Having travelled to Shrewsbury last weekend to speak at the excellent Darwin Festival, organised by Shropshire Wildlife Trust and partners, I took the opportunity to do some extreme entomology. Okay, so The Hollies (next door to The Stiperstones, near Shrewsbury) is a bit higher than where I live, 350 metres as opposed to 100 m, but the altitude can’t be said to be extreme. And although a cold, gloves-on February day might not be the usual choice for bug-hunting – the temperature records claim it was 7-8 °C, but with a biting wind it felt a good deal colder – that wasn’t really extreme either, although it did make it hard to keep the beating tray steady. No, the extreme thing here was the trees I was searching for signs of insect life: a range of ancient Holly trees, some believed to be about 400 years old.
The Holly trees at The Hollies are an extraordinary range of shapes. Many are individual isolated trees that have been sculpted by wind and time into gnarled shapes that stretch and lean. There is precious little shelter to be had, either for the trees themselves, or any insects that might live in or on them, or indeed for the visiting entomologist. This must be one of the few Holly populations anywhere in Britain where the Holly Leaf-miner fly (Phytomyza ilicis) struggles to gain a foothold – I found just a few mines on one of the slightly less exposed trees.
|Pogonocherus hispidus on Holly bark at The Hollies
But a lot of insects clearly do make their home here, as testified by the peppering of beetle exit holes in the trunks and limbs of the trees. And in fact the first insect to fall out of a Holly and onto my beating tray was the Lesser Thorn-tipped Longhorn Beetle (Pogonocherus hispidus). Larvae of this small (5mm) but attractive beetle develop in the small branches of a range of trees including Holly. Do have a look at these two great close-ups by John Hallmén on Flickr.
An hour or so of beating and grubbing around the trunks of the the trees produced a small list of other species:
- Holly Speckle fungus, Trochila ilicina (a tiny fungus that only grows on dead Holly leaves)
- Lesser Thorn-tipped Longhorn Beetle, Pogonocherus hispidus
- a fly, Sylvicola cinctus
- Holly Leaf-miner fly, Phytomyza ilicis
- a flower bug, Anthocoris nemoralis
- a flower bug, Anthocoris nemorum
- Common Rough Woodlouse, Porcellio scaber
- Walnut Orb-weaver spider, Nuctenea umbratica