Saturday, 13 April 2019

Where to next?

Those of you who have actually met me, know me, have spent time in the field with me - well firstly you have my sympathies... But actually, I never really talk politics, I never really chat religion, I keep it all very superfluous and simple. But that's not to say that I'm a simple man. This is a nature blog, but very (very) occasionally I may twaddle on about relationships or the weather or whatever. But basically it's nature or nowt. Good motto, you can have that on me for free. 

Julian Assange, heard of him? Hopefully. And John Pilger? Course you have. 

Watch this. All of it. Forget the nature crap I spew, just watch this and start your own digging. 

Thank you

Friday, 5 April 2019

Neotropical barkfly comes to Skye!

I took myself up to the cemetery this afternoon, the sun was out and there was a distinct warmth to the air. I had my net in hand, ready to swipe at each and every fly I disturbed from the rough grazing land. Approximately 10,000 Yellow Dung Flies later, I decided to quit and go beat the windswept Yew bush that grows at the entrance to the cemetery instead. 

Still no sign of the Daffodil Fly Norellia spinipes, just Scathophaga stercoraria by the bucketload
Despite being the only Yew bush for miles around (so far as I know) I've had some nice microfungi and scale insects from it before. What I really wasn't expecting was an insect new to NW Scotland!

Whenever I find a barkfly, I visit the excellent National Barkfly Recording Scheme and usually manage to come to a specific ID without too much bother. Today was just such a day, no real issues with the key...ooh 'eck, that's a frippin good record! 

Note the dark line from antenna base to eye, plus lack of a stripe running vertically between the eyes
The dark line that runs from beside the antennal base to the eye is actually a dark red. This line then continues along the sides of the neck and onto the thorax in the form of an uneven wavy line, it's quite a distinctive feature. Note that the rest of the head is pale apart from a small bump which houses the ocelli, it being the same dark red colour as the wavy line. The antennae are pale-based but soon darken up approximately a third of their length towards the tip.

But it was the wing venation combined with a distinctive pattern of darker patches that really firmed up the ID of this specimen for me. That's when I got a tad excited...

Image taken from the National Barkfly Recording Scheme's key to species
Check out the "distinctive wing pattern" and "Dark patches" arrowed in the above pic, then compare with the forewings of my specimen

Slightly crumpled, but I reckon that's a positive match!
Vein Cu2 was indeed without setae
All of which leads me to a species called Chilenocaecilius ornatipennis, one I've rather unsurprisingly never seen before - mainly because it's a South American species that was first discovered this side of the Atlantic (and Equator!) in Ireland in 2015 and then in Britain the following year!!!! I have absolutely no idea of the dispersal mechanism used, seemingly the Irish 2015 records are the first known records of this species away from its native range of Chile and Argentina. Quick bit of blurb from the National Barkfly Recording Scheme here. 

My very first British 'neotropical' insect!
Just wait until I tell Murdo from the Highland Biological Recording Group about this, he'll soon have his army of entomologists out putting dots on the map!

In other news, I discovered some decent looking habitat just downslope of the cemetery....

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Stunning Flatworm - again!

Last year I found a small, highly mottled orange and red flatworm. It was Marionfyfea adventor, new for Scotland and the most northerly record in the world! Except the vodka I popped it into wasn't pure enough for the specialist to DNA barcode it for me, he said it had degenerated too far to get a meaningful result. Arse. 

This afternoon the sun came out again, so I nipped down to the shore after work and had a rummage amongst the part-buried stones at the top of the beach. Not much, a couple of small staphylinids to check later and lots of mites. 

Heading up onto the grassy strip at the top of the beach, I turned a few more boulders and (somehow) spotted a tiny flatworm, moving in a strange fashion. I estimated it to be about 7 or 8mm in length and somewhere around 0.5mm width. I zoomed in with my camera and was shocked to find myself looking at what seemed to be a very pale Marionfyfea adventor! I took a barrage of pics, most of which were blurry, but jammed a handful of half-decent ones amongst the dross. None of these pics have been altered at all, not even cropped - just straight off the camera card.

The flatworms I often find up here are Microplana terrestris and Microplana scharffi, plus Kontikia andersoni on a rather more irregular basis. Oh, and I've started finding Arthurdendyus triangulatus the New Zealand Flatworm lately too, though I'm not a fan of that. But this thing moved very differently to any of those species, it was quite fast for starters - the others are generally rather inactive, or sluggish at best. This thing was very reminiscent of Rhynchodemus sylvaticus, the so-called Snake-headed Flatworm, which crawls along with its head raised in the air, as though scenting its way forward after prey. But this wasn't Rhynchodemus, this thing had dozens of tiny eyes along the sides of the head rather than one large pair. Here's a shaky vid of the beast in action. Apologies for the shake and somewhat transient focus!

In the end I decided not to collect it, firstly because I couldn't see a way of getting it off the rock and into a pot without damaging it beyond repair, and secondly because I don't have alcohol pure enough to make it worth keeping the ruined, shredded body even if I could get it off the rock. Damn.

But I'm happy that this really is Marionfyfea adventor, Brian Eversham's Many-eyed Flatworm, described as new to science in 2016. You can see Brian's pic and his short account of the finding by clicking here!

Music time. I have to admit, looking through my recent YouTube history, there isn't an awful lot that seems particularly relevant to non-native flatworm identification. But it was pretty damned small, and I ABSOLUTELY ADORE this track. No idea why, I don't like much else of theirs that I've heard, but this is amazing. 

Plus the singer really does have the most captivating face...ahem....

Monday, 1 April 2019

2019 - Year of the something or another...

Sometimes blogging can be fun and rewarding, other times it can be a bit of a chore. Lately, I think, a small degree of apathy has set in. Unwanted, unasked for, but it's there all the same. Meh. My oh-so-gloriously-named Challenge 2019 is limping along, but no more than that. I haven't written a blogpost on that site since mid-February, quite ridiculous.

There's a guy who has just started blogging about his attempt to see representatives of all British fly families in 2019, a total of 106 families, though realistically he expects to see less than half of that number. In his own words, "...see how many families of flies I could see through the year. Each time I see one from a new family I will write a post, and by the end of the year I hope to know my way around them." I liked the sound of that, so immediately bookmarked his blog and you can read it for yourself by clicking The Year of the Fly.

But what about my own Challenge, I hear you cry. Calm down, I just told you it's limping along - it's not completely dead in the water just yet (give it time...) Yesterday it was sunny. SUNNY!!! That rarely happens, thankfully it was also bitterly cold else I would have thought spring had finally sprung. Once again I found myself regretting that recent haircut and lack of beard (and gloves!) High overhead, a stratospheric skein of 106 Pink-footed Geese noisily proclaimed themselves as they headed north westwards. Next stop...Iceland? Likewise, flocks of Icelandic Redwings have been highly prominent for the past two days. This morning they mostly cleared out, just a handful left in the woods and fields. But I did actually find a few flies, unlikely though it seemed in the raw wind.

Calliphora vomitoria - this is the default 'bluebottle' up here. Note the ginger beard
Scathophaga calida - with the red frons and massively hairy hind legs 
I netted seven flies from the rotting wrackline, six were Scathophaga calida (4m amd 2f) plus one that I haven't sussed yet. With this species, it's a case of checking whether the acrostichals rows are closer together than they are from the dorsocentrals, which they were, in order to rule out the similar Scathophaga litorea. Plus the ridiculously hairy hind tibia in the males, which are lacking in S.litorea

I was shocked to watch a sizeable hoverfly zigzagging through the wind, across an area of open grass and then set up hovering about a metre away from my face. The daft bugger. One swipe of the net and it was secured. I keyed it through to Cheilosia grossa, an early flying species that is widespread but seemingly under-recorded in the adult stage (probably due to the early flight season, before most dipterists stir from hibernation) and not one I've seen before. 'New' to Skye too, according to the maps.

Cheilosia grossa - new for the entire Hebridean archipelago, it seems!
Here are a couple of pics of my main fly-stalking habitats. Fly-stalking, blimey whatever next!

This wall faces south and often holds sunbathing flies, all desperate to warm up before I arrive with my net

Another south facing feature that often holds flies. More diversity here too, not just calliphorids as per the wall
The beetle list is slowly growing, most impressive find yesterday was a Creophilus maxillosus which was literally blown (yep, like a tiny tumbleweed!) across the track in front of me. I thought it was a dead bee at first, maybe a dull Andrena or somesuch, then it slowly uncurled, lumbered into life and started walking around the pot I'd popped it into. It's a proper smart beast and the first I've seen on Skye, though seemingly quite a common species across the Inner Hebrides, being recorded from all main islands either near the strandline or beneath mammal carcases. I also have a small staphylinid which keys through beautifully to the wrong species. I'll try it again some other time...

My boot is 32cm long - I'm thinking this probably isn't a rabbit or sheep bone...
Tomorrow we're due some snow. In April. FML. I need warmth, long days and lots of invert action. Soon, I'll keep telling myself soon... 

I think I've played this at you before, but it's sheer brilliance so have it again

Random factoid #271 - I need 24 more species to reach 600 species of vertebrate on my British PSL