Axminster. Report from the Entomology Section

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Author(s): Wootton. Robin; Year published: 2011; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): entomology; Location(s): Axminster

Entomologically, the extreme south-east corner of Devon is one of the most fascinating in the county, with so many exciting species that is hard to know where to begin. Complex geology with Cretaceous sandstones and limestones overlying Triassic mudstones, and interesting geomorphology with cliffs, two landslips, the Axe and Coly valleys and estuary and the Blackdown hills, provide a rich and varied range of habitats which insects exploit to the full.

The Branscombe, Dowlands and Whitlands cliffs have a fine range of crickets and grasshoppers, including the superb Great Green bushcricket Tettigonia viridissima, the Grey bushcricket Platycleis albopunctatus, and the Rufous grasshopper Gomphocerippus rufus. The curious Scaly cricket, Pseudomogoplistes vicentae, first discovered on the Branscombe shingle by Exeter University biology students in 1998, is still there despite the Napoli disaster – rediscovered in 2008 by our Recorder of Orthoptera with the help of a pasty. The delicate Wood White butterfly Leptidea sinapis is found on the landslip, and so (recently) is the Chalk Hill Blue Lysandra coridon, reinvading from the limestone country of Dorset. Rare moths include the White Spot Hadena albimacula, feeding on Nottingham Catchfly at Branscombe, and the Chalk Carpet Scotopteryx bipunctaria cretata; while the even rarer Morris’ Wainscot Photedes morrissii, just makes it into Devon at Culverhole Point. The vividly patterned, day-flying Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria, a South Devon speciality, is widespread in mid to late summer. A range of solitary bees, collecting pollen for their brood, and wasps, hunting caterpillars and weevils, mine the soft, weathered Greensand of the landslips, and their insect parasites and inquilines – nomad bees, cuckoo wasps and flies – prowl nearby, awaiting the opportunity to slip into the tunnels and lay their eggs.

Inland, Shute Park, with its fine ancient oaks, has many uncommon beetles, as indeed do the landslips. The new Brucklands fishing ponds have become famous among dragonfly enthusiasts for Small Red-eyed damselflies Erythromma viridulum, first recorded in Britain in 1999 and now spreading rapidly, and for the Red-veined Darter dragonfly Sympetrum fonscolombei, normally a rare migrant, which may actually be established at Brucklands. A spectacular recent vagrant visitor was the Lesser Emperor Anax parthenope.

The Axe itself has White-legged damselflies Platycnemis pennipes, Banded Demoiselles Calopteryx splendens, both extending down below the tidal limit, and more significantly the rare Scarce Chaser Libellula fulva, just above the limit, and the Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum, on Seaton Marsh. Altogether an odonatologist’s Mecca.

Robin Wootton

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