Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum) is one of the rarest plants in the UK, but it is thriving in some parts of East Sussex and there may be plants we don’t know about. If you think you may have seen a plant, please send a photo and location (preferably a grid reference) to Penny Green here at the record centre or call 01273 49521.
We have prepared a Spiked Rampion flyer to aid with identification in case you’re not sure what this plant looks like.
Photo of Spiked Rampion Phyteuma spicatum is copyright © 2007 “Bossi” and made available under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.
Over the past month or so we’ve had a few sightings of Drilus flavescens sent in accompanied by wonderful photos. It is a Nationally Scarce beetle species which can be found in woodland and grassland on and around the chalk downs of South East England, and has a rather strange life history.
The male is your average-looking winged beetle, just a few millimetres long with prominent combed antennae which are thought to pick up the appealing pheromones of the female. When a male follows the scent-trail, however, and finds the female, he’s in for a shock. The female is a wingless, grub-like monster weighing in about four times as big as him. When a female beetle looks like this it is called a ‘larviforme female’ and you will recognise the more familiar example of this in the form of a Glow-worm female which is also like a caterpillar. The male Glow-worm is a small black winged beetle and is attracted to the glow of the female’s curled abdomen.
Here are a couple of photos of Drilus flavescens that were sent in, they show the male and female together:
Drilus flavescens copulating by Kate Frankland
Drilus flavescens female and two males by Peter Tinning
Like the Glow-worm larvae, the larvae of this species takes at least two years to mature, invading and eating about 3 or 4 snails a year, targeting progressively larger snails to sate its appetite. It moults and over-winters in an empty snail shell from about mid-September. The larvae look pretty spectacular covered in orange bristles, and their poisonous bite kills their snail prey which they then dissolve into a soup using their digestive enzymes.
Drilus flavescens larva by Richard Roebuck
Pupation and adult emergence happens around May time and adults are then recorded up until late July, or this year into August. We have about 55 records of this species in Sussex, with only 16 of these records since the year 2000. If you have spotted this species we’d be grateful if you could send in a photo to email@example.com with details of where and when you saw it.
The Plumed Prominent moth has evaded capture for 14 years in Sussex, although the habitat that it requires hasn’t apparently changed in that time, we were starting to get worried that we hadn’t encountered it. Well known for its disappearing acts, this species skulks around Field Maples (on which its larvae feed) on the chalk downs in the south of England, and in Sussex it prefers the scarp slope woodlands of West Sussex. So we knew where to concentrate our efforts; all we needed was a bit of patience and some warm clothes.
In 2011 a small group of us tried several times at two of the most likely locations but all we got were Bricks and Red-green Carpets. Luckily if Plumed Prominents haven’t turned up by 9:00pm you know you can head home. The male Plumed Prominent flies early on in the evening and then the female comes out much later on in the evening, but we figured if the males weren’t on the wing it was unlikely that the females would be. Despite carrying traps and generators up and down steep hills and dogged perseverance we didn’t manage to catch up with this species in 2011.
Deterred? Oh no, this just makes it more of a challenge, it’s all part of the chase. So on 8th November we headed to the hills to look for the Plumed Prominent again, or the ‘Bonfire Night Moth’ as it is so called due to its emergence around this time of year. We set the traps up in the usual places, and after 20 minutes we decided to go to the bottom of the hill and check the trap there, we bumbled around there as there was a distinct lack of moths and we started looking at snails, harvestmen and plants…we are easily distracted. We then walked back up the hill to check the other traps and, as we neared the first trap we didn’t feel very hopeful, it was just part of our regular routine. Hang on – what’s this by the trap? Yes! Our first ever Plumed Prominent, and what a looker; adorned by a furry cape and huge feathery antennae he was everything we had hoped for. There were another three males in and around our traps so we were very pleased.
These were the first Plumed Prominents encountered in Sussex for 14 years and it has been great to confirm its continued residency in the county. This success highlights the importance of persistent and targeted survey work for species that haven’t been recorded for some time. Some species are scarce and some species are under-recorded as to see them one has to go out at unsociable hours and stand around in inclement weather. The Plumed Prominent is a rare, under-recorded and enigmatic species; a species that I would like to see again.