Friday, 30 April 2010


Following my sighting of the Orange Tip butterflies two days ago, their foodplant - Cuckoo Flower or Milkmaids, Cardamine pratensis - has just flowered, bang on schedule. Orange Tips have an extremely tight relationship with their larval foodplant, and I hope to track progress over the next few weeks.

Greater Stitchwort is very much later this year:

Due to our hard winter after a series of very mild winters, all species are later than they have been in recent years, although I'm noticing that different species are delayed more than others. I can't quite see a pattern, yet, but it seems that the species that would normally be very early are delayed the most.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Smaller hoverflies have been a bit scarce this year, so it was interesting to get two very illustrative shots within minutes of each other.

These are both males (the two large eyes meet in the middle, divided by a very narrow margin), and they seem very similar at first glance. Abdominal patterns are obscured by the wings, so we can't use those as confirmation of species, but we can easily get to family for both. (Both are roughly the same size: about 12mm long)

For the first one, we have a delicate specimen with a relatively longer abdomen, dark scutellum (the D-shaped bit between the wings) and smaller feet. The yellow fascia ('face') is also small and delicate. Melanostoma fits well for family and scalare would be a good bet for species.

The second specimen is much more robust, and has a more pronounced fascia and much larger front 'feet'. The front feet alone point to Platycheirus sp., and I'd hazard a guess at Platycheirus scutatus based on location and overall feel, but that isn't a positive id.

Here's a shot of one of the larger front feet, known as 'inflated tarsi' in the references.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


I like it when insects position themselves so that you can get something other than the usual 'top-shot', because it makes it more of a portrait than a straight photograph:

You have to be quick, though: ladybirds are predators and pursue their prey quite rapidly. Anticipation is everything.

I followed the flight of this micromoth until it landed and I got a few shots as it rested. Many of the micromoths are at least as handsome as the easier-to-see macromoths. Ancylis badiana is a good example of that, at about 10mm long:

Germander Speedwell starts off blue, but turns violet once it has been pollinated. Maybe it's a signal to bees that they'd be better off visiting somewhere else.

(Incidentally, the stem leading out of the picture towards mid-right shows the diagnostic twin rows of hairs.)

My first Orange Tip butterflies of the year, and it's a mating pair (what did I say about no time being wasted?). The one on the right is the male: you can just make out the orange of his wing-tips:

The presence of the Orange Tip in my patch means that Cardamine will very soon be in flower. The local butterflies are totally dependent on the plant and their emergence is tightly synchronised with it. (They are also known to use Garlic Mustard, Honesty and Dames Violet, so those might be the foodplant in your area).

An early glimpse of what looks to be the Garden Tiger moth caterpillar:

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Life goes on

I've been following the progress of the larvae, parasites and pupae of the Large White butterfly around my front door. Today one of the adults emerged unscathed and proceeded to inflate its wings:

It was still there five hours later.

Wood Anemones are well-named: I usually find them in woodland. Occasionally I find a few hanging on in unexpected places, which is probably an indication of what the environment must once have been like.

Some fungi are like that, too: Amanita sp. can sometimes be found in fields or hedgerows, rather than in the deciduous woodland that they normally require.

One thing that continuously amazes me is the desire and urge for species to survive. I suppose it's an essential trait for something that has lasted for millennia. This Common Dog Violet is growing in the middle of a tarred roadway. The flower is about half the normal size and the leaves are 5mm long, rather than the 25mm to 35mm that I'd expect.

This same 'survival at all costs' attitude is evident in species like leaf miners and parasitic fungi. They appear almost as soon as the leaves have opened. No time or opportunity is ever wasted.

My heart sank when I saw this Pug moth: they are the most difficult of moths to separate, I think, and I knew I was in for a while with the books. It's also very worn, but I think it's Double-Striped Pug, which I've had here a few times before.
If you think it isn't that species, then I'll be glad to fix it.

Late update: a Great Tit had the butterfly for breakfast this morning:

Like I said: Life must go on.

Friday, 23 April 2010


I had a quick check of the front-door lights last night and was surprised to find a Flame Carpet moth - Xanthorhoe designata. I do get that here, but normally much later in the year (and we've had frost for 3 nights in a row).

Opened leaves on the Willow attracted my attention and I spotted this minute (5mm) beetle right at the topmost leaf. One of the Staphylinidae, but I'm not going for an id any closer than that.

But the biggest surprise of the year has to be this wonderful damselfly that emerged from my tropical fish tank:

I got some new plants recently, so the nymph must have been on one of those. Realising that many of the tropical specimens come from Asia, I googled asian damselflies and quickly arrived at Ceriagrion cerinorubellum, which is apparently not confused with any other species and ranges from India to Vietnam. So I'll get the specimen off to Dublin for registration as another new species for Ireland.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Progress continues

From time to time I like to photograph common species from unusual angles. This is Lesser Celandine, which I see has just had its latin name changed to Ficaria verna.

Hartstongue Fern is the first of the local species to show new growth:

I always think new fern shoots are very animal-like.

Another of the early micromoths - Grapholita jungiella. This one eats the leaves of various members of the pea family: Bush Vetch in this location.

Frog tadpoles are making some progress. These are in a very shallow rut in a field entrance, so I suspect they won't reach maturity.

My father has managed to hand-tame a Robin in his garden. This is the same place where I used to summon a cock Chaffinch by whistling some 40 years ago.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


On an average walk along a hedgerow, I reckon 90% of the flying objects considered to be flies will actually be micromoths. Micromoths vary in size from 2-3mm long to around 25mm long, but the majority are around 10-12mm.

In flight they can be distinguished as solitary fliers with an ungainly, often spiralling, flight. I followed this one until it landed (often the only way to get a good look at them) and was delighted to find it was a handsome specimen of the gloriously-named Schrekensteinia festaliella. Those rear legs have been turned into thorny spikes that would prevent any predator from approaching. Length 5-6mm. Note the feathered, almost hairy rear edge to the wing, which is a recurring feature of many micromoths.

My first mollusc of the year is the Banded Snail:

And yet one more member of the Orthosia family of moths. This is Orthosia gothica - Hebrew Character, and it feeds on.......willow pollen.

The last of the new queens that I expect to see: Bombus terrestris. These are huge bumblebees that buzz slowly over the ground looking for a nesting site.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Full swing

We've had a few days of sun now, and it's already getting difficult to keep up with the number of species I'm seeing.

Some water-walking insects are revealed by the shadows they project onto the base of the ditch. These 4-leaf-clover-type shadows are made by the water cricket Velia caprai. The insects themselves are present, but are hard to see as they scoot across the surface of the water.

A bit of refocussing (well, a lot really) and the insects themselves are revealed:

This Common Carder Bumblebee - Bombus pascuorum - was nectaring on the Celandine. I'm presuming she's also a queen, although they're a lot smaller than the other local bumblebee queens.

An excellent juxtaposition of two beautiful beetles: 7-spot ladybird and the leaf beetle Chrysolina staphylea:

Plenty more moths are coming to light, although this one didn't quite meet the friend it expected:

This is the Early Grey - Xylocampa areola:

And two colour forms of yet another willow feeder, the Common Quaker - Orthosia cerasi:

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Hot Spot

I went to a spot that's usually very good at this time of year (south-west facing vertical banking below a hawthorn hedge) . It proved to be a good choice.

As soon as I saw this little (12mm) hoverfly, I knew she was new to me. She appears to be a female Melangyna, and a couple of microscopic features suggest Melangyna lasiopthalma. Since this would be a first Irish record, I need to go back and get some more solid evidence.

This Small Tortoiseshell was basking and feeding on the Lesser Celandines. It seems in pretty good condition, considering it has overwintered in those freezing conditions:

Common Fumitory - Fumaria officinalis - adds a splash of pink to the predominantly yellow verge:

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the tight threads that pull the Coltsfoot head into a downward-facing position. Here's a shot that shows the process:

Primroses were visible in a more sheltered part of the bank:

The queen bumblebees are getting very heavy already, and this B. cryptarum was clumsily crashing from flower to flower. Some appeared unable to fly at all and simply crawled from one flower to the next. I presume her nest is within walking distance!

The fungal rusts don't waste any time. The leaves are quite fresh and already the yellow spots of Uromyces dactylidis are clearly visible on Celandine leaves:

Yet another new member of the Orthosia family, the Clouded Drab - Orthosia incerta - came to light last night. Guess which pollen it eats....

Friday, 9 April 2010

Sun works

A very warm and sunny day brought out loads of wildlife: in the morning I saw a 'white' butterfly as I was driving along, then I saw a pair of buzzards circling overhead. An evening walk to the hedgerow brought new flowers:

Common Dog Violet - Viola riviniana:

Masses of Wood Sorrel, showing their delicately purple-veined insides:

And the Barren Strawberry - Potentilla sterilis:

I also noticed bud-break on Willows and Hawthorn, so we're well on our way, now.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Willow is important

As soon as the Willow catkins start producing pollen, the trees become a valuable food source for insects of all kinds.

This queen Bombus terrestris is stocking up before she retires to her nest:

And a number of flies were also feeding, including this Lesser Dungfly:

The Twin-Spotted Quaker moth - Orthosia munda - is also a Willow pollen feeder, which is why it is only seen in March and April:

Another new moth came to light last night: the Red Chestnut - Cerastis rubricosa. The various Chestnut species can be very tricky to separate, especially in the cusps when their flying dates overlap, but the reddish colour, combined with the wing shape and the grey flashes at the edge of the wing make this look fine for that species: