Monday, 31 May 2010

Sunshine continues

This shot of a male Andrena sp. solitary bee shows the triangle of three extra 'eyes' that lie between the two main eyes. These ocelli are very sensitive to rapid changes in light, and are used to detect movement, whereas the main eyes are slower and are used for navigation and object recognition:

Larger Ichneumonids are now a fairly regular sighting along the hedgerows. They fly slowly under leaves looking for their host caterpillars:

The Snipe Fly Rhagio scolopacea is known as the 'Downlooker' due to its more usual habit of hanging vertically, facing downwards waiting for prey to fly past. This is a male:

Hoverflies are some of our most handsome (and useful! - they pollinate flowers, trees and crops) insects. This is a male Leucozona lucorum:

Sawflies - closely related to wasps and bees - remain shrouded in mystery. They are strictly vegetarian as larvae (indeed some are considered to be crop pests), but largely carnivorous as adults. The larvae closely resemble the caterpillars of moths and butterflies, but many remain unidentified. The existing reference documentation is very old, and I feel that these must be the next area for extensive research and documentation. Note: the ocelli are also visible on this one that I found wandering over Bramble:

Most Sawflies are tied to a particular plant or family of plants, so I'd bet on this one being a Bramble feeder.

A bright blue Chrysomelid beetle, also wandering over Bramble:

The only blue Chrysomelid that I'm aware of is dependent on Willow, which is close by, so maybe it was just on holiday.

A few moths are still coming to light, despite the cold evenings. This is May Highflyer - Hydriomena impluviata:

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Everything's happening

A few more damselflies today; first a male Azure Damselfly:

And a female Large Red:
Hawthorn blossom, or 'May':

The seeds of Cow Parsley are already forming. These look like beetles complete with antennae. When they eventually turn black, the resemblance is even more convincing.

The next major flower to appear on the hedgerow is Meadow Vetchling, or Meadow Pea. The emerging shoots are very distinctive with their flattened appearance:
A couple of days ago I showed some Lady's Smock - Cardamine pratensis - with four Orange Tip eggs. This is the same plant with a roosting male. The attraction of the plant to the butterfly is extremely strong: most of the roosting specimens I find are on Cardamine.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Another book

A second book containing my photographs was launched today:

This book is the result of a project that brought schoolchildren and 'silver citizens' together to gather memories of how plants were used as food and medicine in times almost forgotten. I think it turned out really well.

This is exactly what I expect to see at this time of year:

No fewer than four Orange-Tip eggs on one flowerhead. I already mentioned that these are cannibals and that only one egg is normally laid per plant. But at this time of year, when the last, late, females are laying, all the plants are occupied so we see a 'dumping' of eggs in the hope that some might survive. Timing is everything: if you emerge too late, the flowers will all be occupied and your offspring will have a poor chance of success. Lateness is a trait that won't pass through to successive generations.

The first of the 'Blue' Damselflies emerged today, just as we were getting the first rain in perhaps a week. This female was using the curved leaf of Cocksfoot as an umbrella:

Here's a closeup showing the 'umbrella' in use:

Female blue damselflies are particularly tricky to separate, but I'm tending to favour Variable Damselfly - Coenagrium pulchellum - for this one. New to me, if so.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Not so subtle

After the last entry about camouflage, some of these species seem to be quite the opposite - rather blatant. Bright colouration can, of course, still be protective: some species are toxic and don't mind being easy to see.

I rarely see dead Ichneumonids: they seem to be largely free from predators. I rather liked this rosy one (although I tend to be seduced by any Ichneumonid, really).

Orange Tips are protected by their internal store of mustard oil, which they obtain from the host plant as a larva, and the orange wing-tips of the males are a warning signal to any passing birds. In this shot, the female has her abdomen raised which is basically telling the two attendant males that they are too late:

This is one of the few Tachinids that can be readily identified from a photograph: Gymnocheta viridis. These are parasitic on large moth and butterfly larvae.

(See what I mean about a bristly appearance?)

There are hundreds of Crane-fly species, many of the larger ones looking very similar to each other. This Marsh Crane Fly - Tipula oleracea - has legs which are almost ridiculously long in relation to its wingspan; they reach almost to the top and right edges of this image:
Summer is certainly here: the Soldier Beetles are warm weather creatures. Cantharis rustica:
The hedgerow is suddenly full of tiny glittering micromoths. Glyphipterix simpliciella is dependant on Cocksfoot Grass, and can be seen flying near the host plant in large numbers.

They're about the same size as the black bit on the tip of a sharp pencil. I have no idea what the yellow ?aphid is.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Bioblitz images

I was recording hoverflies, butterflies, bees, leaf-miners, plants and lichens. I think my final contribution was over 100 species, with several of them being new to me.

This is the wonderful hoverfly Chrysotoxum arcuatum:

These very rarely sit still, so it's 'shoot and hope' with them.

Green Hairstreak butterflies were very numerous around the edge of the moor area:

I noticed that this male Orange Tip was nectaring on Bush Vetch, so I chanced a few shots, hoping to get the long tongue in action:

A few plants of Bog Bean were dotted around walkable bits of the boggy area:
During the previous night, a number of moth traps were laid across the park. These are a few of the species new to me:

Knot Grass - Acronicta rumicis:

Least Black Arches - Nola confusalis:
Pine Beauty - Panolis flamea:
Scalloped Hazel - Odontopera bidentata:

V-Pug - Chloroclystis v-ata:

Monday, 24 May 2010

Now you see me.....

Yesterday I took part in a 'bioblitz', where we tried to record as many species as we could in 24 hours. As I sat having lunch, this Ringed Carpet moth - Cleora cinctaria - flew onto the wall and proceeded to become invisible:

Later, as I walked the dogs (I'm a glutton for punishment), I spotted this Mirid bug - Stenodema laevigata - on the emerging flowerhead of Cocksfoot grass:

Both species are extremely well camouflaged, I think.

I have roughly 700 images from the bioblitz to work through, so things might go quiet for a short while....

Friday, 21 May 2010

More critical timings

The larvae of the Orange Tip butterfly eat only the seedpods of their host plants (Cardamine pratensis on my patch), so they need to hatch just after the seedpod has formed. This Orange Tip egg has been laid on the foodplant at exactly the right time, just as the flower is about to open:

Hatching will take place about a week from now, by which time the embryonic seedpod will be formed. (Gestation is around 10 days, but the egg is now orange, which means it was laid 2-3 days ago.)

A few insects are dependent on Buttercups, and the first local flower opened today. The larger insect in the following shot is the hoverfly Cheilosia albitarsis, which feeds as a larva on the rootstock of Creeping Buttercup. The smaller creatures are the micromoth Micropterix calthella:

The larvae of Micropterix calthella are unknown, but given the fact that they appear on the same day as the flowers open (and then stay very close to the same flowers for the next couple of months), then I'm sure there is a very tight relationship between the moth and the plant. This mating couple was photographed on the tendrils of Bush Vetch, so you can get an idea of scale:

Another Micropterix species is the wonderful Micropterix aureatella:

This little beauty is only 6mm. long, but is as beautiful as any other species on the planet. Again, the larval stage is unknown, but it is believed to live on Bilberry which is certainly close by.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

New stuffs

(I'm currently reading the biography of Elizabeth David, and she used the word 'stuffs' to mean 'unspecified items'. I rather like it.)

When I find a new species, I like to try to identify it and then to find out where it fits into our ecosystem. Identification can sometimes take a long time: several hours or even days. On occasion, a specimen has to be sent to an expert for confirmation, especially if it's a first for the country. The internet is a wonderful resource for identifications, both for images and identification keys, but also for access to expertise: I can take a photograph and have it in front of the relevant domain expert within minutes. Sadly, many specimens cannot be identified from images, but they can be used to narrow the search quite a bit: there are plenty of groups that require specialist literature and one or two microscopes and/or some chemicals. I should mention in passing that Google has recently added a new feature to its image search: you can now search for an image by colour!

The following specimen is a good example of some of the processes used to make a determination.

I found this little (12mm) fungus growing in an area where Spuce forestry was clear-felled about 3 years ago.

I know it's an Ascomycete from the shape, but none of my fungus references has an image which is remotely similar, so I resorted to Google and did an image search for 'Brown Ascomycete'. Nothing jumped out at me, so I did another Google search, this time specifying that the image should be 'brown'. This led me to a Chilean specimen of Plectania chilensis. My books don't contain any references to any Plectania species, so I searched the UK fungal database for Plectania species and found records for Plectania melastoma. So, back to Google to look for images of Plectania melastoma and a couple of those looked quite reasonable. I then did a text search for Plectania melastoma and found that it 'grows on buried coniferous debris', and is found 'late spring to early summer'. Things are looking good. I have sent images off to relevant experts and I'm waiting for feedback from someone who knows it. In the meantime I have requested the technical specification of the fungus, so that I can get a sample under the microscope for microscopic analysis and confirmation. This will be a first Irish record if it turns out to be right, and I'll send a specimen off to Kew for curation.

Friday, 14 May 2010

More from Drumboe

One of the quirks of Drumboe is what I call 'double planting' or 'underplanting'. The predominant tree is Beech, which casts a decent shade of its own. But some of the footpaths have young Birch planted along their length, leading to parts of the walk that are twice-shaded, first by the tall (200 year-old) Beech, and then by the underplanted Birch. These dark and damp areas are excellent for insect life.

This is another Tachinid. I think it looks quite menacing with those bristles and long legs. I suppose if you're a caterpillar, then it IS menacing:

The darker areas are also home to Wood Speedwell, which I think is one of the more delicate woodland plants with its apple-green leaves and pale flowers:

I spotted this little (12mm) mining bee on Dandelion. These are quite numerous in the right location. No id yet, but the good and great are working on it.

Drumboe has vast swathes of Bluebells under the Beeches. No white ones yet:

A hoverfly which can be found in very large numbers: Syrphus ribesii, female, basking in a little clearing.

And in the same clearing, the wonderful Hawthorn Shieldbug - Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale - (which I have never found near hawthorn):

Then something I have never seen before: it unfolded and opened its wings before flying off noisily into the dark part of the wood.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Drumboe plethora

Drumboe is an ancient woodland on the west bank of the river Finn, a very short distance away from the town centre. Despite its proximity to shops, schools, church and football ground, it is home to many scarce species: perhaps five or six of the species that I have discovered to exist in Ireland come from this site.

As I mentioned earlier, no time is wasted when new leaves emerge. Today's pictures are all leaf-based and tomorrow I'll show the flowers and insects I found on my visit.

Leaf-miners come from 4 families: beetles, flies, micromoths and wasps. The instant the new Beech leaves appear, the mines of the beetle Orchestes fagi can be found. The mines are very distinctive, initially mining a gallery from the leaf centre to the edge where a blotch is formed.

The above image shows two mines ready for pupation to take place only a few days after the leaves have unfurled. There are a few reasons for mines to be so quick:
  • Multiple generations - speed is important if other generations are to follow before the leaves fall
  • Soft leaves - fresh, young leaves will be easier to mine and digest than old, hard ones
  • Parasite avoidance - the less time in the mine, the less time to be found
In the early stages, the Orchestes mine can easily be confused with Stigmella sp. micromoths, due to the single line of frass that runs down the centre of the mine, but the terminal blotch is distinctive:

Staying with Beech, this is an atypical specimen of the mine of the micromoth Stigmella tityrella. Haphazard or oddly-shaped mines are often a sign of parasitization - this mine is usually confined to run between two of the main leaf veins.

Honeysuckle leaves are host to a large number of flies and wasps. This appears to be a mine of the fly Aulagromyza hendeliana, based on the widely-dispersed frass drops:

Holly would seem to be an ideal leaf to build a home, but only one of our species mines it. Phytomyza ilicis:

Birch leaves are even more recent than Beech leaves, and yet this Incurvarea pectinea micromoth is already about to leave the leaf to pupate:

As I was examining other Birches for mines, I noticed these yellow/orange bumps on a few leaves of one specimen. They reminded me very much of the lumps made by Taphrina torquinetii on Alder, so I checked the reference and found Taphrina betulae, which is a very rarely-recorded fungus.

This should not be confused with the much more common Taphrina betulina which makes the very recognisable 'Witches broom'.

First Irish Record (told you Drumboe was good).