2nd Day: Beetle Surprise

One May morning I was out doing fieldwork for my PhD. So far, this has generally involved poking around umbellifers for beetles (I promise you there’s a bit more structure to it than that!), but I often have a quick look at other spring flowers for a rough and ready comparison of their relative attractiveness to insects.

So it was that I leant over to look at a beautiful little patch of oxeye daisies growing in the middle of a perfectly ordinary footpath next to a perfectly ordinary farm, near Wokingham. Which, as you may guess, is a perfectly ordinary place. Surely nothing interesting to see here?

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I quickly spotted three carpet beetles, and noting that they were of unusually bold pattern, popped them into a collecting pot for later inspection. I took them to be an unusual variant of Anthrenus verbasci, known commonly as the varied carpet beetle. It’s probably the commonest species in its family in the UK, and usually breeds indoors. You often find freshly emerged adults on windowsills in the spring. But I also hoped there was a chance this was a species I hadn’t seen before.

If anyone could tell me what these beetles were it would be my PhD supervisor Graham Holloway, who by complete chance is the national recorder for Dermestidae, the family to which carpet beetles belong. And when I saw his face turn to astonishment as he looked at them down a microscope, I knew I must have stumbled on something special.  A short bit of sleuthing identified them as Anthrenus angustefasciatus, a species not previously recorded in Britain.

As a slice of beginner’s luck, this was pretty impressive. I’ve only seen 800 species of insect in a few years of trying (trust me, this isn’t many set against what is out there!), so for one of them to have been seen in the wild in Britain by me alone feels almost a bit cheeky. Still, I’m very glad to have been in the right place at the right time, and am looking forward to full details of the find being published in the British Journal of Entomology and Natural History sometime in the New Year.

Anthrenus angustefasciatus discovered in Berkshire in May, 2014, with key identifying features labelled.

Anthrenus angustefasciatus discovered in Berkshire in May, 2014, with key identifying features labelled.

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