Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crucifix Beetle...a comeback?

International Year of Biodiversity

Interesting story.

Bill Ashworth wrote in the Linda Hall Library Newsletter...

Leonard Jenyns, an English naturalist and clergyman, was born May 25, 1800. When Charles Darwin returned from the voyage of the Beagle and was looking for experts to analyze his collections, he chose Jenyns to describe his fish specimens. The fish volume, part 4 of the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle, written by Jenyns and edited by Darwin, appeared in 1842. But the most memorable interaction between Darwin and Jenyns took place on Oct. 17, 1846, when Darwin wrote a letter to Jenyns, describing an incident that had occurred to Darwin 18 years earlier, when he was a student at Cambridge: "I must tell you what happened to me on the banks of the Cam in my early entomological days; under a piece of bark I found two Carabi [a kind of beetle] & caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagaeus crux major [the very rare Crucifix Ground Beetle]; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagaęus was out of the question, so that in despair I gently seized one of the Carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost both Carabi & Panagaeus!" Twenty years later, Darwin re-recounted the story with some small changes in his Autobiography. The Crucifix Beetle is quite scarce in England, and none had been seen in Cambridge since the 1950s, until one was spotted in 2008.

"Rare Crucifix beetle resurfaces in Wicken Fen"


Paul Eccleston

May 16th, 2008


One of Britain's rarest beetles has resurfaced at a site where it hasn't been seen for 50 years.

The Crucifix Ground Beetle was discovered at the National Trust's Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire.

Previously it was thought to exist at only three places in the UK and at one of these it has not been seen for 10 years.

The Crucifix (Panagaeus cruxmajor), is listed as an Endangered Species in the UK's Red Data Book and is a priority for conservation in the government's Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).

The vivid orange and black crucifix was last recorded at Wicken in 1951 despite regular and widespread checks by experts. The beetle is 8-10mm in length and is largely black and bristly.

It has a characteristic bug-eyed appearance and a broad thorax. Its name was inspired by the large red spots on the wing cases giving the appearance of a black cross against a red background.

Little is known of its lifestyle but it is nocturnal and shelters during the day under driftwood or discarded plastic sheeting. It is a predator and is thought to feed mainly on semi-aquatic snails.

It was considered a great prize by Victorian entomologists and Charles Darwin, a keen collector of beetles, found the species 'near Cambridge' when he was a Cambridge University under-graduate in the 1820s.

The beetle was found at Wicken many times in the early part of the Twentieth Century but records became increasingly rare, until the last one was found on the Sedge Fen at Wicken Fen in 1951.

Stuart Warrington, the National Trust Nature Conservation Advisor who discovered the beetle, said: "This beetle is the rarest species I have ever seen and in the insect world it is perhaps the equivalent of a Bittern for ornithologists. To say that I was surprised and excited to have found it during one of my regular surveys at Wicken Fen is an under-statement."

Beetle expert Tony Drane, who has been visiting Wicken Fen for over 30 years, said: "It is fantastic that this rare species has been re-discovered at Wicken Fen. It has probably never been away but has survived undetected in low numbers in the Fen alongside Wicken Lode. This is one of a number of rare species in decline across the UK which survive at Wicken Fen, showing the importance of this nature reserve and why it is important to make the reserve larger."

Wicken Fen nature reserve is one of the most important wetland sites in Europe and has been owned by The National Trust since 1899. More than 7,500 species - including 1,500 different beetles - have been recorded at Wicken making it the most species-rich site known in Britain.

Other species present include many internationally rare plants, insects, birds and mammals, such as Water Vole, Otter, Marsh Harrier, Marsh Pea and Silver-barred Moth.

No comments: