Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Still more new

The Buff Tip moth - Phalera bucephala - is instantly recognisable due to its astonishing similarity to a snapped twig. I hadn't seen it in the flesh, although I recognised it quickly enough. It's new to me, as are the next four species. The high number of new species I'm finding at the moment is almost certainly due to the excellent spell of hot weather which is encouraging insects to stay in the open longer.

This is one of the Stilt Flies, so-called due to the long legs. The head is almost completely composed of two large eyes, which aids the hunt for other insect prey. Neria cibaria:

Since I recorded my first new species for Ireland in 2004, I've continued to add a couple of new species each year. Most of those are new records simply because nobody else had been looking closely enough, but some are genuine rarities. This leaf-mining fly - Agromyza ranunculivora - which mines Creeping Buttercup, seems to be a first record for Ireland, and the NBN gateway only shows a couple of records in England. Certainly the standard reference for leaf-miners didn't have an image. It does now.

This tiny (5mm) Capsid bug is quite common, but it's still the first time I've seen it. It's Capsus ater, and is associated with various grasses:

At first glance, this hoverfly might seem to be one of the very common Eristalis species, but a second glance shows the yellow hairs, a wing shade and extra small spots of yellow on the abdomen. That makes it Eristalis horticola which is widespread but never numerous. This is the third or fourth specimen that I've seen:

Many of the Sepsid flies have a single spot on the wing, and they run around the top of leaves waving their wings in some sort of semaphore signalling system. They're always on the go, so they're very difficult to photograph. Same size as an ant:

Sunday, 27 June 2010

All new species

When I started to formally record wildlife about 7 years ago, everything was new to my species list. As I added more groups such as fungi and lichens, the number continued to grow steadily. Then it levelled out and I usually add around 2-3 new species per month. This year, however, the weather has been much dryer than usual and I'm seeing new species almost every day.

This page contains only species that are new to me in the last couple of days.

This hoverfly caught my attention as it just seemed 'different': that metallic glow on the scutellum and head was shinier than I'd seen before. Turns out it's Platycheirus rosarum, which is not scarce, but never numerous:

This moth, however, is genuinely scarce. It's the Poplar Lutestring - Tethea or, which is confined to Aspen. This is one of a couple of Irish records since it was rediscovered near here in 2008. Its scarcity isn't assisted by the lack of Aspen in this area, but strangely it isn't found in the south of the country where Aspen would be more common.

Note: this is a very atypical specimen with weak markings.

This micromoth is also either new to the county or new to the country. We've narrowed it down to one of two species, but further help has been requested. I'll put up the final identification when it arrives:
( Candidates are new-to-Ireland Swammerdamia compunctella, which feeds on Hawthorn and Rowan, or the new-to-Donegal, gloriously-named Paraswammerdamia albicapitella, which is a Blackthorn feeder. Hawthorn was adjacent, Blackthorn about 500m away).

This large beetle was crossing the path as we walked along. It's Phosphuga atrata, which is a carrion beetle, eating snails, insects and earthworms:

I don't often find new plants these days, but I noticed this Pond Water Crowfoot - Ranunculus peltatus - in the river Foyle as I waited for a bus to arrive:
The pear-shaped nectar guide, which is one of the diagnostic features, can clearly be seen on the closest petal.

So that's 5 new species in two days.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The worst day of the year

I truly hate the 22nd of June, because it means that we've turned the corner and the days will now get shorter for the next 6 months.


Moving swiftly on, leaves with holes always attract my attention, and this Alder leaf got me very excited:

Notice a few things: the leaf has been grazed on one surface (the upper) only and there is a tiny hole in each grazing patch. That combination of features suggests only one type of beast: a Coleophora micromoth.

These assemble a case out of the little leaf patches, and they continue to graze with the protective case surrounding them:

There are only a few Coleophora species that mine Alder, and I quickly came down to Coleophora serratella, which feeds on a few broad-leaved trees.

New to me.

The good warm weather keeps the moths coming at night. Last night I was taking a few shots and I felt the buffeting wind from the wings of this Poplar Hawkmoth before I saw it. Last year I showed the progress of one of these as it developed as a caterpillar, and I'm delighted to find this pristine specimen. A lovely beast:

The Mottled Beauty - Alcis repandata repandata - feeds on a wide variety of broadleaf trees:

My favourite little moth - Clouded Border - is a milestone for my camera: this is the 60,000th shot:

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Summer mix

The Dog Rose on my hedge has opened, making a large patch of dusky pink. Roses attract all kinds of wildlife from aphids and beetles to micromoths and butterflies, and this picture shows the presence of two other life forms:

The two aphids to the lower left are 'mummified', which tells us that minute (2.5 mm.) parasitic wasps are present. These lay a single egg inside each aphid which then slowly hardens until it forms a protective shell around the developing wasp larva:

More parasitic behaviour can be seen in this shot of the shieldbug Troilus luridus consuming a moth caterpillar that it has caught:

Troilus luridus is scarce enough, and the only two specimens I have found were three years apart and on the same Hawthorn tree.

Still more predatory behaviour is shown by the structure of the proboscis of this Empis stercorea Dance Fly, which is used to suck nourishment from captured prey:

Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza sp. - I'm now refusing to identify these to species until someone admits they've got it wrong and says they're just variants of one or two species) have started to flower, and I think these earliest stages of development are the most attractive:

This one is paired with Common Sedge - Carex nigra:
This paper from 2004 puts it very nicely, allocating the various 'species' of Dactylorhiza into related 'groups'. Clearly much work has yet to be done in this area.

Moths continue to come to light. This is one of the few 'Minors' that can be satisfactorily identified without dissection: Middle-barred minor - Oligia fasciuncula - which is recognised by the dark 'box' with a thin white front border and a wider white rear border in the middle of the wing:

And two micromoths. Firstly Catoptria margaritella, which is thought to feed on mosses and then Cotton Grass:

And a rather worn specimen of Chrysoteuchia culmella, a grass feeder:

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Hoverflies and legs

Volucella bombylans is another bumblebee mimic. This is the white-tailed variety: Volucella bombylans var. plumata, which is reckoned to be a good mimic of Bombus hortorum and B. jonellus. Pity I don't have either of those on my patch.

The larvae of V. bombylans feed on detritus in the nests of wasps and bumblebees, which leads me to wonder just how important the mimicry is, since I have plenty of these hoverflies, but neither of the similar bumblebees.

This grasshopper gives me a nice lead-in to another two hoverflies. It's the Common Green Grasshopper - Omocestus viridulus:

The first of the hoverflies is Xylota segnis, which runs very quickly over leaves looking for pollen grains. The first time I saw it, it took me quite a while to realise that this fast-running, grasshopper-legged creature was, indeed, a hoverfly:

The second set of legs belongs to the hoverfly Syritta pipiens, which has inflated rear thighs that resemble pollen baskets. As a bee mimic, that would be fine, but there is no bee of a comparable size (about 8 mm. long) that collects pollen in baskets; most of the smaller bees gather pollen in abdominal or thoracic hair.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Busy time

The burst of good weather has produced lots of new photographs (which bring associated research), and I have been working on a new project doing wildlife surveys with schools in the area, so things are a little busy.

The leafmining fly Agromyza minuscula mines Meadow Rue as well as the Aquilegia in my garden. I have no Meadow Rue near my patch - it tends to be coastal near here - so the flies have travelled quite some distance to find this alternative food source.

Foxgloves tend to creep up on you. One day, they're a rosette of leaves, the next they're in full bloom the whole length of the spike:

Last week, I showed a male Bombus lucorum; this one has found a new queen:

I'm amazed at the size difference. The males will now die off, and the new queens will go back to their nests and act as workers until next year when they go off to make their own new nest. The queen is certainly Bombus Lucorum s-s, which confirms my belief that I have both B. lucorum s-s and Bombus cryptarum on my patch.

Meadow Vetchling has added a lot of yellow to the verges, now. The various Cinquefoils are next, followed by various St. John's Worts and the Birds-foot Trefoil.

I often think the people who gave names to various species in the 1700's and 1800's had a sense of humour (or they needed some light relief from their intense work). This is the wasp-mimicking hoverfly Sericomyia silentis, which has to be the noisiest hoverfly around. It's certainly louder than the bumblebee:

There are plenty of moths around at the moment (sorry, Weaver). This is a male Golden Swift:

I did quite a bit of research on this image because I have often seen these bright orange phoretic mites, and always on Limoniidae Crane Flies:

Limoniidae are often aquatic as larvae, but some feed on fungi. These phoretic mites are also known to feed on fungal spores, so it looks like these mites (which belong to the spider family) are simply using the Limoniidae as transport between fungi.

Finally, some more moths that came to light:

Clouded-bordered Brindle - Apamea crenata - which feeds on grasses as a larva:
Common Marbled Carpet - Chloroclysta truncata - which feeds on woody plants:
And Dark Arches - Apamea monoglypha - another grass feeder:
New to me.

I also updated my species index.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Moth time

Moths get a really bad name, but I think they easily rival our butterflies for beauty and certainly for diversity (and for difficulty of identification - although the next few are easy enough).

This is the Small Magpie - Eurrhypara hortulata, which feeds primarily on Nettle:

The Cinnabar moth - Tyria jacobaea - is one of the most readily identifiable moths and is dependant on Ragwort:
A word about Ragwort: Ragwort is often blamed for the deaths of horses and cattle. I have spoken to many local farmers and they are unanimous that all animals will avoid eating Ragwort if it is left to grow. If the plant is pulled from the ground and left to 'sweeten', then animals can't differentiate it from hay and will eat it. That's when deaths occur. Leave Ragwort alone and it won't cause problems to animals, and will continue to nurture insects such as moths, hoverflies and bees.

The Brimstone Moth - Opisthograptis luteolata - has a fascinating life-cycle which enables it to adapt to varying winter conditions. Sometimes it overwinters as a larva; at other times as a pupa, the emergence date being governed by the type of overwintering strategy. It can be found as an adult from April to October, with some evidence for three generations over 2 years. Foodplants are shrubs and bushes such as Hawthorn and Blackthorn.

The most frequent leaf-miner on my patch is the micromoth Stigmella aurella, which makes leaf-mines on Bramble (and occasionally, on Meadowsweet). This is the (3mm!) adult:

Tachinid flies are parasitic on moth and butterfly larvae. This one became lunch for a Dung Fly. It's tough out there.

For some reason, this cock Bullfinch took a fancy to my rear door. It repeatedly flew at the rear window and then returned to the hosepipe winch. Perhaps it thought it saw a competitor in its reflection.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Woodland fringe

A couple of weeks ago, I showed of the egg of an Orange Tip butterfly. It has now hatched, and this is the (3mm.) caterpillar:

It will stay on this single plant, eating the seedpods as it grows.

Sawflies are out in ever-increasing numbers. Specimens like this Tenthrenid need careful consideration, because they converge on very similar colour patterns to those of Ichneumonids. The main visible distinguishing features are the lack of a narrow 'waist', and the deep sutures on the thorax. This specimen appears to be a male:

This shot of another (female) Sawfly clearly shows the thicker middle area between the thorax and abdomen:

The following shot of the micromoth Epiblema sticticana took me around 15 minutes to capture. I saw the moth flying low over vegetation, threatening to land, but never quite fulfilling the promise to do so. I knew from the flight pattern and colouration that it was new to me, so I followed it up and down the verge for what seemed an age. Eventually it alighted on a Coltsfoot leaf (they can't keep constantly flying for too long) and I rattled off a few shots before it resumed its low flight over the plants.
Epiblema sticticana has only recently been separated from two other members of the Epiblema family, and its larvae feed on......Coltsfoot roots. (The others are Epiblema cirsiana, which feeds on Marsh Thistle, and Epiblema scutulana, which feeds on Spear Thistle).

I had hoped to see some interesting hoverflies along this stretch of woodland fringe, but this spider was helping to make sure I didn't see too many:

Beech Woolly Aphids - Phyllapis fagi - are confined to Beech trees, and are the sole food source of some hoverfly larvae: