A few weeks ago when we were cutting the reeds at Loynton Moss I spotted a little red and black beetle scurrying its away along the fallen vegetation. As I never seem to spot much wildlife there I stopped what I was doing for a closer look. After numerous attempts I managed to get a photo on my phone. Lucy, the reserve assistant who runs the volunteer work party, came over to see what I was doing and she got a couple of photos too. Neither of us knew exactly what it was but considering that beetles make up nearly a quarter of all known animal forms it wasn’t that surprising. Lucy said she’d show her photos to another member of Trust staff back at the Wolesely centre to see if they could shed any light on its identification. I watched the attractive little creature for a bit longer then got back to raking up the reeds, thinking nothing more of it.
It turns out that this little beetle warranted a little more consideration then I gave it, as it has recently been confirmed as being a new species for Stafforshire! With the latin name Anthocomus rufus this beetle prefers wetter areas, making Loynton Moss a perfect place for it. I first spotted it whilst we were cutting reeds but when we were back at Loynton last week, cutting down the willow, I found another one. Hopefully this means that there is a stable population there rather than my first sighting being a once off!
A first for a county is not as big news as a new species for science but I was still pretty excited about the discovery. I’ve always favoured mammals over other taxa but two field trips in second year where I studied ground arthropods, and two weevil species, combined with my lecturers passion and enthusiasm have left me with a bit of a soft spot for beetles.
The week before my second year started saw me and a group of course mates spending the week in the peak district on a Biodiversity Field Course. In small groups we each had a group of organisms to survey at four different locations. My group were given ‘ground arthropods’. To survey these we set pit fall traps, left them overnight and then collected our specimens. Although we were technically looking at ground invertebrates the vast majorities of the organisms we caught were beetles. Armed with dissecting microscope and numerous keys we set about trying to identify them. It was definitely not as easy as I first thought it would be! Whether a beetle is one species or another can come down to such tiny detail as the number of segments that make up its antennae, how many pits it has above each eye or the number of grooves on its elytra. Most nights we were up to the early hours of the morning figuring it all out. Our choices were either go mad and hate all things creepy and crawly or develop a fondness for them. Luckily for me it was the latter.
Six months later saw me heading off on another field trip, this time to an old farm that now functions as a field station, just outside Lisbon, Portugal. This time I was taking part in the Behavioural Ecology field trip offered by the university. Three others and I had chosen to study two species of weevils for the two weeks we were there. As long as it concerned weevils, the Cistus plant on which they fed and bred and the crab spiders that sometimes preyed upon the weevils, we were given free rein to take our research down whatever route we wanted. We ended up looking at a few different aspects of their behaviour; my final write up was entitled ‘Location, Feeding Preference, Mate Detection and Predator Avoidance in two species of Weevil.’ For the two weeks we lived, breathed and dreamt weevils. Our lecture encouraged this with his numerous weevil songs that he’d made up. Unfortunately our results didn’t bring up anything exciting. Despite that, I loved studying the tiny beetles; it was a good mix of field and lab work and I’d never had the chance to devote that much time to study one subject before. Reading the scientific literature, when back in England and writing up my report, highlighted numerous ways that we could have improved on our experimental design, which in hindsight may have helped us achieve significant results, and many other areas of weevil behaviour that I would have studied if given the chance. Unfortunately the field course is only open for second years and I didn’t have a chance to go back and spend more time with the weevils.
Luckily for me I seem to be the sort of person that after an intense study of a specific subject, develops a fascination and fondness for it, rather then a hatred and desire to never see it again in my life. Due to the field trips I now seem to spot beetles where I wouldn’t have before. Over the summer just gone it seems to have developed slightly into a interest in all creepy crawlies; I see a lot more of those out and about then I do of mammals, and they’re normally a lot closer to look at then birds. I feel like I’ve developed an appreciation and admiration for all invertebrates; something that I feel is vital for anyone with any interest in the natural world. Everything is interlinked and even if you do not want to spend years studying beetles and other insects, you cannot discount them as irrelevant; every organism, whether small or large has its niche within our natural world.
It seems that my fondness for beetles will not fade now that I’ve finished university and my two weevil species may have been toppled from their pedestal as my favourite beetles. Sorry weevils but I think Anthocomus rufus may have taken your place!