At the top of Ecclesbourne Glen there is a wild rose hedge that has proved to be good habitat for invertebrates. A number of finds over the past year have been new species for the Country Park list. Despite the Bank Holiday Weekend being cold and blustery, fresh leaf growth on the rose hedge was worth searching as it revealed another new species. It was a parasitoid wasp of the Platygastridae family, and not only was it a new species for the Country Park list, it was a new UK species. Until last weekend there were four wasps of the genus Metaclisis on the UK list, there are now five. Metaclisis germanica was described earlier this year as a new species to science, and it had only ever been found in Germany. Identification was made by microscopic examination comparing the wasp to the species description.
A search in tussocks of grass growing on the sandstone bluff in the middle of the quarry has found an interesting Springtail or Collembola. Anurophorus laricis is a new species for the Country Park, and also a new species for Sussex. Springtails are so called because they have a forked appendage (a furca) under their back end that acts like a spring enabling them to flip away when danger approaches. The species found yesterday has no furca, and hence the question arises as to whether it ought be called a springtail, perhaps better to use the preferred term Collembola.
Wildlife in the Country Park takes many and varied forms, some are easier to see than others. The most challenging thus far is a wasp. It was found in long grass at the helipad and is a parasitoid of a species of weevil and a cranefly. At just under 0.5mm long it is difficult to be certain of the identification, but Anaphes regulus of the Mymaridae is the most likely. The Mymaridae family of wasps are commonly known as Fairyflies owing to their tiny size and remarkable fringed wings. They are the only family of parasitoid wasps to have a common name.
Bare patches in the former hedgeline on the Firehills provide a relatively sheltered warm microclimate that is a degree or two higher than the surrounding area. Consequently these bare areas are always worth a close look when seeking insects as so many are more active at higher temperatures since they live at the northern edge of their range in this country. A recent visit found a Turtle Shieldbug Podops inuncta. This species is not uncommon, yet it is infrequently found since its colouration blends so well with the soil and it is a ground dwelling species. It has not been previously recorded in the Country Park, nor in the local area. It has another common name, the Knobbed Shieldbug referencing those peculiar protuberances at the shoulder.
Hunting through parched grass in the quarry in the hope of finding interesting insects, a wasp of a new family was found. The family is Bethylidae, and the wasp is Epyris niger. It was entirely black, approximately 4mm long, and had a prognathous head. Microscope examination proved it to be a most interesting insect that is evidently quite a serious predator. It has a powerful sting to disable larvae of lepidoptera and coleoptera which are then dragged away – eggs are laid on the prey. This is another new species to add to the ever-growing list for the Country Park.
Another new Thrips has been found and identified in the Country Park. It was found on the gorse, grass and heather stubble that has established on the Firehills since the removal of single-age blocks of gorse. The insect is just under 1mm long and required the skills of an expert to identify it. Enquiries were made to Dr.Manfred Ulitzka in Offenburg who has identified it as a micropterous female Sericothrips staphylinus.
Dr.Ulitzka made some very good pictures that show much greater detail than I am able to achieve and we are grateful both for his help in identifying the Thrips and his permission to reproduce the images here. The second picture shows characteristic microtrichia on the metascutellum.
It has been interesting to see the great increase in insect biodiversity on the Firehills since the removal of those old single-age blocks of gorse that supported very little life. It was an excellent piece of habitat improvement. We can only hope that future management decisions might be evidence based rather than led by the latest grant availability.
In the rough dry grass of the Firehills during the long lazy days of summer we might glimpse the jewel like beauty of a Ruby-tailed Wasp. These small colourful wasps are cuckoo species that are associated with specific hosts. A visit to the Firehills this week has seen two species of Hedychridium. One has a dull red abdomen and is a little larger, Hedychridium roseum is frequently found in open sunny areas and is closely associated with a Crabronid wasps as its host. The second species was even more colourful but a little smaller. It is always worth keeping an eye open for Ruby-tailed Wasps as their colour never fails to please.
The area of flower-rich meadow opposite the first car park off Lower Coastguard Lane is widely known as Kay’s Meadow, and it is always worth a good look for its abundance of wildflowers and insects. An unusual insect has just been found therein that would be missed by most as it is only 1.1mm long. It is Trimorus punctulator – a wasp that has no wings as such yet it has antennae that are easily twice the length of its body. It hunts prey by jumping, and is a parasitoid of the eggs of insects and spiders. It is one of the Scelionid wasps.
Occasionally one may peer into the grass and see something that makes one wonder why evolution has gone down a particular route. A recent walk across the Firehills found a brightly coloured wasp sporting some interesting accoutrements. Hanging below its face were a pair of globular things that seemed to defy logic. They are the swollen tips of the maxillary palps, but their size would suggest that they must have some purpose. Speculation is rarely wise, but in this case one might speculate that the globular things could perhaps be involved in the detection of pheromones. The wasp is a male Halticoptera hippeus of the family Pteromalidae, it is one of the Chalcid wasps that are parasitoids of insect eggs.
A walk through the quarry in glorious June sunshine was enriched by the sight of a Bishop’s Mitre shieldbug stumbling and clambering through the rabbit-cropped turf. This species of shieldbug is one of the easiest to identify from its distinctive shape, yet it has proved elusive in the Country Park until now.
The visit was also fortunate to find a couple of flightless wasps that hunt prey by jumping onto them. This species of wasp Dinocarsis hemiptera was found last year in the rush growing in the seasonal pond of the quarry, but this visit found them in Sheep’s Sorrel growing in the area so well cleared by volunteers in former times.