Patmore heath HIP, July 2019
First Posted 29 July 2019
It's been a busy few months for me, I've managed to pack and move house and job hop a couple of times, finally embarking on a career in the entomological sector. So it's safe to say I have neglected the beetles for a brief moment.
For this reason I was stoked to get out in the field with the 'Herts Invertebrate project' once more. Even if there was promise of 'Thunderstorms'.
Patmore Heath is a mix of acidic grassland with a few sphagnum filled pools (a rare habitat in its own right). It is a SSSI site, so we needed permission to collect on site, with the proviso that we would share any records made with the local trusts.
In the car park, we were greeted with some form of Hymenopteran nesting site, characterised by lots of little burrows in the ground. However it would be in till the sun came out several hours later that we would meet their inhabitants, one of the solitary digger wasps (although I am still waiting for an accurate identification).
One of the inhabitants, a delightfully attentive digger wasp of some description
From the car park we made a beeline to the nearest pond, but unfortunately due the the hot weather we were met, instead by a dry crater akin to something on the moon with only the toughest scrub remaining.
A quick sweep yielded nothing more exciting than the usual flea and pollen beetles which can be a headache to key out on the best of days. Luckily, we had Hertfordshires finest Beetle botherer, Trevor James in tow and therefore I passed all the headaches over to him for him to do!
In my first sweep I picked up , what I believed to e a Harpaline, but noticed it had 2 ocular setae (read hairs above it eyes) which ruled out Harpalinii all together. It turned out to be Curtonotus aulicus, one of the less typical looking beetles within the Amara group, in fact, one of its symonyms is actually Amara aulica.
Curtonotus aulicus image via Lindsey
After absolutely soaking my sweep net (much to my distain) I decided to change tact and began to root around, in what I believed at the ime to me deer dung of some description, but later came to the realisation that it may be that of sheep.
This yielded some magnificent red 'Dung jewels' in the form of Aphodius fimitarius, a common but pleasing to see dung beetle!
One of the Aphodius that I found! Those who dare and all that!
Meanwhile Trevor was buried in his sweep net searching for an 'Interesting looking Longitarsus' that had hopped out of his net at the critical moment, earning its right to be called a 'flea beetle'
Simon Knott (who is an excellent naturalist in his own right) suddenly joined the party and somehow managed, against all odds, to sweep an already dead Cockchafer from underneath a Hawthorn tree.
Being a decent specimen I took it to pin late on, as large species are great to show at outreach events and another beetle added to the list!
For the record it is heavenly on the knees, grubbing never felt so good!
Grubbing around in the Sphagnum unfortunately produced nothing, however it has been incredibly dry this month and we didn't want to be to destructive to this incredibly rare and important habitat so thought best to simply make a mental note to come back earlier next year.
Due to the dryness much of the colour of the miss had gone but it was so incredibly soft!
A fellow party member suddenly appeared with an impressive example of a Dorcus parallelipipedus male (which have a more transverse head than that of females) initially it was misidentified as a greater stag beetle, however its lack of mahogany coloured wing cases and matt black appearance proved it was in fact the slightly less fortunately named 'Lesser Stag Beetle'.
Lesser stag beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus
The day was then halted by a sudden outburst of 'WEATHER' and the less prepared of us took refuge under a nearby tree. We were however able to watch the cinnabar moth caterpillars casually graze on the blooms of ragwort surrounding us.
Eventually the Sun once again prevailed and the insects began to take flight. Many of us just watched a particularly dry looking trunk and the hymenopterans that seemed to ooze from its scarred surfaces.
The most interesting of which was a particularly large Cuckoo wasp, that was exploring the inhabited holes.
With its irridescent colouration and striking ruby coloured abdomen these look like they belong in soewhere far more tropical than Hertfordshire. They can be a tough one to identify even to genus though, so our Hymenopteran fan took it off to ID properly. There is a key here from Zookeys if you ever fancied a go yourself
It was however fairly quiet on the beetle front, finding only remnants of an Agonium elytra and various other unidentifiable fragments in an old dried out rot hole.
Until of course I had to take a phone call and everything took the opportunity to dart along the path I was on whilst I was occupied.
I did manage to see Lagria hirta, and common but very seasonal Tenebrionid, which had illuded me until a couple of weeks before.
When I finished my phone call Bob Catchpole called me over whilst we were all huddled around a pile of straw picking out Staphylinids to pass on to Trevor (who seems to effortlessly pluck the binomials out of the air).
It was the beetle of the day, Stictoleptura scutellata.
It's not incredibly rare (although is listed as nationally nationally notable A on NBN Atlas) but is by no means a common beetle. This one decided to fly and land on all of us, despite us repeatedly sending him off on his way after a few photos.
A lovely end to a very uncertain day!