Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bug photos from the past year

Spider (cropped)Lime Hawkmoth- Mimas tiliae.Bishop's Mitre (Aelia acuminata)Soldier BeetleGreen Shieldbug nymphThistle Tortoise Beetle (Cassida rubiginosa)
Ladybird on Lithodora flowerAnthrenus verbasciFliesGarden snailFly macroPussmoth
Big Fly 01Rhagium mordaxCercopis vulnerata (Froghopper)Soldier Fly24-spot ladybird larva (Subcoccinella 24-punctata)Buffalo Hopper
Soldier beetles in copBroad-Bodied ChaserPalomena prasina (Green Shieldbug)Melanargia galatheaRed Tailed BeeLonghorn dorsal(ish) view
My favourite shots, a set on Flickr.
Whilst I've been unable to get out and about with the camera due to poor weather, flickr has just added a 'blogger' facility and so as a try-out, I thought I'd add a few shots here.

Back with a 'proper' blog very soon.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's good news week...

A Lacewing

Good news indeed! We have been blessed with a whole week of great spring weather. Now for any of my friends who live outside of the U.K. I guess that sounds laughable, but for us here in 'sunny' England, it's a major event.

It's meant that my beloved invertebrates have decided that they too would shrug off their winter quiescence and are daily becoming more active and visible.

The lacewing pictured above took little effort on my part to hunt down, it was settled inside our garden shed. Although I went to the shed to get the mower for an early lawn-trim, that had to be postponed whilst I took advantage of my find and took a few shots.

This particular shot was taken using my 100mm macro plus around 100mm of extension tube to get nice and close and get some detail on those wonderful eyes.

Who would have thought that such a beautiful and delicate insect like this hides a less than beautiful secret?
The lacewing themselves are not the culprits but their larvae. They hold none of the beauty of the adult and have totally different habits.

A Lacewing larva

Lacewing larvae are also known as aphid lions. They are tiny upon emerging from the egg, but grow to 3/8 of an inch long.
Lacewing larvae (and if you are squeamish, I suggest skipping this part) voraciously attack their prey by seizing them with large, sucking jaws and inject a paralyzing venom. The hollow jaws then draw out the body fluids of the pest. Of all  predators, the lacewing is the most voracious

Bad enough huh? 

Not finished yet...once these killers have devoured their prey, they then hoist the remains of the meal up onto their backs to use as camouflage from their own predators.
This habit has also given rise to another name of 'Trash Bugs'

Enough violence! The other side of spring is much nicer to contemplate. This is L♥ve.
It's hard to feel anything less than voyeuristic  right now, every species, every individual seems to have just one thing on it's collective mind. Lurve!

Common Toads

One thing I have noticed in nature is that the females are almost always larger than males...Hmmm! 

Guess I'll move on...

During my walk around local woodland yesterday, each time I stopped and knelt down to photograph a bug or insect the ground itself seemed to be moving/alive. Wood ants where everywhere and in huge numbers too. Sometimes in soldier-like columns, more often than not, huge, busy swarms, rivers of ants.
Tiny they may be but they lack nothing in terms of relative strength. Taking a few minutes out to observe just the ants, revealed that they were carrying all manner of foliage back to the nest, as well as a number of meals that seemed to trouble them little, be they equal in size or dwarfing the little ant that dragged them along.

A Wood Ant

Lizards are not something that I come across too often but are always a welcome sight. Close-up they are amazing looking reptiles with stunning markings.
Common lizards can both lay eggs and give birth to live young. They lay eggs in warm climates, and bear live young in cold ones.

Common lizards are sun-loving animals and frequently bask in the sunshine, especially in the Spring or Autumn.

Occasionally animals will bask out in the open on bare ground but more often a lizard will use a log pile or a pile of debris, an easy escaper route will always be present.

Lizards are extremely alert and active and often missed as a result. Like other reptiles, these lizards hibernate, in their case this is usually from October to early April.
Hibernation sites include underground burrows, and cracks and crevices in rocks or log piles.
As a defence against predators a lizard can shed it's tail which will then twitch on the ground all by itself-potentially as a distraction for the predator.
The lizard will re-grow its tail though there will always be a scar and the new tail is often shorter.

A Common Lizard

And so spring continues apace here in my little corner of Kent U.K. More opportunities each day that provides the right weather conditions, and thankfully those have been plentiful through March this year.

I'm really looking forward to next moth (whilst at the same time enjoying this). April will bring a fresh flush of insects and bugs for sure and I'm equally sure that, as long as I remain fit enough, I'll be there waiting with my trusty camera.

Until the next time then...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Return of the blackthorn winter...

The blackthorn trees are beginning to come into flower now, and as I'm being reminded by some of the older folks locally, a cold snap will surely follow!

Actually,there is nothing unusual about a cold end to March. Only a couple of years ago the Easter weekend in late March was marked by a hefty snowfall that produced a winter wonderland. This cold spell was so common in the past that it used to be called the “blackthorn winter”, when ancient folklore described how the blossom of blackthorn bushes appeared during mild weather, only to be destroyed by a cold snap at the end of March. The cold closing days of March were also known as borrowed days.

Blackthorn blossom

The dry and increasingly warm days of March have also brought on numerous other wild flowers. On one local walk through ancient woodland I found wood 
anemone, cuckoo flower, violets and wood sorrel.

Wood Sorrel

Cuckoo Flower

If my diaries are anything to go by, then the spring insects and bugs are late this year locally.
By this same date last year for instance, I had already seen around 5 species of butterfly,as well as  weevils, rhopalid bugs, numerous bee species, bee-flies and wasps, and the ever present bumble-bees.

Friends 'up-country' have been seeing all of these for a while now, but there must be an exclusion zone in effect around West Kent, either that or they're avoiding me!

The daffodils that are in full swing now do attract some insects, and although their main source of pollen seems to be pussy willow at present, the honey bees are most prevalent.

Honey Bee
Pussy Willow

It's still very early in the season regards photographing invertebrates, and I'm still getting my hand in after the long and dark winter months.
My photos seem to follow the same pattern each year, that is, I begin by over-enthusiastically photographing everything and anything that waits around long enough to be snapped.

So pleased am I at the sight of life once again that the camera almost seems to have a will of it's own and I get snap happy. However, as the short spring days turn to long summer ones, things settle into a routine and I tend to get more selective and give a little more thought to composition etc.

The following photo illustarates this nicely. I was so pleased to find this particular bee (Anthopora plumipes), a bee that although common, I'd not managed to photograph before, that I gave little or no thought to getting a nice 'clean' shot of it.
The bee only allowed me the luxury of one shot anyhow, and so I ended up with this rather distracting (although natural) background.

Hairy Footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes (male)

 'Thomisidae' or Crab Spiders, so called because they resemble crabs with their flat bodies and angled-out legs (they can also walk sideways and backwards like crabs) do seem to be coming out of hiding now and I've seen several of late sitting in the sunshine atop fence-posts.

Crab Spider (Thomisidae)

Shield bugs are also returning now that winter seems to have relinquished it's grip. Some, like the Green Shield-bug are still in their winter colours (brown mostly), others are already in full refinery and add a real splash of colour to the otherwise still pretty bare hedgerows.

The fairly large Juniper Shield-bug (Cyphostethus tristriatus) spends the winter as an adult, emerging in early spring. The species is common across southern and central England.

Juniper Shield-bug

As for that blackthorn winter, we'll just have to wait a while to see how that pans out. For now, all I can say is that spring has sprung, and the insects and bugs that I love to photograph are slowly but surely getting more numerous in both numbers and species to be seen. 

I would like to think that very shortly the blog entries will become more frequent as the ever diverse world of invertebrates gets into full swing.

Until the next time then...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The axis of the Earth is increasing its tilt toward the Sun...

And the length of daylight rapidly increases causing new plant growth to "spring forth." 
The derivation of Spring? I'd like to think so. Being an island of course, and surrounded by water, our weather is never predictable.

Spring is seen as a time of growth, renewal of new life (both plant and animal) being born. The term is also used more generally as a metaphor for the start of better times.

The first thing I noticed on waking this morning,was the increase in birdsong. It must have been around 5.30am and already the chorus was approaching a crescendos. I pulled back the curtain to see if I could spot any of the 'choir' and that's when I first began to get excited about what the day might offer. Better times indeed!
There was such a hard ground frost that for a split second my (sans glasses) eyes told me we'd had another dusting of snow.

Specs installed, I had the second  thrill of the day, there peeping through trees that I could now see were also dowsed with frost, was just the very beginning of a fabulous sunrise.
That was all the incentive I needed. An early walk would be in order. The light would be great for photography I thought, and after weeks of sloshing through muddy fields, the crisp white hard frost seemed very inviting.

"Up with the Lark" seemed a very apt phrase this morning. By the time I'd got myself and the dog ready for our walk, made our way through the apple trees that line the little road we always use, apple trees by the way that seemed to be heaving with Field fares, more than I've ever seen in one spot, I could already hear the faint trill of Skylarks.

It's just so peaceful and tranquil early morn, of course if one listens hard, there is the ever present distant hum of traffic. Difficult to eliminate the intrusive sound of combustion engines completely wherever you are, well here in Kent anyhow.

By now the sun was a little higher in the increasingly blue sky, and my solitude was only disturbed by occasional coughing from one of the horses stabled nearby, and the endless squawking of Jays, followed by the odd flash of vivid blue as one of them made it's exit from what seemed to me to be males fighting?

As I'd hoped, the light was fantastic, almost Mediterranean in it's warmth. By warmth, I'm of course referring to the colour/light and not heat.

Just opposite the point where the fencing (on the left of picture) stops, there is an area where the farmer dumps unwanted fruit. It's actually almost exclusively apples and always seems to be a dreadful waste to me.
However, putting on my 'bug-hunters' hat for a moment, it makes for a superb habitat for insects and bugs.

Where there is fruit, there will usually be fruit flies.  Tephritidae are a large family of colourful, small flies, often with beautifully marked wings. In fact they sometimes are referred to as picture-wing flies.
Most dislike them intensely, but for myself, as with most of nature, they make wonderful subjects for my photography.
Hated by most of course because of their ability to reproduce at an alarming rate.The reproductive potential of fruit flies is enormous; given the opportunity, they will lay about 500 eggs. The entire life-cycle from egg to adult can be completed in about a week.

Mini ice sculptures?
I have a habit of turning over any fallen branches of wood that I find lying about to see if any bugs are hidden beneath. Beside the bulk-bins that had once contained the now rotting apples, were several such items.

The overnight frost had done its best to turn the wood into works of art, or at least mini ice sculptures, but once photographed, I couldn't help myself.

Hmmmm...just as I expected, more fruit flies than you could shake a stick at.

A Fruit Fly (approx 4mm)

If you are interested in getting the best light possible for your photographs, then I recommend early morning or late evening.
Harsh mid-day sun is to be avoided. Filters help of course but 'natural light for nature' has always been my personal mantra.

Back-lighting your subject can yield some impressive results, turning a mundane subject into something of beauty and interest.
Backlit oak leaves
The early frost was soon put to bed by the spring sunshine and the day that held so much promise came good for us all, and my little corner of Kent did us proud, with a good 10 hours of sunshine and blue skies.

A second walk, this time without my coat (another first for 2011) provided yet more sustenance for the body and soul. Firstly in the form of spring lambs, no doubt they've been populating the fields and barns of Kent for weeks now, but I'd not seen any until today.

And to cap a day that at last lived up to expectations, yet another first! This time, it took the form of one of my favourite insects, a Comma butterfly. First sightings of butterflies for me seem to alternate between Comma, Red Admiral and Peacock. This year the sighting is according to my diary 8 days earlier than last.

The comma is unmistakable with its ragged-edged wings. Superficially I suppose it is like a fritillary but sadly no local sightings of those that I know of. The white 'comma' on the underside also readily identifies this butterfly that is one of the few species that hibernate as adults.
The other joy of spotting these is that you know the Orange Tips will not be far behind.

Comma Butterfly
I'll leave the final word on spring to often quoted American newspaper columnist Doug Larson...

"Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush".

Until the next time then...