Record Centre News

Jabba the Grub

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 copulating by Kate Frankland

Drilus flavescens female and two males by Peter Tinning

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

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 pennygreen@sussexwt.org.uk with details of where and when you saw it.

Leafminers

Stigmella aurella mine in the leaf - Tony Davis/Butterfly Conservation

Stigmella aurella mine in the leaf courtesy of Tony Davis/Butterfly Conservation

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.

Stigmella aurella adult moth

Stigmella aurella adult moth courtesy of Ian Kimber/UKMoths

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

Planning Advice for Biodiversity

Sussex Wildlife Trust have posted a wealth of useful advice on their website regarding planning and biodiversity.

[ Sussex Wildlife Trust planning advice ]

The Government’s Planning Policy Statement 9 “sets out planning policies on protection of biodiversity and geological conservation through the planning system.” Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre can, as always, provide you with vital biodiversity information essential in making or responding to planning applications. Get in touch to discuss your project.

Codium fragile ssp. tomentosoides

The seaweed Codium fragile ssp. tomentosoides

Patrick Roper, our rare species coordinator, has penned another fascinating SxBRC Occasional Paper. Number 7 in the series, this paper briefly examines the seaweed Codium fragile ssp. tomentosoides, one of the species found on the Priority List of Problem Species in Need of Control.

[ Download SxBRC Occaional Paper No. 7 ]

Picture: Luis A. Solorzano, californiabiota.com

Waxcaps

Its that time of year when fungi is at its best, and now is the time to go hunting for Waxcaps.

Waxcap

These brightly coloured, and sometimes shiny, mushrooms are described as the orchids of the fungi world. They are found on unimproved pasture, old lawns and grassy churchyards, usually grasslands that haven’t had any artificial fertilizers applied recently, and are grazed or mown on a regular basis. Peter Russell, the Sussex Fungi recorder, has created this great Waxcap key which we hope you will enjoy using. To help us learn about new sites in Sussex that are good for Waxcaps we rely on your records, so we look forward to hearing from you soon.

[Download Waxcap key] (PDF)

Picture: Mark Monk-Terry

Orthoptera find of the decade

A breeding colony of the sickle-bearing bush-cricket (Phaneroptera falcata) has been found at Hastings Country Park. This is the first time a breeding colony has been found in Britain and has been described by Dr John Paul, our Sussex county Orthoptera recorder, as the “find of the decade”.

Sickle-bearing Bush Cricket - Phaneroptera falcata

Read more and see pictures on the RXWildlife website. Further comments from John Paul can be found on our Adastra mailing list archives. Picture: Andy Phillips

Polecat Returning to Sussex

As mentioned in the Adastra 2004 publication, and at the 2006 Sussex Biological Recorders Seminar by Martin Willing, the Polecat (Mustela putorius) is making a comeback in Sussex.

Polecat Mustela putorius

This is very exciting news because, as far as we know from our records, this species has been extinct from Sussex since the late 19th century. In the last couple of years there have been four “wild” Polecat records in West Sussex. These have been verified by the Vincent Wildlife Trust as being true polecats and not polecat/ferret hybrids.

A record of a road fatality in Midhurst in July 2004 was the first record, followed by another found in the same area in November 2005. In July 2005 a lady reported, and photographed, three polecats who spent a day under her chicken shed in North Marden. Then I was out in the Hooksway area near Chichester in April this year and found one dead on the road. Like the other dead Polecats it was put in a freezer and then sent off to the Vincent Wildlife Trust who positively verified it.

During 2004-2006 the Vincent Wildlife Trust are running a new polecat distribution survey jointly with The Mammal Society and need people to collect bodies (or photos) of any wild polecats, feral ferrets or polecat-ferret hybrids. Please phone or email them for instructions if you find any. Their contact details can be found on the Vincent Wildlife Trust website. Alternatively you can call 01531 636441 for more information.

So this is really a plea to recorders to look out for dead Polecats when driving along, as it would be fascinating to track this mammal’s recolonisation of Sussex. If you do find one dead on the road it would be great if you could either collect the body or get a few photos of it, BUT your safety is obviously paramount, so please be careful! A grid-reference, location-name and date will be needed too.

If you would like some further reading, you can download a copy of the latest Polecat newsletter and also the very interesting Polecat in Sussex paper that was handed out at the Sussex Biological Recorders Seminar in 2005.

If you have any records of this species in Sussex, past or present, they would be gratefully received.

Useful Links

Wildlife Weblogs

Our Rare Species Inventory coordinator, Patrick Roper, has been busying himself (where on earth does he find the time?) over the last few months with a series of fascinating, enlightening and beautiful weblogs dedicated to biological recording. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “weblog”, or “blog”, then have a look at this comprehensive article about weblogs on Wikipedia. If you’re interested in wildlife and recording, be sure to bookmark these sites (or subscribe to them via a news-reader) and visit regularly as they’re updated almost daily and are an intriguing insight into the work and thoughts of a naturalist. They also provide us with some particularly innovative ideas that anyone can try, even in an urban environment. Here’s a brief description of each blog:

Ramblings of a Naturalist

A regular, illustrated wildlife diary. As an ecologist and biodiversity researcher and recorder, Patrick visits a wide range of rural and urban habitats mainly close to his home in Sedlescombe near Hastings in East Sussex. Ramblings of a Naturalist covers the full spectrum of wildlife, from mammals to microbes. As well as details of encounters with England’s flora and fauna, details of where to see species of interest are often given. Visit Ramblings of a Naturalist.

The square metre at TQ 78286 18846

Since September 2003 Patrick has been studying a square metre of rough grassland and the immediate surrounding area in his garden. By May 2006 over 700 species of plants and animals had been identified and there are many more as yet unidentified and, of course, undiscovered.

Observations from the square metre are often surprising and unexpected and the project reveals how much we still have to learn about the dynamics of biodiversity. The daily detailed scrutiny of such a small area also triggers many reflections on our relationship to the other species with which we share the planet and how better to understand both them and ourselves.

The Square Metre also comments on management issues and techniques many of which are similar to challenges faced in biodiversity conservation on a larger scale. Visit The Square Metre.

Windowbox Wildlife

In November 2005 Patrick bought a small windowbox, filled it up with supposedly sterile John Innes No. 2 compost, added a log, a rock and a tiny pond and then left it in a convenient position out doors to see what wildlife would colonise it. Part of the purpose of the project is to show that if a windowbox is the only “wilderness” you can have access to, nature can still generate many surprises and challenges.

Windowbox Wildlife reports on the developing flora and fauna of this smallest of nature reserves and comments on management issues and techniques. Visit Windowbox Wildlife.

Other Local Weblogs

There are several other local weblogs covering areas in Sussex, such as RXWildlife, which covers the coast between Rye and Bexhill and contains some lovely photography. Andy Phillips, creator of RXWildlife also keeps his own personal “wildblog”, called Roof-top Observatory detailing the wildlife he sees from (and in) his roof-top observatory in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. Just goes to show, you don’t need to be in a rural environment in order to find fascinating natural treasures.

If you know of any other local wildlife websites, or weblogs, do let us know.

Recorders' Seminar 2006

Our annual Biological Recorders’ Seminar was once again a huge success, possibly being the most bustling and vibrant one yet. With talks ranging from landscape scale ecology to a one metre square nature reserve; from plants, birds and bugs to mammals, molluscs, and brownfield sites, the day went down extremely well with all in attendance.

A big thank you to all of our speakers: Martin Willing (Conchological Society of Great Britain & Ireland), Matt Shardlow (Buglife), Dawn Scott (University of Brighton), Patrick Roper, Peter Hughes (RSPB), Bruce Middleton (South Downs Joint Committee) and Rich Howorth (West Weald Landscape Project). We must also thank Barry Yates for the use of his spectacularly large projection screen. Thanks must go to all of the staff, volunteers and friends of the Record Centre who helped make the day run so smoothly; your hard work is, as ever, greatly appreciated. Finally, once again, the biggest thanks of all go out to the recording community of Sussex – your tremendous and ongoing efforts make all this possible. Thank you, and see you next year.

Find out more about the Recorder’ Seminar.