Monday, 26 July 2010

Keep looking - it's out there

The flowers of our more common rushes are probably ignored by 99.9% of the people who pass them, but they're certainly worth more than a passing glance. These are the flowers of Jointed Rush - Juncus articulatus:

The larvae of Sawflies are all vegetarians; most of them eating leaves, either externally or internally as leaf miners, although a few are stem-borers or bark-borers. Fewer still are the fern-dwellers, and this looks to be one of them. As I mentioned before, Sawflies are under-documented, but this one looks to be close to Stromboceros delicatulus, which is known to be a stem-borer on Bracken. Bracken was very nearby, but I found this specimen sitting on Broad Buckler fern:

On 31st May I showed the very common Snipe-fly Rhagio scolopacea. This is the much smaller, but closely related, Rhagio lineola:
The last two species are both new to me.

Friday, 23 July 2010

After the deluge

A few days of fairly heavy rain and high winds kept most insects under cover, but a few dry hours brought them out in higher numbers than before.

It's well-known that many moths are attracted to light, but Caddis Flies, Beetles, Lacewings and Spiders also come to light traps and outdoor lights. This is one of the Brown Lacewings, which I have identified as Hemerobius sp., but I can't get it any closer without the relevant literature:

Soldier Flies are often mistaken for Hoverflies due to the large eyes and metallic colouring, but a glance at the wing veins confirms the difference. This is the Soldier Fly Chloromyia formosa, about 10mm long, and the larvae live in decomposing vegetable material:

There was a recent fuss in Ireland when a provincial newspaper published photographs of the webs of Ermine micromoths along with a column from their gardening correspondent on how to kill them. I saw red. The knee-jerk reaction that says "If anything does something that I don't like, I'm going to kill it" has to stop. Sooner or later, people are going to realise that we have to learn to coexist with our wildlife or we'll lose it forever. A mini-campaign ensured that dozens of emails from moth experts and wildlife specialists were sent to the paper. They published one of the letters, but declined to alter their position. I suggested that they might like to employ a wildlife correspondent alongside their gardening one, but I got no response (I did, admittedly, say other things in the email, too).

Anyway (steps down from soapbox), this micromoth is the wonderful Orchard Ermine - Yponomeuta padella - which makes webs on Hawthorn and Apple. The taxonomic structure of Yponomeuta is fluid, with a number of very similar species and with much work still to be done. Some of them can, however, be separated by the availability of foodplant and partially by appearance:

The nettle-feeding Mother of Pearl micromoth is larger than many macromoths at 30 mm. wingspan. I usually see it at dusk, but it occasionally comes to light:
Another new moth for me: Small Fan-footed Wave - Idaea biselata:

I spotted this red-banded ichneumonid on Bramble. The antennae are very long, and I could see no sign of an ovipositor, so I'm guessing it's a male:
A face-on shot of a Calliphorid:
I found this pair of Empid Dance Flies on Male Fern. These are more usually seen 'dancing' in clouds of what appear to be midges, but they are much larger:

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Just fresh

As I was moving between Angelica plants, this large Ichneumon landed on the Scaly Male fern:

Notice I said 'Ichneumon' for a change. That's because this is one of the very few that can be named from appearance alone. It's a fine specimen of Amblyteles armatorius, and I'm pretty sure it had just emerged, because it sat for a while and gave itself a very thorough clean-up. A few years ago I photographed the entire emergence procedure of another Ichneumon, Amblyjoppa proteus, and you can see it here. As you can see, the freshly-emerged Ichneumon is covered in slime and mucus, and it needs to clean itself very thoroughly. That's what I think we're seeing in this series of close-ups:

Each of the antennae was cleaned several times by dragging it through the front legs:
Then the front legs got cleaned:
Before the eyes were given a couple of wipes.
The whole procedure was repeated about three times.

This shot clearly shows the triangle of upward-facing 'ocelli', which help to detect predators:

Saturday, 17 July 2010

A poll

At this time of year I'm a magnet for Clegs: they track me down within seconds of the car door being opened. But other people are completely safe and don't even know that Clegs are around. Based on a few casual surveys, I have found that people like me with blood group O+ are targets, but people with A, B or AB, either + or - are safe to a greater or lesser degree.

This is a female of the Cleg Haematopota pluvialis, and I usually find them attached to my skin as they slice down to reach blood (you can just make out the slicing mouthparts between the front legs).

And here's a close-up of the wonderful eye:

So....just as a quick survey, if you know your blood group and are attacked or left alone by Clegs, leave a quick message in the comments area and let's see if the O+ trend continues.

Another new moth today: Grey Arches - Polia nebulosa - which feeds on many trees and shrubs:

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

It's all interrelated

It's a bit early in the year for the fungal part of my brain to kick into action, but occasional summer specimens can stimulate the old grey matter.

This is Panaeolus ater, which is 'hygrophanous': it changes colour according to whether it is wet or dry. The dry weather has put it into this (very) dry state:

Panaeolus species are relatively easy to identify to family due to the mottled gills:

The larvae of many fly species eat the mushroom fruit-bodies, often consuming them to destruction, and you can be sure that if there are fly larvae around, then an ichneumonid won't be far behind them. This minute one was prospecting the outside of the caps, so I suppose it can detect them from there without having to go down and search each gill individually.
The timing of this parasitisation is critical: the mushroom fruitbody will only be there for a few days during which the fly larva must progress from egg to pupation. So the ichneumonid must locate the fly larva (and the mushroom!) during that very short time. That's at least a quadruple dependency: the ichneumonid depends on the fly larva which depends on the mushroom which depends on its host (usually a plant, dung or wood). And, of course, the host will have its own set of criteria for being there....

Staying with ichneumonids, this one is very numerous at the moment as it runs over and under leaves looking for caterpillars:

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Angelica est arrivé

The annual opening of the Angelica is a time to rejoice: the readily-available nectar is a major food resource for many insects, especially those with shorter tongues. Over the next few weeks I expect to photograph bees, wasps, ichneumonids, Ectemnius wasps, moths, beetles, sawflies and butterflies, many of them sharing the large flowerheads. This is a close-up of the social wasp Dolichovespula norwegica, which builds its nest in trees:

Dolichovespula sp. wasps appear to have a 'long face', which can be readily confirmed by the gap between the eye and the jaw.

Episyrphus balteatus is one of the more recognisable hoverflies, due to the unique 'twin-bar' marks on the abdomen:

Having recently shown the White Plume moth, it's nice to show the much more common Emmelina monodactyla plume for comparison:
(These also feed on Convolvulus sp. bindweed)

Family associations are a feature today. This is Udea lutealis, a very common relative of the Udea olivalis micromoth that I showed the other day:

I always think that ferns make an excellent background for insect photos.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Moths galore

One of the most common caterpillars on my patch is the Garden Tiger moth: they're all over the higher-level plants. This is the first time I've seen the wonderful adult, however:

The white plume moth is the White Plume Moth - Pterophorus pentadactyla, which feeds on Convolvulus (and is one of the few micromoths with a common name). This is another first for me:

And another new first for me is the Satin Beauty - Deileptenia ribeata, which feeds on Norway Spruce. Unsurprisingly, this is an increasing species:
Just for the record, a July Highflyer:

And to finish off for today, my favourite flower, Slender St. John's Wort:

Friday, 9 July 2010

And still they come

I was walking along the hedgerow and suddenly got an irresistible urge to look at the underside of some Lady Fern. I spotted some dark objects at the limit of my unaided vision and fired off a few shots. The result? Two new species and some serious eye-strain.

The two mirid bugs (collectively called Fern bugs) that follow both feed on the spores and sporangia of ferns. First is Monalocoris filicis, about 2-3 mm. long:

(Note the 'missing' sporangia on the above frond.)

And the second is Bryocoris pteridis:

As a bonus, I found that I had incidentally photographed the nymph of Monalocoris filicis on the same frond as the Bryocoris:

The main identifying feature between the two mirids is the length of the first antennal segment, which is less than the width of the head in the Monalocoris and as wide as the head in the Bryocoris. Head colour is also different.

I'm not sure what the precise habitat requirement is for Eyebright, but I only ever find it on woodland paths:
The flower is very much like an orchid, with very clear nectar guides and carefully-positioned pollinia. When you consider that bees and flies see in the UV spectrum, those guides must be like large flashing neon signs...."Come and dine here!".

Some of the Phyllonorycter micromoths have taken leaf-mining to a new level: they mine out a section of leaf and then make creases in its lower surface. As the leaf continues to grow and the creases deepen, the upper surface of the leaf buckles upwards, making a fine tent for the larva to feed and develop inside. This enables it to reach a larger size than would be possible if the space was limited by the thickness of the leaf. The following shot shows the underside of an early mine of Phyllonorycter maestingella on Beech:

Two moths which illustrate one of the difficulties of moth identification came to light: first Udea olivalis, which feeds on bushes and shrubs and is a micromoth:

And Small Fan Foot, which is a macromoth:
These moths are roughly the same size (about 15 mm. long), but they are found in different reference manuals. So unless you know which group they belong to, you don't know which book to consult. But if you can't identify them, then you need to look them up.....

Thursday, 8 July 2010

As promised

The Buff Tip moth has a great camouflage system which is composed of a number of parts: Firstly, the rear of the front wing has an oval mark that resembles a twig broken at an angle. Secondly, the thorax looks like the end of a twig that has been snapped straight off. Lastly, the thorax can be pulled into the ruff of hairs that make a collar just behind it. When the thorax is tucked away in this manner, the head points downwards and the eyes are hidden away down near the feet, as shown below:

I updated my species list during the rather frequent rain we've been having.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Calm before the storm

Sometimes art and science come together. This shot of an Ichneumonid on Cleavers has a very pleasant symmetry:

As I was selecting the shots, I found this one with two minute Ichneumonids, which I estimate were between one and two millimetres long. Notice the transparent 'hooks' which give the plant its 'stickiness':

Liriomyza congesta is a new-to-me leaf-mining fly which mines various members of the Pea family. I found it on Meadow Vetchling:

The diagnostic features of this mine are the green frass with black dots.

As if we needed confirmation that we are heading nose-first into the darkest depths of winter, I found my first specimen of Rhagonycha fulva for this year. These usually emerge after June 21st., when the larger Umbellifers (Hogweed, Angelica....) are starting to flower.

And this closely-related (but very much smaller....6mm.) member of the Soldier Beetle family is also new to me. It looks closest to Malthodes mysticus:

This handsome-looking chap is one of the Tetanocera, or Snail-killing flies. These lay their eggs close to snails, which then eat the eggs. The larvae then hatch and consume and kill the snail:

Snipe flies are fearsome predators, taking other insects in mid-air:

The micromoth Celypha lacunana is around in huge numbers at the moment:

The other day, I showed the Buff Tip moth taken at night with flash. Here's a daytime shot:

Friday, 2 July 2010

Bang on time

I was thinking it was time to see the summer butterflies and, sure enough, I found Meadow Brown, Ringlet, 2nd generation Speckled Wood and 2nd generation Green-veined White all within a minute of each other.

The Meadow Brown is a grass feeder, but it frequently basks on higher plants:

The Ringlet is also a grass feeder. This shot shows where it gets its name from:

That brings the number of butterfly species on this short (80 m.) section of hedgerow to 7 for this year:

  • Green-veined White
  • Speckled Wood
  • Orange Tip
  • Small Copper
  • Meadow Brown
  • Ringlet
  • Small Heath

There's still time for Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Painted Lady and Red Admiral, all of which have been spotted here before. Green Hairstreak is also a slight possibility.

I have found this Bramble-eating sawfly larva for a couple of years, now. I'm still working on an id:

The first of the Ichneumonids with the longer ovipositors have started to appear. These lay eggs into moth or fly larvae in grass seedheads or in composite flowerheads such as Thistle or Knapweed. They tend to feed for a couple of days before I see them laying, so I expect to get some oviposition shots by next week. The very long rear legs on this one suggest something close to Lissonota sp., which use the long legs to keep the abdomen clear of the seedhead when swinging the ovipositor into position on grasses.