a layby 100 yards or so ahead, where Toby pulled over. We quickly found the problem, the tyre had exploded! Liam remained asleep in the back.


The wreckage of a once great tyre


We were fairly certain that this would be game over for today, until Toby realised he had a spare in the boot. As we attempted to change the tyre, we encountered many unfamiliar tools, and a previously unused ‘instruction manual’. A surprisingly short time later, Toby and I had managed to fit the spare (Liam with one arm out of action from a sports injury, held the torch). We had grazed and oily hands, which made us feel very manly. We were back on the road!


Toby and his mended Yaris


We collectively decided that Devon was a bad idea, but as we were within a few miles, we dropped in to see the Lesser Scaup on Dozmary Pool. Lifer!


Scaup scoping at drizzly Dozmary


We then headed back towards campus, deciding that a short round trip to Hayle estuary and Marazion wouldn’t hurt. Hayle was quiet, with an adult argentatus race Herring Gull the best bird we could find. We went on to Marazion, where the resident mega-rare Pacific Diver had been seen the previous day, associating with four Great Northern Divers. This Pacific Diver has been returning to winter in Cornwall for the past 10 years, but is one of only around eight of its kind to have ever been seen in the UK.

As we scoped the sea from the cliffs, I picked up a diver which looked interesting. It appeared too round headed and fine-billed for Great Northern Diver, and lacked the white flank patch of Black-throated Diver. In turn we looked at the bird, yearning for it to drift a little closer to the shore. What it did drift closer to (and swim with for some time) was a group of four Great Northern Divers, which gave an excellent structural comparison. Our diver was certainly the right build for the Pacific. We followed the bird for almost half an hour, until we could say definitively that it showed no white flank patch in any swimming position or behaviour. It was the PACIFIC DIVER! Pipit magnet Toby also picked up a Water Pipit and a Black Redstart on the beach.

On the way home, we dropped by Hayle for a pasty, and one last check of the estuary. Toby picked up the wintering  Green-winged Teal (North America’s version of our Teal), and of course, another Water Pipit. What a day!


A sleepy Green-winged Teal, phonescoped