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Rare skin-eating beetle found on Cardiff island

A rare species of ‘skin eating' beetle has been found living a few miles off the coast of Cardiff, on Flat Holm island, and scientists believe it could be the last stronghold of the species in the UK.

Discovered by a visiting team of ecologists from the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, it is the first time a Dermestes undulatus beetle has been recorded in Wales, and a sighting hasn't been recorded in England since 2020.

Flat Holm Community Engagement Officer, Sarah Morgan, said: "It's not for the squeamish, but these tiny beetles feed on the skin, fur and bones of dead animals - Dermestes literally means skin eater. It's a preference that makes them a bit of a pain in museum collections, but incredibly useful in forensic science to help determine how long a body has been in situ.

"Exactly how the beetle made it out to the island is a bit of a mystery, given that they appear to be completely absent from the mainland now, but it's possible they were brought by gulls carrying scavenged remains.

"Without the team at South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre we might never have known about the beetles, so a big thank you has to go to them."

Other notable finds during the 'bioblitz' of the island - which is administratively part of Cardiff - included a rare scarlet berry truffle, microscopic cup fungi, tiny moths that live inside bracken stems, and an amazingly well-camouflaged burnished brass moth.

Cardiff Council cabinet member Jennifer Burke, said: "We already knew that Flat Holm island was a haven for nature - it was the first island in Wales to achieve bee-friendly status, it's home to a colony of protected lesser black-backed gulls, as well as slow worms, wild leeks and much more - but with recent research showing that one in six species is at risk of extinction, this new find makes it even more important that we continue our work to protect and conserve the island's unique habitat."

The bioblitz forms part of the Flat Holm - A Walk Through Time project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Photo: Dermestes undulatus credit Tate Lloyd

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