Thursday, May 31, 2012

When is a ladybird not a ladybird?

Back in January of this year I found a false ladybird larva that was sitting out the winter months under some loose bark.

In fact there was quite an aggregation/congregation? Not sure what a number of these would be correctly called-anyhow, as there must have been about 20+ and this was a species that I'd not seen much of previously:actually, just the one adult beetle until finding these, I wanted to learn more about them and so hatched a plan to take a few individuals home with me to observe.

I set up a tank with some of the bark removed from the site where I found the larvae and made the habitat as realistic as possible.
They all seemed to pass the remainder of the winter O.K. and whenever I checked on them, there didn't appear to be much movement at all.

Then on the 29th of April, the first of the larvae became a pupa..

I'd read about these pupae being pink but was still shocked at the actual colouration when seen first-hand. Totally different to the ladybird pupae in both colour and form and looking more like something you'd find on the sea bed?

Within a couple of days the others had also pupated. I began to wonder how long this stage would last: I knew that most ladybird pupae remain in this stage for only around a week or so.Would these be similar? After all, they are not ladybirds at all but a beetle pretending to be a ladybird.

The other thing to consider of course was, would the somewhat artificial conditions I was keeping them in affect the whole process?

A week passed with no signs of emergence. Another week...the same result.
As we approached the end of week three, I began to wonder if the habitat I'd provided was lacking something and this would be as far as they got.
I knew that some pupae will raise themselves up on occasions and so I watched for any signs of movement, but nothing!

Then, on the 20th of May, a full 3 weeks after pupation, an adult beetle emerged...

These photos were taken just seconds after it had struggled free of the pupa and it was very pale and lacking any of the markings of a mature false-ladybird beetle at this stage.

The remainder of the tribe emerged within 2 days of the first one.I noticed on one particular pupa, where the underside was visible that just prior to emergence, what looked like wings became visible...

Pupa almost 'cooked'

One of the later emerged beetles
Now that I had a complete set of recently emerged beetles, the next stage would be to see just how long it would take for the spots/markings to emerge.
Again, having watched ladybirds go through this process, I knew that they would get their spots and true colour within hours, or at least by the following day:would these be the same? Would there be a correlation between the species during this stage?

There wasn't any real change during the first few hours, in fact for the rest of the day they remained pink and teneral looking.
However, by the following morning there had been quite a transformation as the 4 dark spots that identify this little beetle were now clearly visible...

But....I was expecting the elytra (wing casing) by this stage to have the fantastic orange/red colour of the mature adults. When would the next change come?

Answer: The next day? No...following day? Nope...Day after? Nah! "Well, when then?" It took another four days in total before they began to colour- up.

Three days later I took the following shot to add to the other reference shots...

And so finally, almost exactly (can you have almost exactly?) a month to the day since emergence, they were ready to be released. I plan to take them to the (marked) spot where I found them way back in January and release them later today.

I've learned a whole lot about this species just from keeping and observing a few individuals-no harm has come to them, in fact they probably had a better time with me than braving the last few months of awful weather.

That's it until the next update!

Until the next time then....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

WARNING! This blog entry contains insect porn...

Since instigating this blog over a year ago now, I've covered a good number of insect species but I don't think I've included any photos of Craneflies? Until now that is...

A Cranefly (Tipula sp.)
This image was produced using a microscope lens and a set of bellows. It's something I've been experimenting with during the adverse weather conditions and taking in to consideration my lack of real quality lenses, my ageing P.C. that isn't at all amused by being asked to deal with this kind of work and the less than perfect software used, it's getting close to what I could expect to achieve I think.

I don't often do this but by way of a change, here's a black & white version of the image...

And here's a crop of that wonderful green eye....

Craneflies are insects in the Tipulidae family and contrary to popular beliefs, do not bite humans. In fact, most adult craneflies feed on nectar or do not feed at all.

More commonly referred to as daddy-longlegs of course and we all know the larvae as leatherjackets?

There seems to be a bit of a green theme developing here? This caterpillar is a very striking green and one that I photographed a few days ago but I wanted to try and improve on that photo, hence this shot. Although this looks rather painful, it's a typical pose for this species (A Sprawler Moth.)

As you can no doubt tell from the image above, the sprawler moth caterpillar is quite a large thing. Not the biggest caterpillar in the U.K. by some way though. This next photo shows another one that's around at this time of year that is a fair bit bigger. The sprawler can get to around 50mm as an adult but my next offering 'The Drinker' can reach a magnificent 75mm...

This won't be a final instar of this caterpillar, even though it looks quite it could be. How do I know? Well because the following day it moulted...

Notice just how pale and ginger the newly moulted caterpillar is until it gets its full colouring.

As the weather settles (please!) and there's increased activity in the undergrowth that is my hunting ground-I've been spending a little time amusing myself by attempting to add some movement to a few of my photos. 'Mixed results' would best sum-up my efforts thus far but it's early days and we are still at the right end of the season to allow further experiments.

This is a strange beetle called a hazel leaf-roller weevil and as you can see, not exactly the result I was after. I think this'll have to be filed under the heading of 'nearly' and I'm expecting the nearly file to grow to quite a large file over the next few weeks!

Here's another first for this year-a snipe fly...

The Downlooker Snipe Fly
I know, this photo looks as if it's been rotated clockwise but no, this was exactly how I found this fly: perched on the side of  fence-post like this. It's a typical pose and probably how this species became known as the downlooker snipe fly.
They apparently sit like this waiting for passing insects and then grab them in-flight and bring them back to their lookout post to eat.

Whilst on the subject of Diptera (flies) this one, pictured below rejoices in the name of Dung Fly...

It's a pretty little thing isn't it?

Having been kept fairly busy with other things of late, compilation of this entry has now spanned a few days, and during this time the weather has decided that it could be spring after all.
That's good news for my bug-hunting and also for the bugs themselves. This morning when out walking, the invertebrate population seemed to have one thing on their collective minds!

And today's subject is....

When I walked out this morning I decided to take just the little Panasonic Lumix camera with me for a change-the DSLR and all the flash gear is quite restricting and so sometimes it proves quite liberating to be free of it all-of course the resulting shots may not be to the same standard but are still reasonably good.....

The photos above of the little bee were taken with the Lumix set to 'macro' and no Raynox this time.

Well that's just about it for another blog update-I hope you've found something of interest here and I'll be back very soon with another entry.

Until then next time then....

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Green Winged Orchids and Green-veined White Butterflies...

Marden Meadows you won't be surprised to hear is in Marden. Actually, it isn't....quite-it is in Marden Road though.
Marden Meadows is a nature reserve belonging to Kent Wildlife Trust and worth a visit any-time of year but especially in Spring to see the orchids.Listed as a site of special scientific interest, it consists of grasslands, meadows and ponds spread over a 5.60 hectare site.

I really wanted to see and photograph the orchids on this visit but as anyone who knows me will understand, invertebrates are my real interest and so a scout around the reserve to see what was about would have to come before the flowers.

Once again the weather (yes, I know...that subject again) was not especially conducive to bug-hunting but it did improve, temperature wise at least as the morning went by.
It soon became clear this wasn't going to be visit crammed with that many critters I'd soon run out of space on my camera's SD card,not to worry, if I had just one interesting find I'd go home happy.

The other thing to mention is that having started on my search and spent 10 minutes or so screening the usual areas, I had to return to the car and don coat and wellies as the cold and wet was a bit too much today.

Cercopis vulnerata
My first 'spot' was this distinctive froghopper pictured above. I've not seen these at Marden Meadows before and infuriatingly, this one quick snap was all I saw today. They are easily disturbed and once they spring into the air, are then very difficult to re-locate and despite spending quite a time trying to find this or another one, I drew a blank.

Beside the first of the ponds that I visited I found another interesting creature, this time a small beetle...

Gastrophysa viridula
This is one of the leaf-beetles belonging to the Chrysomelidae family of Coleoptera. These leaf-beetles are mostly brightly coloured, smooth and shiny like this one.
The males of the species exhibit a typical leaf-beetle shape but the mated females as we have here become grossly distended, with the elytra (wing case) perched on top of the shiny, black abdomen giving them this strange appearance.

The first butterfly of the day came in the guise of this Green-veined White that was actually sitting  astride one of the orchids at the edge of the meadow.

Green-veined White Butterfly (Pieris napi)

On the long grass in the same area I spotted something small but bright and took a closer look-it was a tiny spider, probably an Orb Weaver and I think this was a male 'Arianiella cucurbitina'

Arianiella cucurbitina-An Orb Weaver Spider

Logically, well at least logically in my mind, what would follow a spider? a fly of course? Well that's what happened today and it turned out to be quite an interesting one (if you find flies at all interesting that is) because what looked at first glance to be a hoverfly that is fairly familiar to me, namely 'Rhingia Campestris' was actually the much less common 'Rhingia rostrata'

Rhingia rostrata-A Hoverfly (Syrphidae)
This one can be distinguished quite easily from its common cousin by the lack of a dark line along the sides of its abdomen. Recent finds in the West Country mean that this isn't as uncommon as first thought but here in Kent, it's still a reasonably rare thing.

My final sighting of the day was a real joy. Another first for me at Marden Meadows too. A fabulous Green Hairstreak Butterfly. I had seen photos taken my a friend and fellow photographer of one of these beauties here at M.M. but wasn't expecting to see one for myself today, especially given the adverse conditions.

A Green Hairstreak Butterfly-Callophrys rubi
Time was marching on, as it always does when I'm out photographing invertebrates,I get so absorbed in what I'm doing that it comes as a shock every-time when I check and find that it's almost always later than I think. Just time to take some shots of the fabulous green-winged orchids that are abundant here at this time of year.

This final shot is of the white form of green winged orchid...

A Green Winged Orchid-Anacamptis morio

That was my visit to Marden Meadows complete and although it was not one of the most productive for me, I shall return soon to see what a new day brings.

Until the next time...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A change of scenery...

I'll not bang on about the awful weather we've been getting other than to say that, tiring of trudging around the usual footpaths that you'll see in the photo below are now somewhat damp-a change of location seemed in order...

On the way to Tenterden from home in Cranbrook, most of the arable fields seem to have a rape-seed crop this year and although the smell from the crop as it ripens is not at all nice, in fact, reminiscent of rotting cabbage-the beautiful,fertile,Kent countryside does look like it's been painted with sunshine even on the worst of days.

I haven't visited the old railway line at Tenterden, that has now become a public footpath and nature reserve owned and run by Kent Wildlife Trust since last year, and so it felt like as good a time as any to do just that.

If you click on the image above for a larger view, you should be able to read the notice board text.
Before walking round Turners Field itself a stroll along the old railway line was in order-this is now a wide,surfaced footpath that's bordered on either side by banks of wild-flowers.

At this time of year, it's just coming in to its most attractive season for both flowers and invertebrates.

My first invertebrate find of the day was this tiny leaf hopper. I think this one could be Tachycixius pilosus but I'm just a bit concerned that the eye colour is a touch different than I've seen before.

I last visited this walk in early April of 2011 and on that occasion, found a little robin fledgeling:this time another was spotted in almost the exact location and although it's now a full month later in the season, it was at a pretty well identical stage.

Earlier in the week I'd found my first wasp beetle of the year and I was pleased to find another today. They are impressive looking beetles with both wasp-like colouring and even, what seems to me to be a waspish way of walking!

Clytus arietis-A Wasp Beetle
Another first was this black weevil that I discovered on Hazel-I think this may well be the only one of these that I've found thus far and it was a tad surprising to find it on Hazel as it's known as the Birch Leaf-roller Weevil. These are around 5-6mm in size.

Deporaus betulae-A Birch Leaf-roller Weevil
Next up was this rather bright sawfly and as males of this species are pretty well unknown-I'm going for this being a female. I think the species may be Rhogogaster genistae but there are a couple of similar ones and so can't be completely sure, other than to say that the markings do seem to match for this species.

There did seem to be a real lack of Jack-by-the-hedge this year and so that in turn meant the great looking brassica bugs I was expecting to find here weren't to be seen. It was also too early for the mullein to be in flower and so another visit a bit later on will be needed to catch photos of the terrific mullein moth larvae.

Phasia hemiptera (f)
I like this walk in spring because it always seems to yield interesting invertebrates to photograph and in this photo above, which is a natural light shot, is pictured a Tachinid fly that although I've seen the species before, I've not found a female until now. Slightly less impressive to look at than the males who have fantastic, patterned wings. Still quite an easy one to identify with those yellow hairs on the sides of the thorax.

These are parasites of shield-bugs and in particular forest and green shield-bugs, hence the name 'hemiptera'.

At the far end of the old railway-line walk from where I'd parked the car, was the nature reserve itself. The lower part that constitutes the woods and pond etc. seemed fairly wet from all of the recent rain and so today's stroll was confined to the edges of the field itself.

Even so I was delighted when investigating a rustling noise in leaf-litter to find that it was in fact not only something that I've rarely seen since my childhood but was also one of the largest I can recall seeing ever.

Anguis fragilis-A Slow worm
Slow worms are actually not snakes at all but legless lizards. By the way, that definition isn't supposed to mean a lizard that's been out on the razzle, just in case you were wonderin'? No, a lizard because it has eyelids in the way that lizards do, and snakes do not.

As this was a rare sighting for me, I would really have liked the chance to take rather more than these few snatched shots but once again I was disturbed by yet another dog walker!
This one had two dogs and one spotted me on the ground taking photos and made directly for me.
 Guess what? The guy walking the dogs said nothing to deter his dog from pestering me, other  than to call him once. It took no notice and so I had to pick up the slow worm and find a safe spot for it before the mutt made lunch out of it.
At this point, the slow worm became rather frightened I guess and I can now vouch for the fact that slow worm poo isn't the most fragrant smell in the world.

When the walker reached me, he had one of the best excuses I've heard so far, and I've heard lots! He told me that the dog wasn't his and he had no control over it at all and "it is just a hooligan" Brilliant!

If time allows, I'll be re-visiting this area very soon and hope to update the blog also.

Until the next time then...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Scary or cute? Both actually...

It's been a while since I featured a spider on the blog and so working on the premise that a spider every time might be too much, but one every now and then is fine, I'm going to risk the wrath of the arachnophobes  and begin with one today...
Misumena vatia (m)
The other thing to consider is that this is the first time that I've seen the male of this species and in relation to the females, they are very small:only around 3-4mm and so there's nothing to be scared of?

What a fabulously marked head though-look at the pattern above and below the eyes, it looks almost like a skull?

Misumena vatia (f)
Here's a female of the same species-by comparison, huge at 9-11mm. These are the ones that have evolved the trick of being able to change their colour to match the flower they sit on to wait for prey and although I believe they can only change from white to yellow, as long as they stick to the two flower colours (and they always do in my experience) then it's a clever trick.

...........O.K. if you're sure? This next spider could easily be mistaken for a nursery web spider but is actually another crab spider. It does have a similar habitat to the nursery web but it's a different species altogether.

Tibellus oblongus
Called Oblongus for obvious reasons, I think the size of the abdomen here indicates that it's a male. These are found amongst tall grasses and often stretched out like this at rest.

Shall we move away from spiders now? No!'d like to see at least one more? Well, if you insist, you really are insatiable!

Diaea dorsata

Yet another crab spider but what a beauty! These brilliant little things can be found on the leaves and branches of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs;they're only around 5mm or so and so you may need to look hard to find one-go on, you know you want to!

I have got even more crab spider photographs to share?.......No? Maybe next time then?

Let's move on to caterpillars then. I'm not 100% on this one but fairly sure this is the larva of a moth called The Sprawler (Asteroscopus shinx) and if so, it's another first for me.
I found it feeding on oak and the size certainly matches at around 50mm and the markings seem right too. The other thing that makes me think the i.d. is correct is that this caterpillar has a habit of throwing it's head back when threatened, and that's exactly what this one did. It's a real brute of a larva this one and was a treat to find and photograph.

I also found a couple of looper caterpillars recently and although I haven't had a chance to put an identity to them yet, thought I'd add them all the same and I'll update the information as soon as I can....
These are natural light shots and taken in the rain at that and so the quality isn't quite what it should be (he said making excuses for himself.)

Having a quick look through my reference book, I think perhaps the first one is a Mottled Umber larva and the second possibly a Scalloped Oak but really will need to check this out as very often the first choice for i.d. turns out to be incorrect with further examination.

To complete this update I want to bring you something different. I don't get to take many shots of animals and birds, not because I have no interest but I just don't have a lens that is good enough right now. I wish I did because it would open up another world for me and I do see some interesting things that I'd love to have a go at photographing.

Anyhow, what I can bring you is something that'll tug at your heart strings for certain. If it doesn't then you need therapy!

Friends who live in Canada were recently presented with a very young grey squirrel that had fallen from a pine tree. Apparently friends of theirs had found the little one and waited for a parent to recover the pup but none came and so they took it home with them.

Having kept it overnight, I suppose they realised they didn't know how to care for it properly and that perhaps my friend Cathy, who has a number of other animals, might be better placed to do so.

Cathy told me that she would have liked to try and raise the little one herself but with a baby in the house and also already caring for a hedgehog, she decided to pass it on to somebody who could offer professional care and would be able to cope with the regime of 2 hourly feeds that it required.There is also the added risk with a baby in the house that these young animals could well be harbouring mites, ticks and fleas.

In these photos, her daughter Megan is trying to warm the youngsters by holding it in her hands-temperature is very important at this age and they can easily become dehydrated too. I'm not sure exactly of the age of this one but my guess would be around 4-5 weeks based on the hair covering-not sure if it's eyes were open, but probably not, in which case it could be less than 4 weeks?

All pictures courtesy of Cathy Rowcliffe

I'm not sure how things are in Canada but there's a whole debate here about these greys being vermin and I know there are vets that won't even treat them. In fact there are vets here who are reluctant to treat any wildlife! But that's another debate.

I'm having none of the 'vermin' nonsense, there's room for us all and we are all equal in my eyes.

That's about all for now, until the next time.....

Stop press: Latest news today from Cathy in Canada:

I got brave tonight and phoned and checked on the baby squirrel, the first night was rough as he was so dehydrated but they used pedialyte for the first few feedings then tried really hard to make it want to take the kitten milk replacement ( KMR), finally it worked and the little guy is doing well. We will have to pop over to check on it soon... they mentioned we could give it a bottle as they are having so much fun doing it... though not getting much sleep as it eats every two hours.