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!

 

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.

 

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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:

https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NBNSYS0000007203#overview

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:

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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:

https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NHMSYS0001701908

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.
Tubercles

 

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Phytomyza chaerophylli leaf mine on Cow Parsley

 

 

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Chromatomyia primulae (whitish corridor leaf mine) on Primrose

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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!