Thursday, 30 September 2010

More clockwork

Last night no fewer than 5 specimens of the November/Autumnal moth came to light. It just so happens that the previous night was the coldest since springtime, so I have no doubt that these species are triggered by temperature. There are four species in contention here: November Moth, Pale November Moth, Autumnal Moth and Small Autumnal moth. Identification is mainly done through dissection, so we tend to record these as Epirrita agg.

I rather liked this shot of the Nematus larvae fighting over the last tiny remnant of the Willow leaf. They will now have moved on to the next leaf down the branch.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Catching up

Sawfly larvae are particularly difficult to identify: the literature is incomplete and rather out of date, although there is a great deal of ongoing work to tie up larvae with host plants and with the adult versions. Happily, I managed to identify this one on Alder - it's Nematinus fuscipennis:

It's almost the end of the season for many insects, and many will perish as the temperatures begin to drop. This Sericomyia silentis hoverfly was quite inert on Devilsbit Scabious:

Another handsome moth came to light. It's the Red-Green Carpet - one of our late-season specialists:
When I identify new species of mushroom I like to confirm identifications using as many features as I can. These are the surprisingly long and thin spores of the Spathularia (at x 400) that I showed earlier in the week:

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

New woodland

I was invited to visit a young local deciduous woodland today, and was delighted to find the rare Spathularia flavida, which is a red-book species, threatened with extinction. There were two separate groups, each of around ten specimens:

There are three previous Irish records, from 1918 and 1955.

I have only found Meripileus giganteus on two previous occasions, and in each case the host Beech tree fell after a few days, so I fear for the future of this specimen. The image shows a single specimen about 35 cm wide by 40 cm tall, and there were two more similar specimens spread round other parts of the trunk:
The same tree was host to some very large specimens of the bracket fungus Ganoderma applanatum, so it is bound to die soon either way.

Lactarius lilacinus is another new fungus for me. It was growing under young Oak and Alder and the milk tasted hot after a longish delay:

We took shelter from the rain under an old railway bridge and I spotted this Clausilia bidentata snail climbing the buttress wall:

It doesn't take long for dependent species to find young hosts. This is the mine of the micromoth Stigmella roborella, which I now find on Oaks wherever I look:

A couple of images from last night: I rather like this shot of the Nematus pavidus larva being approached by the parasitic Mesochorus Ichneumonid:

I've labelled that shot 'Go Away!'

And this Acleris laterana micromoth marks a new milestone for my records. That's the 100th micromoth on my patch.

The wide diversity of species found in this young (8 years) deciduous plantation shows how quickly biodiversity can increase with careful and correct (native) planting.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Full circle

I often struggle to find a suitable title for the posts that I make, but I think you'll agree that today's title certainly applies to the first two images, but in completely different ways.

The Nematus pavidus larvae are now in their final instar (final colouration pattern) and are getting larger:

There's still no sign of the secondary parasites, which makes them a bit late in terms of the early appearance of the larvae this year. I had a think about that, however, and they don't actually have the same imperative to synchronise that the primaries do: the egg of the primary is their target and since the egg stays inert inside the larva until it is fully grown, the secondaries can wander along any time they like.

I rather liked this shot of the Tetanocera being killed by the spider:
Tetanocera are snail-killers. Full circle, indeed.

I flipped over a specimen of Cloud Agaric to confirm my identification and found this tiny Springtail:
It's Tomocerus minor and as I was keying it out I had to laugh when the key said: "This may be called 'minor', but it can reach fully 4.5 mm long"! That gives you some idea of how small Springtails usually are.

While I was looking at the Nematus larvae, I spotted this Pug Moth larva stretched out on the skeletal leaf they had left behind:
It occurs to me that it might have chosen that spot to pupate in. A quick check later will confirm.

This Angle Shades moth larva caught my eye. Camouflage seems not to work on me:

Another new moth came to light, and it's the excellent 20-plume micromoth - Alucita hexadactyla. The wings are each made up of six 'plumes':

And, just for the record, a (very!) worn Common Rustic. It's amazing that the diagnostic kidney mark is just about the only part of the wing pattern still in place:

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ards fungal foray

I rather suspected that this was going to be a good year for fungi and Ards rarely disappoints.

We spent a couple of hours wandering through ancient deciduous forest with occasional lumps of Spruce and found fungi of all kinds with almost every footstep. I din't manage to get too many photographs, as I was being pulled in four directions at once to see what people had discovered.

Asterophora parasitica was virtually everywhere, which is odd because I'd never seen it here before:

These are parasitic on dead Russulas and Lactarius, and you can just make out the shiny dead cap of the host underneath them.

This little cluster of Sulphur Tuft was growing on a dead stump in one of the coniferous patches:

Some of the fungi we found are tiny. I have left my (dirty) thumbnail uncropped to give an indication of the size of this Hemimycena:

I usually find the extraordinarily rare Phellodon melaleucus in precisely the same place every year, and always make sure that anyone with me gets to see it. Most mycologists will never see this in a lifetime:

I spotted this frog whilst I was down looking at some mushrooms. It is so perfectly camouflaged that most people couldn't see it even when I pointed it out:

This exotic-looking mushroom is one of the Phlegmaceum subgroup of Cortinarius:

Other new species seen, but not photographed:

Amanita virosa (Destroying Angel)
Leccinum roseofractum

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hateful weather

The weather has been terrible for a few days, with very heavy rain and strong winds. A few specimens are still coming to light, however, including this rather wonderful red Ichneumonid:

The fact that an Ichneumonid comes to light is quite interesting, since they feed on nectar and parasitise insect larvae, neither of which would usually be found near light sources. I suppose males might be attracted to light if females were to be found there in numbers, but they're not (and female Ichneumonids don't need a male anyway). Interestingly enough, I was sent a picture of what appears to be an identical wasp that was found in a moth trap at the other end of the country. Maybe it's just a hangover from some previous dependency on a moth.

Edit on 14th July 2011. This Ichneumon has now been identified as Ophion luteus.

This Eudonis angustea micromoth is also quite interesting in its own way: I have only ever seen it once before, on 11th September 2007. At that time I thought it was an unusual record, since these are coastal moss-feeders. But a second specimen would indicate that perhaps they are a bit more local than that (I'm about 15 k from the sea).

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

More clockwork

Last Thursday I predicted that parasitisation of the Nematus pavidus sawfly larvae would take place either on Monday or Tuesday. Monday was a complete washout, but sure enough yesterday saw the initial egg-laying taking place.

I need to set this next image in context. The leaf is now a bare skeleton and most larvae have moved to another leaf. A few are still left on the original leaf and the female Campodorus is busy making sure each one is parasitised.

She moves to the underside of the leaf and curls her abdomen round close to where the larvae are:

Then she moves her abdomen around in the direction of the larvae (you can just make out the stubby little ovipositor in this shot):

Her abdomen approaches the larva (I have no idea how she senses their position so accurately), and the larva attempts to make an avoiding manoeuvre:

But the stabbing move is made unerringly, and the parasitisation takes place:
The egg will now remain unhatched inside the sawfly larva until it pupates, at which time the Campodorus egg will hatch and the Campodorus larva will consume the contents of the pupa.

Unfortunately for the Campodorus, a certain Mesochorus hyperparasite has different ideas. Perhaps Thursday or Friday will enable me to show another twist in this saga.

Post-script: Whilst I was musing about the amazing similarity between the abdomen and an elephant's trunk, I thought I would look a bit more closely, and I wonder if the abdomen is fitted with sensors of some kind. A trawl through yesterday's images delivered this shot showing the ovipositor and what seems to be two holes. 'Nostrils', anyone?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

All new and an update

The year continues to deliver new species to the patch. This bug had no intention of staying to pose for a shot. As soon as it saw me, it made a dash for the undersurface of the leaf. It's the Tarnished plant Bug - Lygus rugulipennis:

And two new moths came to light. This one is the gloriously-named Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing - Noctua janthe:

And the (probably migrant at this time of year) Setaceous Hebrew Character - Xestia c-nigrum, a nettle feeder:
I had some spare time due to the very stormy conditions over the weekend, so I updated my species index, which now stands at 1375 species.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Like clockwork

On Monday I wondered when the parasites of the Nematus pavidus sawfly larvae would appear. The answer is: today.

This is the primary parasite: Campodorus sp. This specimen was examining the larvae very closely, but it's clear that they aren't large enough yet. I'd guess that Monday or Tuesday next week should see a flurry of egg-laying.

This exotic-looking Forest Shieldbug - Pentatoma rufipes - struck a striking pose, so I gratefully took the shot:

Another new moth for me: Small wainscot - Chortodes pygmina. The larvae feed on sedges and grasses, but the adults don't feed at all.

I wasn't at all surprised to see this migratory Silver Y moth after all the migrant hoverflies I've seen in the last few days.

Just for the record, the Frosted Orange - Gortyna flavago - emerges just as the leaves are turning brown: