Saturday, 30 May 2009

Painted Ladies

Everyone knows that Swallows migrate from Africa to Europe every year to breed and then return in Autumn. It's less well-known that we have at least two butterflies that make a similar journey. The Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui - often makes single appearances on the hedgerow, but I have been monitoring recent reports of millions of Painted Lady sightings in Majorca, Italy, Switzrland, France, England and the south of Ireland. Today I watched as dozens flew past, still heading due north, and at a furious pace. A few stopped to nectar on ornamental daisies in my garden, so I rattled off a few shots.

Hopefully these will breed and lay their eggs on thistles so that we get a local generation in August/September.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Things are warming up

It's just about time for the familiar red and black Soldier Beetles to appear on Umbellifer flowerheads. Rhagonycha limbata is very much smaller than the usual species - about 6mm long - but it's recognisably one of the family.

Two much better shots of the Sawfly Tenthredo mesomelas:

In common with all sawflies, the larvae are strict vegetarians (some of them are agricultural 'pests'), but many of the adults are voracious predators. Have a look at those jaws.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Gap between the showers

The Chrysomelid beetles are making a fine mess of the Willow leaves, only days after they have fully opened. This is Lochmaea caprea, and is confined to Willow.

Last week I showed Creeping Cinquefoil. This is its very close relative - Tormentil. Amazingly, I still have 3 species from this family to show in the near future.

As soon as the rain stops, the insects are back out cleaning themselves ready for their next flight. This is one of the Tenthredo sp. Sawflies. These are all strictly vegetarian as larvae and many are voracious predators as adults.

The wonderful, minute micromoth Glyphipterix simpliciella is one of the few to have a common name - Cocksfoot Moth. Its larvae live inside the stems of Cocksfoot grass and it is all of 4mm long. Check that on a ruler.

An amazing shot of a dead Holly leaf having been pierced in two places by the shoots of Horsetail, and being hoisted like a banner. The plant to the rear is Meadow Buttercup.

The end of a hoverfly. This spider had caught the fly and was in the process of beginning to wrap it up.

I have an expanding patch of purest white Bush Vetch in just one area. It appears to breed true from seed. I wonder when a sport like this becomes a (sub)species in its own right.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Today's colour is yellow

The 14-spot Ladybird is rather small - about the size of a match head.

Some flies just attract attention, and the very spiny appearance of this one makes it a Tachinid Fly. These are parasites that attack caterpillars in a similar manner to Ichneumonids, but instead of laying their eggs inside the caterpillar, they lay their eggs on the outside and their larvae enter and consume the caterpillar before pupating inside the empty skin.

Captive studies indicate that around 80% of moth and butterfly caterpillars are parasitised. I can certainly believe the figure is high, since I see a great many Tachinids and Ichneumonids every day.

For those of you able to watch RTE television, this website will be featured on RTE1 on Tuesday 26th May in the program 'Living the Wildlife'.

Friday, 22 May 2009

More colour (well, red)

I had a hunch that it was time for Damselflies and, sure enough, I found a single male of the Large Red Damselfly - Pyrrhosoma nymphula. Wonderful colour.

It allowed me to take many close shots, so I assumed it had freshly emerged.

The Blues won't be far behind.

I didn't even look at the fern, but it looks to be Scaly (Golden) Male Fern.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Lots of colour

I really like this shot of a 7-spot Ladybird roosting in the emptied seedhead of the Dandelion:

I was taught an old saying "nee'r cast a clout until May is out". Roughly translated as "Don't shed any garments until the end of the month of May". But I have been made aware that the original was "Ne'er cast a clout until the May is out", 'the May' being the flowers of the Hawthorn. Looks like I just gained 10 days.

Dung Flies (Scathophagus sp.) are dung eaters when larvae and voracious predators as adults. I'd say that Dung Flies are the most successful hunters I find in the hedgerows. This one is eating pollen.

The first of the yellow Cinquefoils in this area: Creeping Cinquefoil - Potentilla reptans.

Monday, 18 May 2009

I'm not sure if it's raining again or still raining.

Bombus pratorum is a bumblebee that I only started seeing locally about 3 years ago. It is thought to be becoming increasingly urbanised as farming practices push it out of agricultural land. It was certainly very numerous in central Glasgow when I visited last year.

Empid flies, or dance flies, have a wonderful long proboscis that they use to suck fluids out of the bodies of other insects.

Raspberry flowers have just opened, and the solitary B. pratorum was methodically working its way along the hedgerow, visiting every flower. If it accidentally revisited a flower it had already been to, the mistake was recognised in less than a second.

The Meadow Foxtail I showed last week has flowered.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

It stopped raining

Photo location:

Hedgerow, Leg 2.

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I still haven't seen a female Orange Tip butterfly this year, but they're obviously around: most specimens of Cardamine pratensis have a single egg. I'll try to follow a few of them as the season progresses.

For the last few years, I've annotated this hoverfly as 'Cheilosia sp.' Today I took images from all angles and have now refined my identification to Cheilosia albitarsis. Most of the identification features are microscopic, although it turns out to be 'dependent on Creeping Buttercup in wet meadows'. Big surprise. The small beast is, of course, the micromoth Micropterix calthella.

And this is a pair of the same micromoth. When I find these 'in cop', one is always dark, the other more bronzy. Dunno which is which, though.

The caterpillar of the Garden Tiger moth is one of the most handsome that we have. No points for the plant.

I initially thought this click beetle was damaged, but the close-up reveals that it is cleaning its left antenna.

The fungal rust Triphragmium ulmariae is very obvious on the undersides of Meadowsweet leaves.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

10 minute dash

I had only about 10 minutes for my photography session this evening, so I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at my memory card later on.

It took me about 20 minutes to get an identification for this wonderful Leaf Beetle, Chrysolina staphylea.

It's about the same size as a 7-spot Ladybird.

The Orange Tips were roosting for the night. This one's on unfurling Broad Buckler fern :

And this brought a smile to my face. These are the micromoth Micropterix calthella on the bud of Creeping Buttercup. Micropterix calthella feed on Buttercups all summer, and this is the first local flower of the year. They just cannot wait for opening time tomorrow morning.

Monday, 11 May 2009


The view East from Leg 2 of the Hedgerow:

This is by far the smallest local hoverfly - Neoascia podagrica. In order to see them, I have to sit on a verge and wait for tiny shimmering dots to hover into view. This specimen was about 5 mm long. For those of you raised on inches, that's about 1/5th of an inch. Check it out on a ruler.

It took a little while to resolve this pair of Cixiids. These are true bugs - related to the much more common leaf hoppers.

Rhingia campestris is a very visible hoverfly with its rosy abdomen clearly seen in flight. The long 'nose' is a sheath for its extremely long, folding tongue. Previously seen only in rural areas (its larvae live in cow dung), this is now being seen in more urban settings, leading to the assumption that more domesticated dung is also being used.

This male Melanostoma scalare was nectaring on Germander Speedwell and Dog Violets:

Sawflies are closely related to bees and wasps. The female's sting is modified into a saw which is used to cut slits in leaves to hold her eggs.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Tiny gap in the rain

It had rained for 48 hours and I spotted a small gap in the cloud, so I drove the two miles to this part of the hedgerow (Leg 2) as fast as I could. By the time I arrived it was raining again.

Five minutes later.....

I glimpsed this insect half-hidden under a leaf. What do you think it is? (the major - and huge - clue is clearly shown).

Not Bumblebee, but a Bumblebee mimic, the hoverfly Eristalis intricarius:

Notice how the scutellum (the orange bit) is wide and hairy, giving the appearance of a golden band, like a bumblebee. The clue in the first image is the obvious 'loop' in the wing veins....the 'eristalis bulge'.

This is a close-up of the face, showing the tiny antennae and the three ocelli or minor eyes between the main eyes. Many flies, bees and wasps have these extra eyes which are very sensitive to light change, and are used to detect movement.

A rolled leaf is like a magnet to me, and I reckoned this was the home of a micromoth larva. (You can see the ejected frass (dung) to the left of the image).

Sure enough, a little poking and prodding revealed the larva of the Timothy Tortrix micromoth. Notice the areas of buttercup leaf that have been consumed.

This micromoth larva is gravely at risk. Within half a metre of the larva I found two potential predators. First the so-called flower bug, Anthocoris nemorum (about 4 mm long). These are predators of moth, butterfly and sawfly larvae.

And also this wonderful, minute (3 mm.) Ichneumonid. These parasitic wasps also target larvae.

The rain had barely stopped for a minute when three male Orange Tips appeared from under the edge of the ditch. No time to waste when the ladies are expected to be out and about.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Rain-enforced research

It hasn't stopped raining since the start of May, so that got me researching new things to do with the site. My hit tracking program has a new facility based on the Google maps tool, and the following screen shot shows the site hits since Monday 4th May.

Hits range from Chico in California to Canberra in Australia. Some will be aggregated e.g. all the Eircom hits in Ireland are deemed to come from Dublin, since that's where that particular ISP is based.

UK hits include: Glasgow, York, Reading, Brighton, London, Manchester, Leeds, Stoke, Oxford, Cambridge, Ipswich, Northampton, Luton, Bedford, Belfast. So quite reasonable coverage, really.

You might recognise your own hit and, of course, I've managed to put labels on a few of them myself.


Added a link to a new map I created on Google Maps:

(this one's interactive)

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