Tuesday, 31 August 2010

High pressure migrants

Yesterday I showed the first specimen of the hoverfly Eupeodes luniger for this year, and today I saw a lot more. The hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri is known to be migratory and I saw it on the marigolds today:

So I rather think the south-easterly wind that accompanied the current high-pressure weather system has brought in a mass migratory influx from mainland Europe.

I also saw my first 2010 specimen of the parasitic tachinid fly Eriothrix rufomaculata:

I only ever see this on Ragwort. Its host caterpillar is unknown in Ireland, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's migratory, too. I need to sit and think if a migratory parasite makes sense.

Woody Nightshade is a plant that seems threatening in all of its parts:

Maybe it's the purple stalks near the flowers and fruit, but I can certainly see why our ancestors viewed early tomatoes with more than a hint of suspicion.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Where to start?

At the beginning, I suppose.

(Keep your eyes peeled for hidden insects....I'll be asking questions at the end.)

Earlier on, I was over on Weaver's blog identifying a pincushion gall, and this is the first shot I took this morning:
It's a gall caused by the plant louse Livia juncorum on Juncus rushes. Galls are abnormal growths caused by insects or fungi for their own benefit: usually food and/or shelter. Other insects know about these benefits and some galls attract lodgers (inquilines) and, of course, predators and parasites. The record number of species found inside a single Oak Apple gall was over 50!

The Marigolds at our front window attract plenty of hoverflies and this sunny morning saw the wonderful Eupeodes luniger:

I also saw Leucozona glaucia on the last of the Angelica:

This all-black hoverfly made my heart flutter a bit, but after a lot of analysis (finally concluded by detailed examination of the wing veins) I determined it was just a very dark Eristalis tenax:

This more usual version was conveniently to hand so that I could show the comparison:

As some of you will know, I've been carrying out a study of sawfly larvae on willows for the past few years, and I thought I would check to see if any Nematus pavidus sawfly larvae were in evidence. Just as well I did, because this lot hatched yesterday:
So this is officially DAY 2. I'll be tracking these larvae and their parasites for the next month or so. They're a bit earlier than usual, so it will be very interesting to see if the parasites are correspondingly early.

This is the next batch ready to go:

It's amazing what catches your eye, even from a distance. This is the larva of one of the Pug moths:
These are very difficult to identify as larvae and the best way of finding out what they are is to breed them through and then identify the adults (which, unfortunately, is also difficult with Pugs!)

On the same Willow as the Nematus pavidus larvae, I found this Baetid Mayfly. I have no idea why it has emerged so late in the year:

Ok.......hands up who spotted the Frog Hopper in the centre of the Livia juncorum. (easy)

And who spotted the bright orange Tephritid fly larva at the bottom right corner (very carefully cropped) of the image of the Pug moth caterpillar? (difficult)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Very mixed bag

The 14-spot ladybird is very often overlooked: it's much smaller than the common 7-spot, being roughly the same size as a match head (and the same size as the 10-spot).

My last blog entry showed Taphrina alni, a fungus that alters the growth pattern of Alder cones. The Taphrina family is quite large and appears on different trees, always distorting leaves or cones in order to increase the spore-bearing surface area. As soon as I saw this curled leaf-edge on Hawthorn, Taphrina came to the front of my mind, and a quick look at the references revealed Taphrina crataegi:

No previous Irish records.

This is the time of year to examine the flowers of rushes for the tiny larval cases of the Coleophora micromoths:

The fungal season has certainly arrived. I think I'll visit Ards on Sunday. This is the very common Bolbitius vitellinus:

Staying with fungi, this is the very rare Suillus flavidus which I first recorded for Ireland about 5 years ago. It's a Pine associate, and is never found more than a few metres away from its tree:
It looks rather like a smaller and paler version of Slippery Jack (which can often be found close to it, since that is also a Pine associate). The two main identification features are the red jelly ring:
And the large angular spore tubes:
It would be worth checking your Pine trees to see if you can find it.

This Rosy Rustic came to light:
It's very common, presumably due to its very wide range of larval foodplants.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

One of those days

Some days are just simply better than others.

Helophilus pendulus (to the lower left, below) is a very common hoverfly that has similar but scarcer relatives, so I always examine each specimen in the hope that it might be one of the scarcer ones.

Today I noticed that one of the many specimens was slightly different , especially in the amount of yellow on the abdomen. I managed one poor shot before it zoomed off to another area:
The photograph is just enough to identify it as Helophilus hybridus, which requires black, boggy soil for its larvae. The habitat matches precisely, so that's one new species for today.

There is a stand of young Alder trees just opposite where we usually park the car, and this unusual mine caught my eye:
The mine is unusual in that the larva starts off at the midrib, makes one anticlockwise circuit between two veins and ends up back at the midrib. Then it appears to disappear. In fact, the larva is now tunnelling along the inside of the midrib and will appear a few veins closer to the petiole and will then cut an oval piece of leaf which it takes to the ground and will then roll up and pupate inside it. This extremely sophisticated beast is the micromoth Heliozela resplendella, and is new species #2 for today.

New species #3 is the moth The Magpie. Notice the 'The'. For some unknown reason, about 60 of our moths have 'The' as the first part of their name. I suppose it happened as part of the original naming process and someone's list was kept differently and the names got stuck. Nice beast, anyway:

And the fourth and final new species for today is the Centre-barred Sallow, which is one of the few insects that is dependant on the Ash tree:

I would have been happy to call a halt on the page at this point, but I got a couple of other shots that are worth showing.

This Eristalis nemorum hoverfly insisted on trying to mate with a worker Bombus pascuorum bumblebee:
It made numerous slow approaches from above, each time forcing the bumblebee to move to another flowerhead. Eventually the bee gave up and flew away over the hedge, after which the hoverfly tried to approach a number of other bees and hoverflies.

Alder is host to a large number of insects and fungi, which is testament to its nutritional qualities as well as its obvious lack of protective toxins.

Taphrina alni is a rather scarce fungus which attacks the fruiting cones and forces them to produce these large, red tongue-like growths:
These growths (strictly-speaking, galls) are part Alder and part Taphrina, much in the manner of lichens, and their only purpose is to produce fungal spores.

The closer you look, the more complex it gets.

Four new species in one day.

Friday, 20 August 2010


The rain has abated slightly and I found these Blackening Waxcaps - Hygrocybe nigrescens - in various stages of development on my lawn:

Waxcaps are primarily grassland species, and their presence on my lawn is very welcome: they are an indicator of 'unimproved' grassland, with associated benefits to wildlife. I'd expect to see a succession of Waxcap species as the years progress.

Xylaria polyforma - Dead Man's Fingers - is associated with Beech:

I found this Sawfly larva feeding on Meadowsweet:

Sawfly larvae are distinguishable from those of moths and butterflies primarily by their extra prolegs, but once you get your eye in, there's very little doubt and counting isn't required. Sadly, as I've mentioned before, Sawflies are very badly under-documented, and a trawl through the Meadowsweet species failed to turn up a match.

Coincidentally, I saw this adult Sawfly no more than a metre away from the larva, on Angelica. Wouldn't it be nice if......naaah.....erase that thought.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Plan C

En-route to my chosen photography spot (plan A) for today we got stuck behind a slow-moving tractor, so I chose an alternative location. When we arrived there our usual parking spot (plan B) was occupied, so we moved on to location 3 (plan C). It seemed that we were destined to find something special, and so it turned out: two new species for me, one of them a first county record.

Psychoides filicivora is a micromoth that eats the spore-bearing sori of ferns, primarily Male Fern. The larva gathers the contents of the sori and constructs a shelter from them. The shelter is the brown spore mass to the left of the midrib below. You can see where the sori have been removed from the frond to the right of the midrib:
Psychoides filicivora was first discovered in Ireland in 1909 and has moved to western Wales and England, mostly in coastal areas.

My second new discovery was the macromoth Haworth's Minor, which is usually found on Ragwort if the moth is out before dark. This is a very local species which feeds on Cotton Grass as a larva. As it happens, the nearest Cotton Grass is close to plan B where we normally park the car, perhaps 500 m. away.

I also got a rather nice shot of this Ichneumonid just as it landed. Notice the black stigma on the wing, which is a rather good diagnostic for Ichneumonids.

Sneezewort is also very local: I only ever see it in a couple of very small patches:
Finally, we can see that autumn is rolling in. These are the seeds of Common Sedge:

Friday, 13 August 2010


This shot should give you an idea of what my weather's been like recently. Notice that the light outside the rainbow is noticeably worse than that inside it. (It brightens up again outside the second rainbow if there is one.)

Some insects were still flying (or landing, in this hoverfly's case):
Harvestmen are related to spiders, but they don't make webs. They tend instead to lie flat on leaves or flowers with a single leg hanging out as a trigger to alert them that prey is approaching. It seems that the Philaenus spumarius leafhopper isn't what the harvestman was looking for.
Leaf miners are easy to spot: they're completely static and the weather doesn't affect them. I saw this mine on Raspberry and immediately knew that the miner was a sawfly: sawfly larvae have a typical 'round-shouldered' appearance and embryonic legs. Turns out it's Metallus albipes, and is new to me.
Notice that most of the frass is neatly packed into the disused part of the mine. The higher insects like wasps, bees and sawflies show a high degree of domesticity.

Virtually every stand of Rosebay Willowherb has a few mines of the micromoth Mompha raschkiella:
Notice that the mine never strays far from the midrib for long: a good strategy on such a narrow leaf.

An interesting shot of a Liriomyza congesta mine on Clover: the larva has mined another leaflet and then entered this one via the petiole.

A nice shot of two Ichneumonids:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Drumboe fungi

A trip to Drumboe Wood is always guaranteed to turn up something good, and today was no exception. I intended to check out any hoverflies and tachinids that I saw, but the rain put paid to that idea.

I did find a few interesting plants in flower, including the wonderfully-named Enchanter's Nightshade:

But the fungi I found in a drizzly 15-20 minutes are the stars of the show. This is The Blusher - Amanita rubescens:
Amanitas should generally be regarded as poisonous, or at least toxic, and some are deadly.

Sulphur Tufts grow on dead wood, and are always found in clusters:

The visible parts of fungi are the fruit-bodies, which produce the reproductive spores. The actual fungus is either under the ground or in the substrate, which might be buried dead wood, or the live roots of trees. Some fungi even use buried moth pupae as a substrate. Because the substrate is usually long-lasting, the fruit-bodies are often found in the same location from year to year. These Collybia dryophila have been in exactly the same spot for perhaps 5 years:

Many fungi form a mycorrhyzal association exclusively with one species of tree. This Birch Bolete is never found far from a Birch tree:

The Beechwood Sickener is another mycorrhizal fungus, this time on Beech. These fruit-bodies show the usual attentions of slugs and small rodents, indicating that they don't suffer the same after-effects of eating them that humans do. Even a sniff of these can have a strongly gagging effect.
But if you're early enough, then you just might find a rare pristine specimen:
The closely-related Charcoal Burner has a looser association with broad-leaf trees:
My first little Mycena of the year, growing through Rhytidiadelphus moss:

This is The Stump: a very old Beech stump that I have been following over the years. It is home to an ever-increasing number of lichens, mosses, ferns and fungi, and now has two small Birch trees growing on it. This is another fine example of how the succession of lichens, fungi and mosses can turn dead wood into soil which is able to sustain higher plants:
And just as I was reaching the car park, I saw a back-lit specimen of the Speckled Wood butterfly: