Thursday, 24 May 2012

Hail and flower

On 15 May, less than 10 days ago, it was still cold and, in the afternoon we had a fierce shower of hail that whitened the grass.IMG_0059

This week it has turned very warm with temperatures between 25 and 30 Celsius at their highest.

Another flower has appeared, the tiny field speedwell, Veronica arvensis.

 20120522 ( Lawn Veronica arvensis 2

Monday, 14 May 2012

First leaf miner

A small leaf mine has started to develop in a hogweed leaf.  I think it is either Phytomyza spondylii or P. pastinacae (Diptera: Agromyzidae) that can only be separated via the adult male genitalia.

20120514 Lawn hogweed mine

The dandelion that flowered earlier fully developed its seeds yesterday but the wind must have caught the 'clock' so that by the time a arrived at 9.30 this morning the little parachutes had already scattered into the grass.

20120514 Lawn dandelion seeds b

Sunday, 13 May 2012

More May insects

Although the weather is still uncertain and often cold, the vegetation in the Rectangle is now rising rapidly and creating a shadowy green understorey of the kind preferred by insects and other invertebrates.  The hogweed looks like becoming dominant. 

20120512 Lawn rectangle

Yesterday I found a solitary bee (yet to be identified) and a spring cranefly, Tipula vernalis, resting comfortably in the grass.

20120512 Lawn Tipula vernalis (2)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Ant woodlouse and more

In the rare intervals of sunshine in the last few weeks, visits to the Rectangle have proved quite rewarding.  On one occasion I found the lacebug Physatocheila dumetorum, seemingly the first East Sussex record for over 100 years.  Among the plants there are several small stands of Atrichum undulatum, a moss with something of the Carboniferous era about it.

20120507 Lawn rectangle Atricum undulatum (14)

The first grass, annual meadow grass, Poa annua, has reached anthesis.

20120507 Lawn rectangle Poa annua (11)

By the lip of the pitfall trap was one ant woodlouse, Platyarthrus hoffmannseggi.  This very small, blind creature spends all its life in or near ants' nests, where it probably lives as a scavenger.  It is the first time I have found it in our garden.

20120508 Lawn Platyarthrus Ant woodlouse (17a)

Already an interesting dimension of this project is beginning to emerge: I am finding many things that I have never seen in the Square Metre project perhaps only 50 metres away and which I have been scrutinising regularly for nearly nine years.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Another flower

Despite the cold and wet spell, one of the dandelions has now opened.



Otherwise most of the new wildlife seems to be gathering under the half brick over the pitfall trap.  The other day there were two shining woodlice, Oniscus asellus, several small, iridescent springtails, Lepidocyrtus curvicollis and a lesser dung fly yet to be identified as well as other invertebrates that I have already recorded.

Rather to my surprise no seedlings have yet appeared in the bare patch where I turned a turf over.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Hawthorn flies

Today I found two flies on the protective cage over the project.  One was a small, female coffin fly, Megaselia sp. (not identifiable to specific level in the female).  The other a hawthorn fly or St. Mark's fly, Bibio varipes (below).


Although probably not uncommon, there are only very few records of this species from Sussex.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Slugs and snails

We have had showers over several days, but it remains cold for mid-April and growth is slow.

However, the invertebrate records are growing.  Yesterday there was a small white slug, possibly Lehmania valentiana, though this will need checking.  There were also two snails under the half brick, both I think Oxychilus alliarius, the garlic snail.  I have kept both alive in a polythene box to try and make a firm ID in due course.

20120412 Oxychilus sp. b

Today there was a larger slug with go-faster stripes.  A member of the Arion hortensis group (only separable to species level with dissection).  A key characteristic is the dark band on the right had side arching over the pneumostome, visible in the picture below as the depression in the mantle towards to right hand end of the slug.  It is a common species and often a garden and greenhouse pest.

20120413 Arion hortensis agg d

There were also two flea beetles (awaiting identification) and a small predatory creature, the minute pirate bug, Orius vicinus that preys mainly on mites and aphids.

I have noticed that some insects seem to like resting on the bars of the metal crate I use to cover the area (to stop rabbit grazing and trampling by children).  I suspect that I will find much from scrutinising these bars as well as from the ground and its vegetation below.

One of the dandelions has produced a bud.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Another millipede

It remains cold, grey and very dry.  Under the half brick I found another millipede, this time a young Polydesmus species, probably P. angustus.


There is also a cocoon, probably a spiders egg nest, in a small cavity in the brick (which is currently the most productive feature of this project).


Friday, 6 April 2012

Another roller: Armadillidium vulgare

The pitfall trap produced its first proper woodlouse yesterday in the shape of Armadillidium vulgare, the common pill woodlouse, famous for its ability to roll up into a ball.

20120405 Armadillidium vulgare

Often they are plain dark grey all over, but this mottled version is not uncommon, especially near the coast (we are some six and a half miles from the sea).

Thursday, 5 April 2012

More invertebrates

Although the weather remains bitterly cold for April, my pitfall trap and half brick are proving moderately productive.

Under the brick I found a pill millipede, Glomeris marginata. This untypical millipede has the most extraordinary mating habits, described in detail in J. Gordon Blower's book Millipedes (1985) on page 58 (this can be read via Google Books). Blower also points out that this small animal has an extraordinarily long life - up to 11 years a fact that inspired the following remark: "Like the long-lived iteroparous ommatoiulines, Glomeris marginata shows marked fluctuations in abundance at any one site"

Glomeris marginata 13 4 04 a

I also found a springtail, Orchesella villosa, in the pitfall trap, while the rove beetle also trapped here at the end of March is Sepedophilus marshami, probably widespread, but not very often recorded.

20120404 (5)

20120404 (6)  Sepedophilus marshami

Monday, 2 April 2012

Rustic wolf spider (Trochosa ruricola).

The spider that turned up in the pitfall trap under the half brick on 30th March proved to be a male rustic wolf spider, Trochosa ruricola. It is the first I have identified from the garden, but I expect it is common as it seems to be across its extensive range.

It is known to be found on lawns as well as in a wide range of other fairly open habitats and it occurs frequently in pitfall traps. It is widespread in Sussex with most records from coastal locations.

Project summary

I have been asked by the national Wildlife Gardening Forum to speak at a conference on lawns and biodiversity at the Natural History Museum at the end of June. Accordingly, on 29 March 2012, I marked out a rectangle on our small country garden lawn at Sedlescombe, East Sussex, UK measuring just under 0.4 sq m.

It is short mown turf with a rich mixture of grasses and other plants and I intend to let it develop as it will, at least until the date of the conference.

Having marked out the area I removed all the dead leaves and twigs and added a piece of sandstone and a small pitfall trap covered by a half brick. I also turned over a square of turf its four sides each the length of my spade to expose some bare earth and see what plants might be lurking in the subterranean seed bank.

I have a stout rectangular wire basket which I have put over the area partly to define it, partly to keep rabbits and tramplers (including children) out. I will take this off from time to time.

Insects started to appear straight away. On the second day there were many black ants, a lycosid spider in the pitfall and, on the following day a staphylinid rove beetle in the same place. All the plants will be in the full species list. I did, however, find one tiny flower on the first day on a diminutive plant of thyme-leaved speedwell Veronica serpyllifolia.