Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Pine mystery update

After examining dozens of needles very closely, I stumbled across the following specimen which shows a brown needle with an intact green area at the tip.

Even closer examination shows that the brown areas of the needle are in fact hollow, and the needles have been eaten from the inside, thereby killing them. This is indicative of micromoth leaf-miners, and research shows that there are perhaps 8 to 10 candidate species of micromoth which eat Pine needles in this manner. What I need to do next year is to take needle samples with occupant larvae and breed them through to the adult stage for identification.

And yes, the adult micromoths are, indeed, tiny.

So that's it for 2008, the year with the worst weather I can remember. Still, I don't feel too bad: I managed 89 posts, which is roughly one every 4 days. In addition, I was talking to a local gentleman of 87 years, who said it's the worst year for weather in his memory, too.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Scots Pine mystery

In one particular part of the young coniferous plantation, Scots Pine trees are growing in a peculiar manner. This is a shot of an affected tree:

Note the 'pom pom' effect on the branches.

Here's a close-up of an affected shoot:

The damage appears to be caused by clusters of needles dying and dropping off:

This shot shows that multiple areas of single plants are simultaneously affected:

I was told that the effect can be caused by the European Pine Sawfly, but my research shows that this sawfly damages needles in a completely different way: by eating them down to the branch. So it looks like I'm back to square one on this one.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

First Book

The first book containing my images will be launched tomorrow.

Glenullin raised bog was rescued from peat production by a band of local people who recognised its value to wildlife and also as a valuable piece of the local landscape - the 'heart' of the community. They received a lottery grant to help with production of (amongst other things) a booklet celebrating the wildlife to be found in the bog. I was commissioned to take the photographs and I must say I'm delighted to see my name on the cover of a book.

Here it is:

Friday, 14 November 2008

Drumboe opportunity

After an utterly miserable summer and an extremely short autumn, we appear to be in winter, having already had lying snow.

I managed a trip to Drumboe Wood during a brief period of sunshine. 15 minutes after these shots were taken I was soaked to the skin.

Drumboe is an ancient urban woodland. The main thoroughfare through the town is no more than 150m from this point. The River Finn can just be seen in the distance.

This little slug was wandering across a fallen beech leaf. I'm not sure if the orange colouring on the slug is caused by reflected or transmitted light.

The Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea:

The strange pearlescent cap to this Tricholoma makes me think it's Tricholoma columbetta:

The minute (5 micron) spores check ok:

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Brave moth

I don't know what this moth was thinking of, but it wouldn't have found a mate on this filthy night: I got soaked taking the picture.

Red-green Carpet - Chloroclysta siterata. New to me.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Mobile miner

By far the most common leaf miner around here is the micromoth Stigmella aurella. Virtually every Bramble plant has a few leaves carrying one or more mines. This week I found a mine on Herb Bennet - Geum urbanum - and it immediately looked like a Stigmella mine: a long, sinuous mine with a central frass line:

A quick check revealed that Stigmella aurella mines Geum, too.

Compare the mine with the Bramble version Here.

Note that the mine on Geum is formed quite differently from that on Bramble. The thicker Bramble leaf-veins clearly have more impact on the route of the mine.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Colourful Mushrooms

Just for the record, we have had 4 days without rain since the start of May.

A trip to Mullaghagarry wood usually produces a decent crop of fungi. First up is Suillus grevillei - a Larch associate.

Mycenas are generally small and delicate. This is Mycena meliigena, which is always found growing in moss on tree trunks, and is usually away from the ground. Cap is rarely more than 10mm across.

Another tree-moss Mycena is Mycena epipterygia. This is unusual in that it has a very robust stipe which is difficult to break.

One of the Honey Fungus complex: Armillaria mellea.

Possibly one of the most recognisable of fungi - the Amethyst Deceiver - Laccaria amethystina. The moss is the beautiful Thiudium tamariscinum.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


The Helvella family have the most bizarre shapes. This is the Black Helvella, Helvella lacunosa.

Coprinus are very distinctive with their quickly-disintegrating black gills: the smaller ones last no more than one or two days once they open. Coprinus lagopus reaches a height of around 6-8 cm, with a 2-3 cm. cap. There were a few in a very small area, so I managed to get a shot of all the visible stages:

Lycoperdon pyriforme is the only puffball that grows on wood:

Handkea excipuliformis is a very much larger puffball altogether. I hadn't found it in this area before. Height before collapse is around 15 cm.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gap in the rain

During my searches for specimens to photograph, I begin to notice subtle things that would normally not be seen. A number of fly and moth larvae live inside the seedheads of flowers such as Knapweed, or Hardheads. This is a good place to hide, since there is a ready supply of food and the larvae are protected from the weather and from most predators or parasites. Notice the word 'most': I have found carnivorous beetle nymphs inside these seedheads and, of course, the relevant ichneumonids are equipped with long ovipositors that can reach inside the deepest seedheads. I like to find out which larvae are living inside the seedheads, and the best way to find out is to open them. But, of course, I have lots of failures: many seedheads are empty.

I have noticed, though, that there appears to be an external sign of the presence of some of the inhabitants. The first picture shows a 'normal' seedhead. Notice the shape and thickness of the stem as it approaches the seedhead:

This is another seedhead, where the stem is noticeably thicker (to my eyes). I know the difference is subtle, but I can detect it very clearly in the field:

Experiments have shown that the thicker ones are usually occupied, and the thinner ones are not, so I broke open the two shown above. The thin one was unoccupied, and the thicker one had a few larvae of Tephritid (Picture wing) Flies. Not conclusive, but it's just a trend, and it saves me from bursting open dozens of potentially empty seedheads. Of course, this makes me wonder why this should be, and I suppose I wouldn't be too surprised to find that the fly larvae have some effect on the formation of the seedhead which is beneficial to them. Perhaps something like making the seeds slightly further apart, to make movement easier?

It's seed time, and I wonder if anyone else sees skeletal hands in these empty seedheads of Cow Parsley.

My survey and study of the Nematus pavidus sawfly larvae continues. This almost-mature larva is moving between leaves, having polished off the lower one. The sun was directly behind the shot, hence the glare.

Incidentally, the picture shows one absolute and one subjective feature that separate sawfly larvae from lepidopterous (moth and butterfly) ones. The number of prolegs (the stumpy ones at the rear) is 6 (the anal claspers count, too). So this is certainly a sawfly larva, since 6 or more prolegs are indicative of the sawfly. Subjectively, I can see that the larva has a round-shouldered appearance: another feature of many sawfly larvae.

Does anyone else remember these?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

September Sun

At last, after 4 months of rain, we have had some sunshine.

That should bring the fungi out: this is Coprinus comatus, or Lawyers Wig. Edible and good (and they were).

And now one of the tiniest of fungi: Marasmius hudsonii. These grow only on dead Holly leaves:

The close-up shows the thick gills and hairs on the cap, which is about 2mm. across:

The Willow Leaf Beetle - Lochmaea caprea is about 7mm long:

Moths are still coming to light in small numbers. This appears to be November Moth - Epirrita dilutata, but I'd better put an agg. on that to be on the safe side.

This is also a new species to me: Frosted Orange - Gortyna flavago.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


I have occasionally been relating the story of the Nematus pavidus larvae and their primary and secondary parasites. The latest post is here.

I have now been told that the ichneumonid that is ovipositing from under the leaf is one of the Ctenopelmatinae, possibly one of the Campodorus sp., which have been reared from Nematus sp. larvae.

The under-the-leaf oviposition technique is not in the literature, so this might be one of the first times it has been observed, and certainly the first time it has been recorded. One reasonable theory is that the larvae are very aggressive with their defence reflex (a sudden whipping of the rear of the body, pulling it up into the characteristic 'S' shape), so the Campodorus is actually protecting itself from the Nematus larva's protection reflex. This ties in nicely with the observation that the secondary parasite checks for the presence/absence of this response before it lays its own eggs from a straddle position. I suspect that the Campodorus egg subdues the Nematus larva to some extent (but why? Certainly, it differentiates an already parasitised larva from a clean one, thereby avoiding duplicate [and therefore wasteful] primary parasitisation, but it also makes it easier for the secondary parasite to detect the primary parasite and lay its own egg. A double-edged sword. )

Moving on to the Entoloma from Ards forest: it appears to be Entoloma serrulatum. These are the spores:

Magnification is 400x, the spores are mounted in water and the individual spores are around 10 microns long.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Rain and New Computer

The title explains the gap in new postings.

The hedgerow is beginning to show signs of autumn: leaves are falling, and the season's growth is beginning to return to the soil. A few insects are still braving the Donegal 'humidity':

Eristalis tenax is the proper 'Drone Fly', although most other Eristalis sp. are known by the same common name.

It's a bit 'chunkier' than other similar species, although the dark wing shade and very broad facial band offer good close-up confirmation.

Leaf-miners don't have to brave the weather: they have a rather nice, dry habitat inside the leaf. This is Phytomyza crassiseta, and must be rather scarce, since the UK reference sites didn't have any images (they do, now!).

It mines Germander Speedwell, which is common enough, so it must be dependant on some other environmental conditions. New to me, and to Co. Donegal.

In passing, I've included a shot of the twin rows of hairs which are diagnostic, if you're in any doubt about your Speedwells.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Foray to Ards

Ards Forest is the first landfall from the Atlantic, so it has a great deal going for it. Ancient deciduous, mixed with some mature Spruce (ugh!) and the cleanest air you can get. I decided that it was time to make my first journey of the year to see what was about. The forest is split into many different eco-habitats. Some parts are deciduous in deep shade; other parts have a lot of light, some are drier and there is an old quarry surrounded by tall trees. This quarry is always dark and cold, no matter what the weather is doing. These are in no particular order.

A wonderful wine-coloured Russula under old Cypress:

And in the same location, Pseudocantharellus infundibuliformis, a close relative of the Chanterelle. I think this is what the French call Giroles.

The moss is Mnium hornum.

Out in the sunlight, at the edge of the road, I looked at the usual place and found the extraordinarily rare Phellodon melaleucus. Most mycologists will never see this in a lifetime. This is the only current location known in Ireland. Dried specimens smell strongly of fenugreek.

The rather common (in old woodland) Inocybe geophyllum var. lilacina. There is always a lilac tinge (see the younger specimen to the right). Poisonous.

Horn of Plenty - Pseudocraterellus cornucopioides - is absolutely delicious. I smelled these before I saw them. This is actually a new location for these: I know of one other location several hundred metres away.

One of the Myxomycetes, or Slime Moulds, this is Fuligo septica. These are actually mobile (see the slug-like trail), and some serious research and discussions are tending to move these more towards the animal kingdom than fungi.

This is an Entoloma sp. These have wonderful multi-angular spores, but can be the devil to identify to species (I have over 1600pp of monograph on these). Still, I'll give it a go.

This is a close-up of the gill edges:

Clavulina cinerea also grows along the edge of the verge in large clumps:

Another Hygrocybe nigricans which is just beginning to show signs of black.