Thursday, 24 December 2009

Frost and snow

I suppose it's no great surprise that we have had snow and frost this week, and I saw a nice shot of this umbellifer with the setting sun behind it. I could be an absolute pig and get you to guess the plant, but you'd be hard pushed: it's Fennel from my herb patch.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


A wonderful sunrise today. The vertical column of light appears to be some weather phenomenon that I can't put a name to.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Final results for Large White larvae

The final total of larvae (see here) that managed to succesfully pupate is 3 out of 12. So 75% parasitisation, which is well within normal parameters. Interestingly enough, the last two larvae were successful. I suppose that shows the value of having a spread of hatching/pupation dates within a species: by the time the later ones are hatching, the parasite has either died or moved on.

Sometimes it pays not to be first in the queue.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Late purple

Three late flowers from high bog fringes:

Devilsbit Scabious:

Marsh Thistle:

And Knapweed:

I wonder if it's a coincidence that they're all purple.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

New mushroom

The weather continues to be utterly despicable, with heavy rain and dark skies every day.

I took a wander up to where I find the best fungi and found what I took to be Suillus flavidus in its only known Irish location.

But on turning it over I immediately saw that the pores were completely the wrong shape:

Further, when I bruised the tubes with my fingernail, they stained blue-green. That leaves me with Suillus variegatus, which is new to me.

Here's an old shot of Suillus flavidus pores for comparison:

Friday, 6 November 2009

December moth and May butterfly

The first December Moth - Poecilocampa populi - for 2009. I suppose phenology has changed a bit since these were first named.

This is another first: the first of my garden Large White butterfly larvae that has survived to pupate. Of the 8 larvae that I have observed, 7 were parasitised. Now that's population control.

Four more have arrived, and we'll see what the final tally is.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Drumboe fungi

At the Drumboe car park, I noticed some Honey Fungus - Armillaria mellea - on an old stump:

A close inspection revealed a very small (4mm) Ichneumonid exploring the older specimens:

This is no surprise, since most fungi are eaten by fly larvae, and a quick inspection revealed the target:

This parasitisation of fly larvae in mushrooms reveals a stunning synchronisation of the 3 species: the fly larvae are only present for a short time each year - during the fungal season - and each mushroom specimen will only last for a small number of days. Meanwhile, the fly larvae must grow from egg to pupation very quickly (showing that fungi must be an excellent food source), so the Ichneumonid has only a very short window of opportunity to find a suitable larva and lay her eggs.

Honey Fungus is known to be an aggressive decomposer of dead wood, and its presence is often revealed by the presence of black 'bootlaces' on old stumps:

One of my favourite fungi is the minute Marasmius hudsonii, which only grows on old, black, Holly leaves:

Despite the fact that the whole fungus is only perhaps 20mm tall, microscopic examination of the tiny cap shows that it is covered in spikes:

I cannot fathom any reason for a minute fungal cap to be ornamented in this way. (Notice that the stipe also has spines).

A single specimen of Wood Blewitt - Lepista nuda - shone purple through the orange Beech leaves:
Edible, but I don't like the over-perfumed taste.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

After the deluge

We've had a long spell of atrocious weather, and when it hasn't been raining the light has been filthy. It has to be good for something....

A pair of Sulphur Tuft - Hypholoma fasciculare:

A fascinatingly-shaped Deceiver - Laccaria laccata:

The (always) bizarrely-shaped Helvella lacunosa:

And what I learned as Bolbitius vitellinus, although I know it has changed its name recently:

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Autumnal moths

Considering that most insects need heat before they can move, it never ceases to amaze me that some species don't emerge until it's almost time for a frost. This is the Small Autumnal Moth - Epirrita filigrammaria.

And this is the November Moth - Epirrita dilutata, in a colour form that makes it paler than the virtually indistinguishable Pale November Moth.

I suppose it means that there is less competition for food, but it seems a risky strategy.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Lichens from Ards

Lobaria pulmonaria is a lichen in which the photobiont (aka 'the prisoner') is a nitrogen fixer and they are a major source of nitrogen for forest plants, including the trees they grow on. This is the only location where I have found the species, although I understand it is more frequent in southwest Ireland.

Lobaria virens is even scarcer in Ards than its close relative: in fact I know of only one tree which hosts it.

You have to go the oldest and cleanest forests to find these lichens: they are extremely sensitive to disturbance and pollution.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Extreme rarity

I immediately knew that I had never seen this mushroom either in the field or in any literature. The cap was covered in a brown powder, and the stipe (stem) had a distinctly bitter almond smell. A search through all my books revealed no close match, so the internet was the next port of call. I had almost chosen Rozites caperatus as the likely candidate when I was very lucky to find a comment on a swiss website that mentioned that some Rozites could be mistaken for Phaeolepiota aurea. A quick check confirmed that this extremely rare mushroom was the correct identification. It's a nettle associate, documented in european literature, but not in English. The almond smell is due to the presence of cyanide compounds, but strangely I was the only person out of four who could detect it, and for me it was so strong I recoiled from the smell. There are a few Irish records. Provisional red data list.

Some fungi are successional, depending on other fungi to have been present before they can fruit. This succession can take decades to occur, and there may be several links in the chain, so some rare fungi are only found in our oldest forests, and they might not make fruitbodies every year. Ards forest in west Donegal is very special: it's an ancient forest on the first landfall from the atlantic, so it's old and very clean. It has many rare fungi and is home to some very rare lichens that need extremely clean air, so it's a wonderful place to visit.

Phellodon melaleucus is one of the rarest fungi, and most mycologists will never see it in a lifetime. I've been privileged to see it for a few years now, always in exactly the same location. It smells strongly of fenugreek, especially when dry.

Right next to the Phellodon, I found a small stand of Clavaria vermicularis:

I feel priviledged to have seen these three species in the space of a few days.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Smart Miners

Leaf miners on deciduous trees have a limited season for their development: they need to feed while leaves are green. That means they are usually only found between April and September/October. In autumn, trees withdraw the chlorophyll from the leaves for reuse in the next next year, turning them brown before they drop to the ground to become composted.

Some of the Ectoedemia micromoths have found a way to block the return valves, creating small 'islands' of chlorophyll in the leaves, even after they have fallen, thereby extending the length of their season. This Oak leaf has a couple of 'islands' containing mines of Ectoedemia heringi:

Bright, white mines with widely dispersed frass (dung) are usually dipterous. These are the mines of at least 14 specimens of Phytomyza spondylii on Hogweed.

Notice the crescent-shaped exit holes where the larva has left the leaf to pupate:

Another new miner for me: the micromoth Caloptilia syringella on Ash. I suspect this one is usually too high in the tree for me to see it, but this branch had broken in high wind.

A couple of moss shots. The capsules of Thuidium tamariscinum:

And a shot of Hookeria lucens, showing how the overlapping leaves retain water: one of a few techniques used by mosses to keep wet.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Top Secret

Now I have to keep the location of my garden secret. This is Psilocybe semilanceata - the 'magic mushroom', and my lawn is covered with them.

It is illegal to have these fungi in your posession.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Anatomy of an identification

This moth came to light on Sunday night:

It was noticeably grey under the light, and I noticed the 'round' shoulders, so my first thought was 'an early specimen of Epirrita sp.' As soon as I got a look at the flash shot, however, I saw it was actually green, so my thoughts transferred to 'worn July high-flyer'. But it's far too late for that (and the pattern's wrong, anyway). So I began to trawl the references and came up with a green specimen of Yellow-barred Brindle, which would also be a bit late. So I sent the picture off for analysis. The recipient came up with two options :Red-green Carpet or Autumn-green Carpet, but neither seemed to fit properly, so it was sent to another person who has experience of these species in Ulster. The consensus comes down to Autumn-green Carpet - Chloroclysta miata - a local species which is usually found near old woodland and bog, and is new to me.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Local Fungi

With fungi, you sometimes just have to stare at them blankly for a while and then a picture suddenly forms in your mind and a possible identification suggests itself. I went through and rejected quite a few possibilities for this one before I hit on Cortinarius. When I got back to the books it was clearly one of the Dermocybe group, and the yellow gills indicate that it's Cortinarius croceifolius (now Cortinarius malicorius) - a Salix associate, which would fit perfectly.

The dotted margin for this one points us towards Hypholoma marginatum:

This little group of Collybia dryophila caught my eye:

Thursday, 1 October 2009

My garden

The excellent Lawyer's Wig - Coprinus comatus - is a rather common mushroom: I find it on lawns, verges and rough wasteland.
It's edible, although it tends to take on the flavour of other cooking ingredients, rather than adding flavour of its own.

The other day I mused about dependent species following their host. This concept is very clearly illustrated by Apanteles glomeratus, a Braconid wasp that is parasitic on some of the 'white' butterflies. The Large White and Small White butterflies became very scarce on my local patch, presumably because people had stopped growing their own brassicas: the Large White wasn't recorded in our 10k square for 10 years. However, as soon as I started growing Broccoli 2 years ago, both species were recorded on my vegetable patch.

When they're ready to pupate, they crawl up to the eaves of buildings and overwinter in their chrysalis. They start by making a web on the upper surface, and this is the instant that disaster can strike. The larvae of Apanteles glomeratus live inside the caterpillar, eating non-essential fat deposits, using the caterpillar as a mobile food producer. The instant the web is spun, however, they burst through the larval skin and pupate for themselves. The yellow cocoons are shown below:

Approximately 60% of this year's Large White larvae appear to be parasitised, which falls within normal expectations.

So although the host was missing for 10 years, the parasite is present only two years after the host returned.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A miscellany

Every tree has its set of dependent species. Horse Chestnut has fewer than most, but I strongly suspect that the number of dependent species is closely related to the length of time that a particular species of tree has been resident in a particular place: it will always take some time for the dependents to follow the presence of the host. Horse Chestnut is a relatively recent addition to our fauna, and would almost certainly have been introduced by man. I must see if it's possible to detect a statistical correlation between duration of residence of host plant and number of dependent species.

The fungal rust on this Chestnut leaf is Guignardia aesculi, which affects most specimens of Chestnut in our area.

Moths are still coming to light, but in smaller numbers, which is to be expected as we get colder. This Black Rustic - Aporophyla nigra - is a new species for me:

Occasionally I get an Ichneumonid or two as well. This red one is worth showing:

Shield bugs are usually found very close to their particular habitat. This Forest Shield Bug - Pentatoma rufipes - is always found in old deciduous woodland, but the other night this specimen was blown onto my windowsill. It can always fly back.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Late Campodorus shots

Since the sawfly larvae are now nearly full size, and the leaves are turning brown, I don't think I'll get too many more shots of the Campodorus.

The first shot shows the Campodorus ovipositing into a pavidus larva that is just on the other side of the leaf, through the hole. I have no idea how she knows where it is. Note the wings held high, presumably to protect them from damage should the sawfly flail around, which they often do.

In this next instance I watched the whole approach. The Campodorus walked from a higher leaf and arrived on the leaf shown. Within a second she had spun round and tried to lay in the tail of the larva, but its reflex triggered and she was thrown about a centimetre away. Undaunted, she tried a very slow, sneaky, second approach, this time aiming for the front of the larva, which doesn't move during the reflex. The reflex was triggered a second time, but she was untouched and continued to lay.