Wednesday, 27 July 2011

New moths

We had a couple of very warm days on Sunday and Monday, so that's the time to leave on the outside lights to see what has been encouraged to emerge (or at least encouraged to fly!) by the hot weather.

The first of two new species is the rather handsome True Lover's Knot, Lycophotia porphyrea:
True Lover's Knot
True Lover's Knot is a heather feeder.

The second new species is the (surprisingly small, at 12 mm.) Marbled Beauty:

Marbled Beauty
The Marbled Beauty is generally an eastern species in Ireland, and this is the furthest west specimen that has been recorded. The larvae feed on lichens, which are very plentiful near here, so perhaps this is another of those species which are moving west and north due to warming.

I have previously shown Plain Golden-Y:

Plain Golden-Y

And Small Fan-footed Wave:

Small Fan-Footed Wave

Unfortunately for the Small Fan-Footed Wave, a spider had spun its web near its resting place. When it took off......

Small Fan-Footed Wave caught by spider

So, two more to my total.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Angelica time

The Angelica flowered this week, so for the next 3 weeks I will concentrate on nectaring insects. Angelica is a major source of nectar for bees, flies, hoverflies, wasps, sawflies, ichneumonids, beetles and various bugs, so it's always worth a close look.

Here's a shot of the impressive flowerheads just before they burst open:

Angelica opening

As I was walking between Angelica plants, I saw a dead bumblebee lying on the path, but it suddenly moved.  I looked closer, and saw that one of the Formica ants was pulling it laboriously over the path, presumably towards its nest:

Dead bumblebee being dragged by Wood Ant
Progress was rather slow, since the bee's claws kept getting stuck on stones, and the ant had to keep going back to free them. This slow progress went on for a while, and then the ant seemed to pause for a moment, then it went under the bee and somehow managed to flip it over onto its back. The ant went back to pulling the bee and progress was much faster, since the bee was sliding along on its glossy wings and the claws were safely in the air:
Bee after the ant had flipped it over

The whole procedure was watched by the much smaller red ant to the left of the first image.

It's clear that ants have great strength, but it also appears that they have reasoning power, too.

Cixius nervosus is one of the leafhoppers, and can be distinguished by the triple 'keels' on the thorax, and the lacy veins on the wings:

The leafhopper Cixius nervosus

Crane Flies are the 'Daddy Longlegs' that are so numerous at this time of year:

Cranefly on Cleavers
Their larvae are the 'leatherjackets' that eat the roots of grasses, often ruining large areas of lawn.

I rather like the way the leaves of the Cleavers mimic the legs of the Cranefly on that shot.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Looking back

Having recently reached the milestone of 1400 species (it now stands at 1404), I thought I would do a little statistical analysis of my recorded data. I have been recording the local wildlife since 2003, and this graph shows the cumulative number of species found each year since then:

In 2003 and 2004 I only recorded plants, which explains the low starting point.

2006 was the first year that I started to record 'everything', so it's worth looking at the graph since then:

The curve shows a reasonable surge during 2008 and 2009, but each year since then has added fewer new species. It looks like the graph will level off somewhere around the 1450 mark, unless I add something new to the list of families that I record. Basically, it looks like I have found much of what can be seen - without trapping and by daytime - in my local area.

Whilst casting around for new directions, I came across a 1903 book on Ichneumons, and delved into its 380 pages with gusto. I was quickly able to identify one of my unnamed species from 2010 as Ophion luteus, which brought my total to 1402. I think I might have found my next area for expansion.

I also found a key to ants, and identified my local species of Wood Ant as Formica fusca:

Wood Ant - Formica fusca
And a check of the outdoor lights provided species #1404, the wonderful Brown China Mark micromoth:

Brown China Mark micromoth
The China Mark moths are very unusual, since their larvae are completely aquatic, feeding on plants in ponds and slow moving water.

Monday, 11 July 2011

1400 species milestone

The weather has been very wet with some torrential downpours, but there have been a few opportunities for quick forays in the bad light.

During the long periods spent indoors, I got on with a bit more watercolour painting and updated my Species Index. I was delighted to click my tally over the 1400 mark.

Just to put the 1400 species into context, the vast majority of the photographs are taken within a 2-3 kilometre radius of my house. I have made a few forays further afield to ancient woodland, beach and limestone habitats, but the 1400 species should be regarded as our 'local' wildlife. If I spent more time travelling to e.g. coastal areas, then the species list would be much higher. 

I'll start with a few moths:
Coxcomb Prominent Moth
The Coxcomb Prominent - Ptilodon capucina - feeds on a wide range of deciduous trees, and would be much better camouflaged if it was found on a branch or on leaves.

The Riband Wave has two main colour forms, but all my specimens have been f. remutata, which are missing the grey central band on the wings:
Riband Wave f. remutata
The Riband Wave feeds on many low-level herbaceous plants.

The White Ermine is a very common moth at this time of year. I saw this male specimen and decided to get a shot of those wonderful antennae:

Male White Ermine, showing antennae
White Ermine also feeds on low-lying herbaceous plants such as Docks.

Some of our tiniest moths are also the most beautiful. This Micropterix aruncella is only about 3-4 mm long:

Micromoth Micropterix aruncella
The larval stages of Micropterix aruncella are not known from the wild, but they are thought to feed at the base of plants.

Hoverflies are now becoming more numerous, despite the bad weather.

Here are a couple of shots of Episyrphus balteatus, which is very recognisable due to the paired black stripes on the abdomen:

Episyrphus balteatus hoverfly

Episyrphus balteatus hoverfly
These shots are of two different specimens, but I note that in each case the rear left leg is the one that is used to grab the first anchoring point.

One of my favourite hoverflies is Leucozona lucorum:

The hoverfly Leucozona lucorum

It's a mid-summer species, and will soon be joined by the closely-related Leucozona glaucia, and if I'm lucky Leucozona laternaria.

Last week I showed an Ichneumonid in the process of laying eggs. This week, I managed to get a shot at the moment when the ovipositor is being released from its protective sheath:

Ichneumonid deploying ovipositor
A couple of points are worth noting here: the ovipositor is bowed towards the sheath, showing that some force is required to spring it forward. This force is released very suddenly, swinging the ovipositor very quickly towards the target. I estimate that the whole process of release to target is approximately 0.3 of a second.

Although I can't identify Ichneumonids to species (a fact that annoys me more than you will ever know), I know when I see one that is new to me, and I haven't seen this wine-coloured specimen before:

The very long antennae and lack of ovipositor suggest that this might be a male. I suppose it's worth pointing out that male Ichneumonids are quite rare, since they are an 'optional extra' in their reproductive process.

At this time of year, most of the grasses are in flower, making large swathes of colour in the hedgerows. This is Yorkshire Fog - Holcus lanatus:

Yorkshire Fog - Holcus lanatus

This, on the other hand, is the fungal infection Epichloe typhina, which actually stops the plant from flowering:  there is no flowering shoot above the fungus, just a single leaf.
Grass Choke - Epichloe typhina

Sunday, 3 July 2011

School Trips

This is the time of year when I take school groups out on walks to show them the delights of our countryside. I'm normally too busy doing identifications to get decent photographs, but I do manage to squeeze in a few.

This is the major season for hoverflies: hedgerows, verges, gardens and woodland are all buzzing with them as they carry out their vital pollination.

This is Cheilosia illustrata, which I only ever find - in small numbers - on Umbellifers (Hogweed in this instance) at the edge of woodland:
The hoverfly Cheilosia illustrata
The larvae of Cheilosia illustrata mine the lower stems of Hogweed.

The Syrphus family hoverflies are all very similar and can usually only be separated by examining microscopic characters.  This is Syrphus torvus, which can be identified by the hairy eyes:
The hoverfly Syrphus torvus (male)

The larvae of Syrphus torvus are aphid eaters.

New to me.

One of the great things about the internet is the way in which it connects people. As a result of online communications, I know that there has been a recent inwards migration of numerous butterflies, moths and other insects; Eupeodes corollae is one of them:

The hoverfly Eupeodes corollae
The larvae of Eupeodes corollae are also aphid eaters.

Soldier Flies are often mistaken for hoverflies, but the wing veins are distinctly different. There are a few metallic hoverflies, so the confusion is understandable.
Soldier Fly - Chloromyia formosa

This is a suitable place to show an Ectemnius wasp. Ectemnius wasps make solitary burrows for their larvae, which they feed exclusively on hoverflies. They have evolved to resemble hoverflies, presumably so that they can sneak up on them without causing them to fly off.
Ectemnius sp. wasp

Sometimes an opportunity arises to take a photograph which definitely fits more into the 'artistic' category: 

This Ichneumonid was closely examining the flowers of Bush Vetch in the hope of finding some larvae to parasitise. I saw this backlit shot as it was moving from flower to flower:
Ichneumonid on Bush Vetch
And now my new favourite photograph:

Ichneumonid parasitising moth larva in Cocksfoot grass
The female Ichneumonid has detected a moth larva inside the seedhead of Cocksfoot grass, and has swung her ovipositor round to inject an egg into the caterpillar. The egg will stay dormant inside the caterpillar until it pupates, at which time the egg will hatch and consume the contents of the cocoon. It takes a great deal of patience to get a shot like that. Each shot requires perhaps 30 minutes of watching the wasp moving from seedhead to seedhead and waiting for the moment of injection. These are my favourite photographs.

This has been a tricky year for Damselflies and Dragonflies: I have seen very few. A trip to a local pond solved that for me. This is The Blue-tailed Damselfly:

Blue-tailed Damselfly

And this is the Variable Damselfly - Coenagrion pulchellum, which is new to me:
Variable Damselfly

A tall, elegant grass has been bothering me for a couple of years, so I decided to identify it this year. It's Tufted Hair Grass - Deschampsia cespitosa - which forms tufts and has stems that reach up to my shoulders. I usually find it where I would normally see Damselflies, so they must need similar conditions.

Tufted Hair-grass Deschampsia cespitosa
New to me.