Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Skullduggery...or skulduggery if you prefer-pick the bones out of that!

 I don't ever really expect to find much in the way of invertebrates when I visit coniferous woodland, with its densely populated and planted trees, it hasn't proved to be a good hunting ground for me regarding insects and bugs.
That's how it was again on a recent hike around Hemsted Forest, a local wood owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. 

But as I was making my way back, I saw this skull, or at least a part of it, poking out of the ground. I think it is the skull of a red fox. It's a real shame that it is incomplete but what I did find cleaned up quite nicely and is quite an intriguing little artifact...if you like that kinda thing! Below is a photograph of all the bones I found after they'd been thoroughly cleaned.

 I did have a nice find elsewhere though, it was one of those where I didn't realise quite what I had found at the time-I knew it was something different but had to get the photos on to the laptop to have a good look and try to find an identity for it. 

That proved to be quite a challenge for me. I hunted through all of what I considered to be reasonable suspects and drew a complete blank. Little did I know at the time, this would take three days to resolve and even then, there was a twist in the tail (of my story, not the insect!) I suppose I should stop prattling on and post a picture of this mythical beast, so that you can decide for yourself as to whether I was being incompetent? Okay....

The shape of the head and length and markings on the antennae were giving me some clues but it was those, what would you call them, mandibles? Look at how long they are and all the beetle larvae (that's what I considered amongst others this might be) I have seen have mandibles/jaws that curve inwards to grip their prey, these seem to be turning out to me. What purpose could they serve? Anyhow, it transpired that it wasn't a beetle larva after all, although I'm not sure if that's significant regards the mandibles.

'Osmylus fulvicephalus'...or more commonly, a giant lacewing. That's what this turned out to be. I think I would be right in stating that the larvae are rarely seen, but I did mention that this story has a twist and that is the fact that I have actually found this species before, but had totally forgotten until, something rang a bell having settled on its identity this time.
A search of the internet revealed this image from a few years back...

It's a picture of one of the photographs on my old flickr photostream; I no longer have an account with flickr in protest at their enforced changes.

Since finding this amazing creature I have been fascinated by those jaws and how they evolved as they have and I discovered a key...

Under the 'Key to larvae' section, I discovered the following passage of text:

The most useful characters are the fusiform shape (wide in the middle, tapering at both ends) of the body and the large 'jaws' which are either large mandibles with teeth for biting, or modified mandibles and maxillae (for manipulating food) which fit together to form two forwardly-directed 'spears' or jaws, used for sucking the contents of the prey.

And so it seems that those enormous jaws are little more than straws...

Something else that I have seen and photographed before, although not that often, is a tiny harvestman called 'Megabunus diadema' it is only about 3-4mm and hides away most of the time, the reason I suspect that the Spider & Harvestman Recording Scheme has only a handful of records for this species in Kent and less than 1,000 across the British Isles...

This one is a female, as it's only females that have those pronounced spikes above the eyes. I spotted this one a few days ago and I think it's probably only the third I have ever seen.

I have featured a few millipedes in past blog updates but I don't think I have ever covered the pill-millipede? Until now that is...

The pill millipede (Glomeris marginata) is quite similar to the pill woodlouse, in that they both curl up into a tight pea-like ball when threatened. This one however has 2 pairs of legs per segment, rather than the one of the woodlouse. I have been photographing lots of woodlice for a future blog update and so will try and include a photograph for comparison then.

I think that as this update has been quite wordy, I'll add one final picture and description and call it a day-I do tend to get carried away with some of these updates when little and often would probably be a better motto.

And so for now, here's the stretch limo of the spider world; a Tetragnathide, or 'Long-jawed Orb Weaver' that I found over wintering under a leaf...

Until the next time...


  1. What a gorgeous skull! Love the rotating image, very clever! It's a great find and I'd have brought it home too! :-)

    The lacewing larva is an impressive beast. I've never come across the giant one, only it's smaller cousins, although they're still voracious predators.

    Skipping the harvestman, eurgh! Lol!

    Always wanted to find one of those pill mills! They're exquisitely detailed shots (as ever!).
    A real beauty!

    Whilst I'm not keen on spiders, I do love your image! They amaze me how flat they go with those extra long legs.

    Thanks for another brilliantly illustrated read!


    1. Pleased you found something of interest again Maria. Interestingly, I found a deer skeleton yesterday....decided against bringing it home though ;-) Not sure what the stroy was but may have been hit by a car?

      Yes, those 'Pill mills' as you say re interesting little things and so dark compared to the woodlice. Thanks for your interest.


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