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.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Prom

Plumed Prominent moth

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.

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

Cutting the Mustard

Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines
The Orange-tip, one of our earliest non-overwintering butterflies and a sure sign Spring has arrived. Picture by 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 Penny Green pennygreen@sussexwt.org.uk or 01273 497521.

Jack O'Lantern

Jack O'Lantern - Omphalotus illudens

West Weald fungus recorder Vivien Hodge found this beautiful golden fungi which is saffron-coloured throughout. It is called the Jack O’Lantern Omphalotus illudens. Its vernacular name is partly due to the colour, which is reminiscent of a pumpkin, and partly because the gills on the underside of the mushroom emit an eery glow just like a Jack O’Lantern. Vivien has subsequently confirmed that it does glow quite brilliantly in the dark.

It was recorded in Horsham at the end of July and is only the second record of this species in Sussex so we thought we’d keep it as a Halloween treat for you.

Parham Park Recording Day

Rosy Footman by Dave Green

Every year we organise a recording day somewhere in Sussex, usually somewhere that is under-recorded, but this year we were lucky enough to be granted access to Parham Park.

The Parham Estate comprises 354 hectares, including an historic deer park. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with veteran oak trees. Thirty enthusiastic biological recorders attended the event; we all split into groups and pottered off in different directions, some looking for plants, some for lichens and fungi, and others for invertebrates.

Among the interesting finds of the day was a first for Sussex netted by the Sussex Beetle Recorder, Peter Hodge: the last tortoise beetle needed to complete the set in Sussex – Cassida nebulosa. This species isn’t commonly recorded, and potentially quite rare.

There were several interesting species of fungi found by Vivien Hodge, including Citrine Waxcap Hygrocybe citrinovirens, Mosaic Puffball Handkea utriformis and an inkcap for which we only have a few records, called Coprinellus xanthothrix.

In the evening about ten recorders stayed on to run five moth traps which were set out in different habitats. The evening started well with one Dark Bordered Pearl Evergestis limbata being netted while it fed on Hemp Agrimony, and a second one was caught nearby later in the evening. This was a rather fitting species to catch as it is the emblem of the Sussex Moth Group. Interesting moths caught included local species Small Rufous, Double Kidney, Black Arches, Pine Hawkmoth, Rosy Footman and Scarce Footman. The bat surveyors recorded Serotine, Noctule and 45kHz Pipistrelle. The Serotine was heard at close quarters chomping on its dinner; the surveyors didn’t even need a bat detector to hear it.

Rosy Footman picture by Dave Green

3 Million Records

Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita

Here at the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre we are pleased to announce the 3 millionth record entry into our database.

Over the past six months we have been lucky to have two part-time data entry officers ploughing their way though our data-entry backlog. They have entered 30,000 records, which have included entering data from amateur naturalists and professional ecologists, and has been for many different species groups from lichens to mammals and moths to fungi. As we gradually crept closer to the 3 million mark, a huge data import of 92,000 bird records from the Sussex Ornithological Society tipped the numbers over the edge just before Christmas.

Our millionth record, which was in April 2006, was of a Peregrine Falcon – quite appropriate, we thought, as we sped ahead into the future. The Marmalade Hoverfly marked our two millionth record in October 2008, a common but beautiful species.

The 3 millionth record is of a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, a type of leaf warbler which is widespread in Sussex as a summer visitor and passage migrant with a small number over-wintering. The Chiffchaff’s name is onomatopoeic and refers to the repetitive chiffchaff song that we all love to hear during the spring and summer. The Chiffchaff moves restlessly though foliage in search of insects; sometimes you can see it briefly hovering to snap up an insect in flight. You could say that this is how the record centre works. We are constantly foraging for data, gleaning it from reports and working with recorders to gather their records up, and every now and then we are able to hover in cyberspace and ‘snap-up’ datasets from national schemes and societies.

Thank you to all of the biological recorders who send their records in to us, as always we greatly appreciate the time and effort that goes in to the collecting, digitising and sharing of your data. Keep up the good work!

Photo: © DAVE KILBEY 2008/Sussex Wildlife Trust

Sussex Bioblitz

Buff-tip Phalera bucephala

In celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity we organised a big recording event at Stanmer Park called Bioblitz, one of many such events held throughout the UK, over the weekend of the 5th and 6th of June, where we tried to record as many species as we could. Luckily it was great weather all weekend so butterflies, dragonflies, moths and more were on the wing. On the Saturday we had 19 naturalists come along to see what we could record so we spilt into two groups – one looking at the plants in the woodland on the park and the other investigating the invertebrates found in the dead wood and general surrounds.

In the evening we set up six moth traps and had a good haul of moths, including a beautiful lime hawkmoth and the twig-like buff-tip. The bat detectors picked up a few species of bat flying about feeding at dusk, such as serotine and noctule. We packed up the moth traps at about midnight, just as we could hear the distant rumble of thunder. Overall we recorded just over 500 species during the day, of which 100 species were plant, 70 were moths and 70 were beetles. Highlights of the day were the Notable A species Drilus flavescens, which is a beetle that predates on snails and three Notable B species including the black-headed cardinal beetle Pyrochroa coccinea.

The next day was more about getting members of the public enthused about recording, so we had a stall at the popular Springwatch event, also at Stanmer Park, and we encouraged people to fill in a postcard which asked if they had seen any of the five species listed: starling, common frog, dragonfly, hedgehog and slow-worm. They could then stick labels on a huge map that we took along, and from this we gathered over 700 records and got people excited about what wildlife can be found in their own back garden. We also ran several guided walks to different parts of the park to see what we could record.

West Weald Recording Day, May 2009

Tanyptera atrata
We brought together a keen group of twenty naturalists on May 23rd for a day of intensive surveying of different species in the West Weald Landscape Project (WWLP) area. Our efforts concentrated on two distinct sites which are the subject of new conservation work by the WWLP in the vicinity of Ebernoe and Kirdford respectively.

The enthusiasm of the naturalists resulted in long lists of new species records, spanning a great range of groups from lichens and plants through diverse types of insects to birds and reptiles. The new insects discovered proved especially interesting, including a ‘nationally notable’ black and red click beetle Ampedus elongantulus and a huge striking cranefly (or “daddy long legs”) Tanyptera atrata which represents a first record for Sussex. New records of the rare brown hairstreak and grizzled skipper butterflies also came to light.

Ampedus elongantulus
This species information will prove invaluable in underpinning our work to advise, manage and monitor these important sites and so advance conservation on a bigger scale working in partnership with private landowners in the West Weald.

Pictures: Graeme Lyons

Ninfield Recording Day

Ninfield recording day 2008

Another great day out in the field was had at the Adastra Recording Day at Ninfield on Friday 23rd May. We all enjoyed recording in the sunshine and spending some time with fellow recorders.

Working in partnership with the Sussex Botanical Recording Society we certainly filled a gap in the species data on their database and also the BRC database. At the beginning of the day we only had three non-plant records for the eight 1km squares, but along with the data from the two botanical groups that explored the area we will have many more records for the area including beetles, dragonflies, mammals, butterflies, birds, fungi, lichens and slime-moulds. So a big thank you to all of the recorders for your various contributions on the day.

Alder Kitten moth

We also ran five moth traps in the evening; we recorded over 55 species including Alder Kitten, Alder Moth, Miller and Lime Hawkmoth.