Wildlife Garden | Species review of the year 2017 – part 2: mostly beetles

In our previous Wildlife Garden blog we reviewed some of the new, and some of the returning species last year, focusing mainly on moths and bees – with a small mention of beetles.

Eleven additional species of beetle were found in the Wildlife Garden in 2017 and here Stephanie Skipp, a former Identification Trainer for the Future, comments on some of these finds:

‘As a visitor to the Wildlife Garden, taking the time to stop and notice the little creatures that make each habitat their home is something that always makes me smile … but it is rare to find the creature smiling back up at you!

During the summer, some of my favourite things to see in the Wildlife Garden are the tiny black and white chequered weevils that live on the garden’s figwort. One day I stopped to look for these familiar treats when I noticed another, slightly different weevil on the figwort that was almost completely white. When I looked closer, I was amused to notice a black pattern on the weevils back that I thought looked like a little smiley face.

This weevil, called Cionus alauda can be found both on figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) and on water figwort (S. auriculata), the latter of which grows in abundance around the Wildlife Garden’s pond.

beetle blog 1 Cionus alauda
The weevil Cionus alauda © Tristan Bantock

Two other weevil species, with the same long ‘noses’ (these ‘noses’ actually bear the beetle’s mouthparts) were also recorded new to the garden last year. These were the ‘strawberry blossom weevil’ (Anthonomus rubi) and the ‘clover head weevil’ (Hypera meles), which is uncommonly recorded in the UK and has been given the status of ‘Nationally Notable A’.

In addition to the weevils, a ladybird has also been added new to the Wildlife Garden list. You might think of ladybirds as large, round and very distinctive beetles but this one, Coccidula scutellata, is something of an anomaly. It is small, reaching only 3mm in length, quite elongate and hairy.  It spends its life among water-associated plants and so must benefit from the Wildlife Garden’s various pond habitats.

Also making use of the ponds was Scirtes hemisphaericus. This is a small round beetle with enlarged ‘thighs’ on its hind legs which allow it to quickly jump away from any potential predators. It is in the family Scirtidae or ‘marsh beetles’, so called because they have aquatic larvae, and are therefore reliant on water bodies to complete their life cycle.

Another of the new beetles recorded in the garden is one that is quite familiar to me from my time studying the collections as a museum trainee. The species, Malthinus seriepunctatus, belongs to the family Cantharidae (soldier beetles). These are affectionately termed ‘squishy beetles’ by some museum scientists because of their weak and flexible wing-cases. Malthinus seriepunctatus is one of our smaller UK soldier beetle species so often goes unnoticed. Luckily the museum is filled with experts who know where to look!

beetle blog photo 2 Malthinus seriepunctatus
Malthinus seriepunctatus © Tristan Bantock

There were also a few leaf beetles added to the Wildlife Garden’s list last year. The first, Plagiodera versicolora, has a beautiful shiny, metallic colouration (a character common among the leaf beetles). It feeds on the underside of willow leaves and was accordingly found on willow trees near to the main Wildlife Garden pond.

beetle blog photo 3 - Plagiodera versicolora
Plagiodera versicolora © Donald Hobern

The second new leaf beetle looks decidedly different from the first, being duller in colour and possessing unusually thickened antennae. This is because it is a member of subfamily, Bruchinae. In the past, this subfamily was considered an entirely different family from the leaf beetles, with its members often being referred to by the somewhat misleading name, ‘bean weevils’. The species found in the Wildlife Garden last year was Bruchidius villosus, which usually lives on broom (Cytisus scoparius) and which grows in one of the Garden’s heathland habitats.

Another new beetle is Melanopus castanipes. This is a very long and thin click beetle (Elateridae) which is likely to be associated with logs of pine wood. The Wildlife Garden makes a special effort to incorporate pieces of deadwood into the landscape to provide for many specialist invertebrates.

Finally, there have been two newly recorded beetles from the family Scarabaeidae. One of these is the ‘Welsh chafer’, Hoplia philanthus, which enjoys the long grassland habitats amply provided in the Wildlife Garden’s meadows. The second is one of the dung beetles, Aphodius sphacelatus, usually found frolicking in the excrement of various animals including cows and horses, or, in the case of the Wildlife Garden, sheep. Museum scientists were saved the trouble of searching through any such substances though, as this beetle was recorded after it came to the garden’s regularly run light trap.

Aphodius sphacelatus in collecting tube © Stephanie Skipp

As we have seen, these beetles all have quite different requirements. Each of them is able to thrive in the NHM’s Wildlife Garden because of the diversity of habitats provided. As spring returns this year, and monitoring recommences, hopefully we will discover even more different species among these habitats.

If you feel inspired to turn your own garden into an urban beetle reservoir, there area a number of things you can do. These include, leaving some deadwood, allowing some of your grass to grow long and introducing a pond. Most importantly, remember to spare a moment to look for and appreciate your garden’s insect inhabitants!’
by Stephanie Skipp, Identification Trainer for the Future

Other observations

Thank-you to Steph for such memorable beetle observations.

I should also add that we were pleased to record the continued presence of the unusual ladybird, Rhizobius forestieri, first recorded in 2014.

Other new invertebrate records in 2017 included the earthworm, Satchellius mammalis –  for more about earthworms in the Wildlife Garden see the current issue of evolve, the Museum magazine, and 18 species of fly including the shore fly Setacera aurata – more about flies in a later blog.

And now with Spring well and truly here, it’s time to get back outside. We have been busy recording this year’s beetles, butterflies and bees as well as the plants in the habitats they rely on.  I was pleased to see find that our beetle team recorded one of my favourites last week, the splendid weevil Polydrusus formosus, a Notable species.

Polydrusus formosus in the Wildlife Garden © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

If you would like to come and help record the plants and animals that make our Wildlife Garden, please join us on Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 May for the Bioblitz in the Wildlife Garden as part of the Operation Earth Family Festival.


One Reply to “Wildlife Garden | Species review of the year 2017 – part 2: mostly beetles”

  1. I am interested in the behaviour exhibited by the female emperor dragonfly. Both last year and this year the female does not appear to lay any eggs within our pond but spends her time inserting her claspers into the soil adjacent to the pond or in amongst the foliage of plants that are there. Is she laying eggs expecting her larvae to make their own way the few centimeters into the water or what is she actually doing?

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