Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Five hundred - and counting

On 3 November the total number of arthropods (insects, woodlice, centipedes, etc) recorded from Byfield Pocket Park passed the 500 mark and has now reached 506. The five hundredth species was a common beetle which I should have found long ago. Aphodius contaminatus is a rather small (about 5 mm) Dung Beetle, related to - but far less charismatic than - the scarab beetles of Egyptian fame, being a dull brown with darker markings. Nevertheless it is, like its Egyptian cousins, often found investigating dung, with rabbit droppings arousing interest.

Aphodius contaminatus found in Byfield Pocket Park
4 November, 2013
This beetle presented few difficulties but I also took a leaf beetle for which dissection of the genitalia will be required for identification. As the specimen is barely 3 millimetres long I fear it will remain unidentified.

At this time of the year it can be a challenge finding insects, although leaf litter can be productive. Insects may not be abundant but small linyphiid spiders - "money spiders" as they are popularly known - can be surprisingly common, so the total for the pocket park should continue to creep upwards. Failing that I'll blow the dust off my copy of E.V.Watson's "British Mosses and Liverworts" and see what this area has to offer.

It is obvious even to the naked eye that mosses can be very attractive; under a microscope they are often beautiful and their study is, I find, very rewarding. From time to time small creatures known as tardigrades will be found in the moss. These extraordinary animals can be frozen to near absolute zero temperatures and survive. Similarly they can be freeze-dried, boiled, subjected to theoretically lethal doses of radiation, - and still survive. It is not surprising that they are the subject of intense interest in university laboratories around the globe.

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