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Privet Sawfly - A Sussex first

8 November 2016

Privet Sawfly

Privet Sawfly (Macrophya punctumalbum)

In the hedge a couple of metres from our back door in Sedlescombe, East Sussex (TQ782188) I have recently seen several examples of the rather handsome Privet Sawfly (Macrophya punctumalbum) wandering about on the leaves. I have not come across this here or anywhere else and have been unable to find any previous records from Sussex.

There is a thin spread of records across the southern part of Britain and it is widespread in Surrey, so it is probably simply under-recorded in Sussex, though I am surprised I have not seen it in our hedge before as I usually walk past it several times a day. It may have cycles of relative abundance and scarcity.

The larvae feed on ash, privet (Ligustrum vulgare), lilac and other members of the Oleaceae family and, rather unusually for insects of this kind, the adults browse on leaves of the same plants. There is a characteristic grazed patch towards the top right of the picture above. The picture is of a female and while males are found occasionally, the species is said to be mainly parthenogenetic.

This record, which may be a first for Sussex, shows the value of walking round the house several times a day and looking out for anything interesting. It helps one to see things that would otherwise have been missed as in the wider countryside the eye is drawn on to more interesting looking sites. It also provides a little exercise for the relatively housebound. The piece of hedge where these sawflies occur does not look a particularly promising spot though wild privet and ash grow together there.

Patrick Roper 7th June 2016

 

Hello World

7 August 2015

Clare Blencowe, SxBRC Manager

Clare Blencowe (Recordcentrus managerii)

“Hello! I’m Clare Blencowe - your new Record Centre Manager.” It’s something I’d meant to say sooner and now I find myself already a month into the job. Wondering, how did this happen?!

I’ve been an admirer of the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre for the best part of a decade, since I was one of Penny Green’s volunteers. I’ve valued the support of the team here, in the intervening years, in my voluntary role as the Sussex coordinator for Butterfly Conservation’s BNM recording scheme.

Returning as the Record Centre Manager feels like an enormous privilege; I’m conscious that being the custodian of Sussex’s biodiversity information is also a great responsibility.

I’m lucky that there is already an excellent data request service in place, providing professional bespoke reports for anyone wanting biodiversity information for sites in Sussex.

I’m also inheriting good working relationships with a growing list of partners, including local planning authorities, government agencies, conservation bodies and other organisations to whom biodiversity information is important, such as water companies. Through these partner relationships we make high quality environmental information available to decision-makers in planning, land management and conservation across Sussex.

These are services we can only provide by working closely with the local recording community: the people who are actually out there, in Sussex, identifying the great variety of species and habitats that exist and feeding that information through to us. The effort that goes into this - driven largely by volunteers, enthusiasts and folk who’ve simply made the time to notice and appreciate what’s around us - is hugely inspiring. And the results, from microscopic observations to landscape-scale surveys, as showcased at our annual Adastra seminar, are endlessly fascinating.

We couldn’t handle all this information without technology: systems and databases enable us to organise, analyse and interpret all this data, as well as present it in accessible and interesting ways. I’ve arrived at a time when technology, especially online recording, is revolutionising biological recording, and is bringing with it a new set of opportunities and challenges. This makes recording groups and the people involved in recording as critical as they’ve ever been, to ensure data users can continue to have confidence in the quality of the information we provide.

But these are not challenges we’re facing on our own. Here at Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, we’re also part of the Association of Local Environmental Record Centres, and the National Biodiversity Network (known as the NBN). We will all need to work together to ensure biological data continues to be collected, valued, looked after and shared appropriately.

As the saying goes: we live in ‘interesting times’. And I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

 

Spiked Rampion: Have You Seen It?

30 April 2014

Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum)

Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum)
© 2007 “Bossi” and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

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 Bob Foreman here at the record centre or call 01273 497570.

We have prepared a Spiked Rampion flyer to aid with identification in case you’re not sure what this plant looks like.

 

Jabba the Grub

15 August 2013

Copulating Drilus flavescens

Copulating Drilus flavescens
Photo: Kate Frankland

Two male Drilus flavescens with female

Drilus flavescens female and two males
Photo: Peter Tinning

Drilus flavescens larva

Drilus flavescens larva
Photo: Richard Roebuck

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.

Like the Glow-worm larva, the larva 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.

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 Bob Foreman with details of where and when you saw it.

 

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Prom

31 May 2013

Plumed Prominent (Ptilophora plumigera)

Plumed Prominent (Ptilophora plumigera)

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 8 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.

 

Leafminers

29 October 2012

Stigmella aurella mine

Stigmella aurella mine in the leaf
Photo: Tony Davis/Butterfly Conservation

Stigmella aurella adult

Stigmella aurella adult moth
Photo: Ian Kimber/UKMoths

When the leaves are just on the turn in the autumn, we think it’s the best time to be in the woods - not only to enjoy the beautiful colours, but also to be looking for some of our more under-recorded native fauna. Have you ever noticed leaves on trees, such as oaks and hazel, that have been carefully rolled over, or that have curious blotches or silver wiggly lines on them? These are signs of fascinating lives going on within these leaves - whether it is in a woodland or in your garden there are leafminers at work.

Leafminers represent a cross-section of specialists from several species groups such as moths, flies and wasps. We’re on the lookout for micro-moth leafminers so we will tell you a bit about these. Most species of leafminers have one or two species of plant or tree that they will feed on. The adult micro-moth will lay its tiny egg on the leaf of its food plant and when the larva hatches from its egg it burrows in to the leaf. It will then spend some or all of its larval phase between the epidermal or outer layers of the leaf, feeding in safety away from predators’ eyes.

The mines themselves vary in shape and size and this, along with knowing what the food plant is, enables us to identify a majority of the leaf mines made by micro-moths, although some need to have the adult reared to confirm which species has been growing inside when it finally hatches out. There are a few different types of mine including blotch, gallery and blister - some are lined with silk, some create folds in the leaves and some have small windows that have been created by feeding larvae - they all have their own distinguishing features which, with the aid of a key, can point towards which species it is.

If you hold the leaf up to the light you can often see the inhabitant busily eating away at the juicy green tissue within. As the larva feeds it usually leaves a trail behind it, which gets wider as they get fatter. When the larva has filled its boots, it will emerge through an exit hole and pupate, sometimes dropping to the ground and pupating in the soil. Some of the later stages of the larvae come out of the leaf and carry on feeding in the safety of a self-constructed funnel-like shelter that they roll in the leaf until they are ready to pupate.

Further reading: www.leafmines.co.uk - your guide to British and European leafmines

 

Cutting the Mustard

4 May 2012

Orange-tip

The Orange-tip, one of our earliest non-overwintering butterflies and a sure sign Spring has arrived.
Photo: Paul Marten/Sussex Wildlife Trust.

One of the first signs of spring is glimpsing the unmistakable bright orange flashes of the male Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines as it patrols along country lane verges and hedgerows looking for a female. Emerging in April they are one of our earliest non-overwintering butterflies to see, and a sure sign that blissful sunny spring days are here and butterfly recording can start in earnest.

The male butterfly is easy to spot when it is on the wing, with its vibrant orange wing tips; a wonderful sight for us but this bright colouration is thought to be a warning sign to repel predators. This bold butterfly wouldn’t make a very tasty snack due to the mustard oils which will have built up in the body when it was a caterpillar feasting on its foodplants, such as Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata and Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis.

We’re looking to collect as many Orange-tip records as we can in order to fill the map of Sussex for the forthcoming Butterfly Conservation Sussex Butterfly Atlas and we’d like you to send in your records.

Drop us a line when you spot a male Orange-tip, whether it’s in your garden or in the countryside we’ll be grateful to hear from you. We’ll need your name, the date you saw it, and where you saw it, preferably an OS grid reference, and a road name and town - the more detail the better.

Please send your Orange-tip records to Bob Foreman or 01273 497570.