Monday, March 20, 2017

No more duck walks, how about a cow instead?

Monday 13th March 2017 and I wake to be greeted by a spring day, with warm sunshine. Time for a walk with the macro. Shall I go walking on sunshine, or perhaps, a walk on the wild side? I could do the walk of life if I knew what life was all about. Should I walk like a man, or walk like an Egyptian? Walk this way, or walk the line? Maybe I'll just go walkin' the dog, or should I walk the dinosaur? I'll try to avoid walking on broken glass, because that's not what these boots were made for...



The first sighting of an insect, was this tiny moth. It was sitting on a fence-post sunning itself. I am afraid that I have no idea of species, actually, I am not even afraid...I just have no idea. Then came this lovely small tortoiseshell butterfly. Once again, it was soaking up the warm sunshine and was favouring any bare patch of clay soil...




My next 'spot' was something of a surprise...


Another fence-post find; this time a woundwort shieldbug. I rarely see these away from their food plant and certainly this will be the earliest in the year I have found any. 

Then...another butterfly: this time a peacock...






Just in case you are phobic, here's a clue to what is coming next in this little blog update...


Got it? How about this second clue...








Oh calm yourself! It's only a little female crab spider, she won't harm you. Tell ya what, let's punctuate this update with a comma shall we...



Yes, this comma was the third butterfly species that I was able to photograph on this particular walk. I actually saw brimstone and red admiral as well. Meanwhile, on another fence-post I came across this teeny blue weevil...



And that was just about all I saw on this particular morning; aside from these bonking frogs, or are they toads perhaps?





Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Somebody keeps putting topsoil on my allotment...

...the plot thickens!

Here's the scenario: 3rd March 2017 I was sitting quietly in my studio today, just reading-up on bloody-nosed beetles. I had seen a Flickr photo posted by my friend Tim, and was intrigued as to why they are common where he lives in Jersey, and yet, I have not found any locally. It was a faint, fluttering noise that distracted me. I stopped and listened; it seemed to be coming from the corner just under my window. 
   Once I had removed all of the gumpf that was obstructing my view, I could just make out movement between the end of the worktop and the wall; the gap is tiny. Using the back end of a plastic scalpel handle (the only thing to hand that fitted), I tentatively worked my way along the gap. As I reached the far end of the worktop, out popped a very tatty looking, but rather large moth.



   It doesn't take the world's best expert in identifying moths (which is handy, 'cos I am far from that) to know right away that this is a male emperor moth. No problem identifying the moth, but would it be so simple to work out where it came from and what it was doing there? Probably: it is surely obvious? I have a number of emperor moth pupae/cocoons that are over-wintering, and like the hawk-moth I recently blogged about, one must have emerged early.



   All I needed to do was examine each cocoon carefully to see which one was no longer intact. A job made somewhat easier by knowing that the larger ones were likely to be female; as my moth is male, I only need check the smaller ones. And so one-by-one, I gave them the third degree. Having scrutinised all but one, I knew, because I am sharp as a new pin with these things, it must be the final one! Nope...that one was intact too. Eh? I must have missed something? I probed them all one more time with the same result, all intact. 

   Well now...
Assuming this isn't an unexplained apparition (can you have an explainable apparition?) there has to be a rationale. Think JJ...think! Er...erm...




   Awe...ah! Jeez, I....maybe...no wait!  I had emperor moth larvae once before and I kept them in here, in my studio. I remember that I had raised them almost through to pupation and had read that they pupate on their food-plant. Reassured that they would indeed build a cocoon on the bramble they had been feeding on, I left the lid off their house one night and come morning, there was no sight of any of them. Despite a frantic search, I didn't ever locate a single caterpillar.

One of the original caterpillars

   I assumed that they must have found their way outside and into the garden. I put it down as a learning experience and determined to do better if I ever had another chance. Could it possibly be that one of the original larvae did manage to build a cocoon and it remained here undetected? Is there a faint chance that this moth emerged from that cocoon?

   Well I do know, have heard of these insects remaining as a cocoon through two winters, and even read of a case where one didn't emerge for three...but four? Is that a possibility? I would like to think so, and frankly, what other explanation could there possibly be? I have contacted a couple of people who know far more than I about moths, to see if either of them can give me a definitive answer. I'll let you know how that pans out.



And that's where you might expect this fable to end. But no...




   The two days weren't quite as annoying as that flashing image, but I had another nasty head cold, so they were fairly tiresome. Anyhow, back to the narrative; you know how it goes...'I was sitting quietly in my studio today, when I heard a faint, fluttering noise that disturbed me'. Surely not? It couldn't be, could it?

Well slap my ass and call me Samantha! As they say...don't they? Oh! Okay then, stone the crows, I'll be a monkey's uncle! This time it was emanating from t'other end of the building. It didn't take long to discover that it was indeed a second moth. Another male emperor, and this one seemed to be newly eclosed as it looked perfect. What a beauty it is too; I have seen some fabulous moths in my time but this one...


Now I know that this is part camouflage, and part defence in terms of design and colour but man! Mother Nature sure excelled when she devised this one. 


Forsaking any further developments, this means that 2 of the original larva must have survived in here for close on 4 years then eclosed. I have not heard of anything like this before, but can't think of a possible alternative. Unless you know better? 


Monday, February 27, 2017

I wish common sense was more common...

Many moons ago, in what seems like another life, I ran a small sign shop from this very building I am sitting in now, writing this blog update. It's of wooden construction and sits at the bottom of the back garden. Here's how it looked in those days...


That was back in the 90s and nowadays I no longer run a business from here and so the space is predominantly used for my photography and as a peaceful haven to write my magazine articles...


You can probably see that I still have all of my traditional signwriting reference books, and indeed, a small area for painting/lettering, should I get the urge...

Yes, I realise it's a bit of a jumble, or should that be jungle? But that's me, I didn't ever win any prizes for keeping my work-space ship-shape and Bristol fashion. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, now that my little studio gets used for mostly nature related things, I store all manner of goodies in here: right now for instance, as well as the Emperor moth pupae and a number of Hawk-moth chrysalis, plus a couple of other things, it is also where my stick insect lives.  


Anyone who is familiar with my Flickr photostream will possibly have already seen a couple of pictures of the stick insect, but probably not the latest moult...


At this point in the story, I need to fess up to being a complete idiot!

You see I thought it would be best to leave a heater on in here to ensure the temperature doesn't fall too low for the stick insect's comfort. It has been working really well. Just by employing the lowest setting possible, I have managed to keep things at a pretty stable level. The bug loves it and is thriving but I completely disregarded the pupae! 

Even though I had them placed in the coldest spot, on a window sill, it must have been too warm for them and horror of horrors, one has emerged, a good 2 months ahead of time...



A Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae)







And so what's to be done? Very little is the answer. These adult moths should be on the wing May - July and so it is still far too cold to release one in my opinion. The other thing to consider is that they don't feed and so, unless there is a sudden upturn in temperatures, I guess this one will have to spend its time here with me. 

I still have several complete pupae that I think I will move to either the fridge, or to a sheltered spot outside, to prevent the emergence of anymore. They are beautiful moths and I only have myself to blame for allowing this one to emerge so early. A lesson learned/learnt!

Until the next time...