Thursday, 30 July 2009

Occasional names

I saw what appeared to be a minute, strangely-coloured ladybird on the Ragwort and it was only when I blew up the image that I could identify it as a teneral (freshly emerged, and not yet fully-coloured) 10-spot Ladybird - Adalia decempunctata. These are about 3-4 mm. long, so that makes the beetle below it about 1 mm long.

Few Tachinids can be successfully named from pictures, but this is one of them. Eriothrix rufomaculata (named after the distinctive red marks on the abdomen) is a bit of an enigma: it is readily identifiable, but its host and larval stages are unknown. I only ever see it on Ragwort, so Cinnabar moth comes easily into the frame, but the fly has never been reared from them.

Moving on from one nameable beast to another, the ichneumonid on the left is Amblyteles armatorius. Its size can be easily reckoned from the neighbouring Tree Wasp - Dolichovespula norwegica. It's really good to be able to show these close relatives side by side. They aren't particularly dangerous to each other, but the ichneumonid is keeping a very close watch on the wasp - note the antennae.

That wasn't a chance shot, by the way: I noticed the ichneumonid was gradually approaching the Tree Wasp and waited until it was right next to the wasp before I rattled off a few shots.

Angelica is a major nectar source for many insects at this time of year. Female ichneumonids are swarming over the florets, refuelling before they go off in search of hosts.

Evacanthus interruptus is one of the more scarce leaf hoppers in this area. I might see one or two per year.

Phyllonorycter moths are minute - only a couple of millimetres long as adults. This is the mine of Phyllonorycter maestingella, on Beech. The larva tucks the lower surface of the mine a few times, contracting it and pulling the upper surface into a dome, thereby making a tube to live and feed inside.

This glimpse of the emerging Blackening Waxcap - Hygrocybe nigrescens - reminds me that the fungal season is almost upon us. It's time to dust down the fungal part of my brain.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A collection from gaps in the rain

Another Dolichovespula sylvestris, but this time I think it's a male. Angelica is great for insects.

This Ichneumonid with huge antennae was wandering over leaves, sweeping the antennae from side to side. Long antennae usually indicate the male, but I'm sure this one was searching for larvae on the underside of the leaf.

Two shots of one of my favourite hoverflies, Scaeva pyrastri:

And a good wasp mimic, Sericomyia silentis.

Most leafminers make either a gallery mine (long and thin) or a blotch mine (erm, blotchy). Agromyza sulfuriceps does both. The mine starts as a gallery, then the gallery twists are all made adjacent to each other. Finally it breaks the walls and makes the blotch. A blotch mine has a distinct advantage in that the upper surface of the leaf can be pushed upwards. This allows the larva to grow bigger due to the increased space. So maybe this is a once-little fly that's getting bigger.

I have to leave the identification of this one a bit abstract: the species complex hasn't been fully worked out, yet. So it's Chromatomyia sp. On Common Ragwort.

As I was walking back to the car I heard a Buzzard high above me. No telephoto on a macro lens.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Playing catch up

In the normal order of things, higher order species tend to prey on lower-order species, so wasps and bees tend to be predators on flies (or members of their own order). The Conopid fly Sicus ferrugineus, however, reverses this trend. These are parasitic on bumblebees, stapling a single egg into the soft underside of the worker's abdomen. This oviposition is said to take place in flight, but I have never seen it happening. Once the bumblebee has been parasitised it tends to change its feeding habits, presumably to the benefit of the fly larva.

Mesembrina meridiana is easily recognisable due to the orange wing base. The name indicates that it is a noon flyer, and that's when I usually see them.

Angelica has flowered and that means plenty of shots of nectaring insects. this is the Tree Wasp - Dolichovespula sylvestris. It has an overall orange feel to the colouration and the antennae bases are yellow. Facial decoration is a single small spot.

This male hoverfly looked unusual, but it consistently keys out to the very common Eristalis pertinax.

Trombidium sp. mites are usually seen scrambling over the base of plants as they search for rotting vegetation. This one was sunning on a grass blade.

Those of you who have been following my websites for a few years will know that this is one of my favourite flowers: Slender St. John's Wort - Hypericum pulchrum. The latin name shows that I'm not alone in that opinion.

This pristine flower of Meadow Buttercup - Ranunculus acris - caught my attention:

Finally for today - Eyebright. That's as far as the id is going.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Rain stops play

A single moth to report: July High Flyer - Hydriomena furcata.

This is an extremely variable species, with differing ground colour, ornamentation colour and patterning. The key to this one is the 'round-shouldered' forewing and the tiny, dark, diagonal slash at the outer wing tip (more visible on the left wing). The previous one I saw was green and black.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

That time of year

Specimens of this wonderful 20mm Ichneumonid have been flying hard and fast under the ferns for the past few days. This one was kind enough to give me a look. Maybe a male.

Two new micromoths. First Endothenia quadrimaculana, which is a localised species due to its dependence on Marsh Woundwort as the larval foodplant.

And a frequent species which was 'recently' introduced: Blastobasis adustella.

I suppose we're sliding down into the fungal part of the season. This is the puffball Vascellum pratense. New to me, and interestingly found in two completely separate locations on the same day.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


The Spotted Orchids have reached maturity now, with nearly all the flowers open. I prefer them in the early stages, but I'm still delighted to have any at all.

This is the pupa of one of the Ladybirds. Due to the size (around 6 mm.) I'm plumping for 14-spot, but I have it in a container and I'll let it go once I've made the correlation.

Ringlets are a July species and I'm seeing a few every time I'm out. The underside shot shows clearly where the name comes from.

One of the labyrinthine twists in my personal history is that I failed latin at an early age and wasn't able to pursue my first choice career in biology - I went into computers instead. Nowadays I use more latin than most people. A couple of years ago I coined a (deliberately) bad piece of latin to announce my first encounter with the fungus Ergot. 'Cogito Ergot sum' : 'I think I have found some Ergot'.

It's the dark purple bit on the Sweet Vernal Grass, by the way.

This very small (10mm.) Tachinid is everywhere at the moment. Keep in mind that every Tachinid is produced at the cost of a moth or butterfly caterpillar, and I see tens - perhaps hundreds - of these flies every time I'm out.

Monday, 13 July 2009

From one Willow

Trees support a great deal of our wildlife, and many of them have species of beetle, fly, wasp, moth, butterfly, sawfly or mite that are uniquely dependent on them.

This is the Willow Tar Spot fungus - Rhytisma salicinum which is present on virtually every Willow specimen on the patch.

With so many species fighting for a bit of leaf, it's no surprise that conflict sometimes takes place: the following leaf has been attacked by no fewer than three organisms.

Firstly, there is a gall to the left (the pale green pea-like object). This is caused by a Pontania sp. wasp that affects the growth pattern of the leaf to make a hard structure that it can live - and feed - inside.

Next, we can see the brown marks which are the feeding signs of the larva of the Willow Leaf Beetle - Plagiodera versicolora. Again, virtually every Willow specimen shows signs of feeding, which is carried out by both larvae and adult beetles.

Finally, the entire leaf has been rolled into a tube by the larva of a Tortrix micromoth which, again, lives and feeds inside the tube.

This shows a more conventional roll in the leaf:

Now, does this look like the work of a leaf-miner? I think it does.

But the culprit is the larva of the Willow Leaf Beetle mentioned above.

The larvae crawl over the leaf surface, scraping away the green layers and leaving just a transparent layer that turns brown shortly afterwards. This is really just an external mine, but the larvae are far too large to fit inside the leaf. Large leaf miners come from large leaves, or very thick ones: most leaf-mining species are tiny.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Moving the dots

First, two more new moths.

Small Rivulet - Perizoma alchemillata. Said to feed on Hemp Nettle. Not hereabouts, it doesn't.

The very attractive, Birch-eating, Common White Wave - Cabera pusaria:

And my newest bit of excitement....what looks to be Phytomyza albiceps on Creeping Thistle. A first Irish record if so, and the first record anywhere on this plant species. It has taken me 3 years to get this identification.

I'll need to look out for larvae in the third week of June next year to get the record confirmed.


The identification has now been modified to Phytomyza cirsii, which although scarce, isn't new to Ireland. New to Donegal, however.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Still more new moths (and other stuff)

A nice portrait of the hoverfly Helophilus pendulus. These have calmed down now that the initial courting process has died down.

A moth that is well-known to all moth trappers: Large Yellow Underwing - Noctua pronuba. It comes readily to light and is disliked for its very rumbustuous and boistrous flight. When one of these turns up, I know my photography session is over, since everything else will be knocked off its perch or blown away.

Another new moth species for me, and one that was rather tricky to identify. Brussels Lace - Cleorodes lichenaria:

The larvae of these feed on lichens, but I suspect you might have guessed that from the name.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Two new species

This Creeping St. John's Wort - Hypericum humifusum - appeared at the edge of my vegetable patch. I have no idea where it came from, because it's a plant I have never found anywhere on my regular travels.

This next image is a perfect illustration of a key factor in moth identification: pattern comes before colour. This is the Flame Carpet - Xanthorhoe designata, and it should have a red/orange band in the centre of the wing. It took me quite a while to pick out the key identification features in the absence of the normal, bright colouring.

The process of moth identification is unusual in that even at the macro level, species can be difficult to separate. Many families of insects, fungi and some plants need microscopic analysis to separate them, but the trick to moths is knowing which of the macro features in front of you are the critical ones. Simply comparing pictures isn't going to lead you very far. In this case, the key features are: the twin rearward-pointing, blunt, points of the dark central band, the dark leading edge to the central band, and the overall rather equal split of the 4 wing bands: dark-pale-dark-pale.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Green, gold and white

Moths are still coming to light, even though it has been raining heavily at night.

A very fresh (still green) Large Emerald - Geometra papilionaria:

The pale form of White Ermine - Spilosoma lubricipeda:

Burnished Brass - Diachrysia chrysitis:

And a couple of micros:

Chrysoteuchia culmella:
And Udea prunalis: