I was brought this yesterday. A couple appeared at the Nunhead Cemetery Open Day bug-hunt and when there was a gap in the stream of children they leant in and handed me a small plastic pot containing a longhorn beetle — Phymatodes testaceus.
Phymatodes testaceus is sometimes testaceous (reddish) sometimes metallic blue, sometimes both, but always striking.
It’s a beetle I don’t see very often, and although widespread in most of England and Wales I’d consider it very local. Where had it come from? Their Kent living room — quite a few of them apparently, flying about over the last few days. They were slightly worried in case there was an infestation. They could tell from my sceptical expression that this was unlikely.
There is no way that this is a domestic insect, it’s a species of old broad-leaved woodlands, breeding in the dead logs that litter the woods. Ah! A look of understanding crossed their brows. They must have been in the logs — brought in during the winter for the log-burning stove. Sorted.
They went away well pleased, but declined a bug-hunt certificate.
It’s the little things that get me excited. Take this tiny (4 mm) longhorn beetle, Nathrius brevipennis. The longhorns are a diverse group of beetles, but most of them are relatively large (some UK species to 50 mm not including the long antennae) and others are brightly coloured. Nathrius must rank as our smallest and dullest.
Nathrius brevipennis is too small to have an English name, but at 4 mm I’m thinking “short longhorn”.
But when this one crawled over my small garden table on Monday (14 July) I nearly fell off my chair. Nathrius, I knew, is very rare; so rare, in fact, that it is barely regarded as being British at all. Some of the older books do not include it, some others say “naturalized”. Occasionally specimens emerge from decorative twigs of uncertain provenance bought in florist shops, others chew their way out of wicker baskets imported from who knows where. Records in genuine outdoor habitats, in the wild, are scant.
My Nathrius is special, not because it is so rare, or even because I found it out of doors, but because it is the second specimen I have found out of doors in my garden. The first specimen crawled over my arm as I sat outside reading the newspaper on 18 July 2010. Of course I enthusiastically reported its presence in the entomological press here.
So, two specimens in 4 years makes my garden the largest known UK colony of this small but fascinating insect.