Friday, August 31, 2012

Cold comfort...

Comfort's Wood lies half a mile south of our village (or town as the traders prefer it to be known) and is a place I know very well and walk on an almost daily basis.

For this blog entry, I thought I'd share just some of the finds from today's walk.

Please click on any photo for a larger version
Meadow Brown Butterfly
I've already noticed the drop in numbers of Meadow brown butterflies and even though they seem to be one species that cope reasonably well with lower temperatures, if we get many more morning such as we had today, when it seemed unseasonably cold, spotting these will be much harder.

The Common Blue has had a very tough time locally this year and numbers are well down on last season...

Common Blue Butterfly
This female that I found in Comfort's Wood today is only the third individual I've seen all year thus far and that's a real disaster for the species. I'll be watching with interest to see how they recover come next year.

I normally try for a nice clean background for my butterfly shots but I'm quite happy with these showing some of the habitat in this instance. It's a shame though that this female is in such poor condition.

Aphrophora alni (Alder Spittle-bug)
The rosebay willowherb that has lined the woodland rides for a good few weeks is now coming to an end regards flowering, however, it still seems to be called home by a good number of bugs and insects.

The froghopper pictured above was perched on this plant and was doing its best to avoid being photographed by means of the usual trick of disappearing round the other side of the stem each time I was about to shoot.

Black Vine Weevil
The vine weevil in the photo above was something I wasn't expecting to come across today. I have not seen them in these woods before and knowing that they feed at night, didn't expect to bump into one early afternoon.
Once again, this was on rosebay willowherb.
On an artistic note-I was pleased with how this particular shot turned out. It was one of the few I took using flash to increase the light and I always aim to get as natural light as possible when using flash.

A Barkfly
Barkflies (Psocoptera) seem to have undergone an image change, they were once referred to as Bark-louse-or should that be lice? But it was decided that louse had nasty associations with dirt and disease, therefore the barklouse spin-doctors got together and came up with the alternative of fly.

Not often seen because of their small size, there are actually as many as 68 species in the U.K. with  almost every tree in Britain likely to be host to some of these creatures. This one was on oak.

A Grass Moth
I stumbled on this grass moth when I was photographing the vine weevil. I think it will be Agriphila species but unsure beyond that. Possibly A.straminella as I know that one is active during the day;not too sure though as I think that species has blue eyes?

 I also spotted this tiny moth on fleabane-I should know this one as I'm sure I've photographed it before but memory fails me once again.

My final 'spot' on my hour long walk around Comfort's Wood was a Common Darter dragonfly...

Common Darter Dragonfly
By now, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, as seems to happen with regularity this year and it had begun to rain. This one was perched on a small log on one of the footpaths. Determined to get at least one shot, I lowered myself to the ground and ignoring the dampness, set about getting my photo.

The rain didn't seem to be getting and worse and the dragonfly didn't appear at all bothered by me shoving my lens into its face, and so I felt confident enough to take a few extra shots that I could then 'stack' together on the P.C. for a sharper image with a bit more depth of field.

And so, this is the resulting image:it's a stack of 7 frames shot hand-held using natural light. I was quite pleased to be able to get the extra depth of field and clarity but, I'm not sure that I actually like it that much! It seems a bit too sharp somehow for natural light? 

That was Comfort's Wood then, on the last day of summer 2012. Last day? Huh! There didn't seem to be many summer days this year?

Until the next time then...

All shots taken with Canon 40d-Canon 100mm Macro. All natural light photos with the exception of the vine weevil and barkfly where I added diffused flash.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hopping mad down in Kent...

Guess what ? 

Yep! More rain, how depressing. Oh well, could be worse? At least I have an excuse for not cutting the lawn. As somebody recently remarked, "We seem to get rain every other day." A fairly accurate assessment and that means at least I can get out with the camera on the good days. 

The old orchard behind our house continues to fascinate me with its ever diverse inhabitants, and over the past few weeks, I've been concentrating on leaf hoppers. I thought it'd be fun to see how many species I could find and photograph in this little area.

Alebra albostriatella
This leafhopper of the family Cicadellidae is a common species found on oak across the U.K. 3.5-4.5mm.

Of course (and here comes the excuse) many, in fact most of these little hoppers are really beyond the reach of my 100mm macro lens. That is to say, to get decent detail they are. Therefore, I've had to resort to using all kinds of reversed lenses attached to the camera, as well as extension tubes and generally anything that will increase magnification a bit. 
This means that the quality of the shots may not be as good as I'd like, yardy, yardy, get the idea?

Cicadella viridis
Cicadella viridis is a relatively large and colourful species associated with damp grassland. The forewings in females are turquoise green and in males are a much darker blue-purple, making this a male. This is also probably an immature specimen as the adults can reach around 8mm and this was little more than half that.

Evacanthus interruptus

A striking leafhopper that is fairly common in grasslands and scrub. The black patterning is variable but the wings are always shorter than the abdomen in females. 5mm.

Lassus lanio
Another hopper from the cicadellidae family that can be found on oak. These are even larger at around 7mm+ making them quite conspicuous- adults can be found June-October.

Idiocerus confusus?
I hope my i.d. is O.K. for this one-these can be tricky to get right and another possibility is I. nitidissimus? Anyhow, assuming it is correct.
This is another fairly widespread species, this time to be found on salix/willow and is about 6mm in length. Just to further confuse matters, they can sometimes be referred to as 'Populicerus confusus'.

Typhlocyba quercus

At only 3mm this is one of the smaller leafhoppers but it has superb markings.  No other leafhopper has markings like this, although the colouring and intensity can vary. 

Issus coleoptratus
One of my personal favourites here. Issus coleoptratus is a distinctive species in the Issidae family. Found on a range of woody plants and most common deciduous trees.

A really strange looking hopper to follow...

Ledra aurita nymph

The three photos above are all of Ledra aurita and show a nymph (juvenile) of the species.
These are rarely seen because of the excellent camouflage but are found locally across southern Britain on lichen-covered trees. This species can reach a whopping 13-18mm and is the only member of Ledrinae to occur in Europe.

Ledra aurita (adult)
The unmistakeable adults have these ear-like projections on the pronotum and can stridulate quite loudly.

Graphocephala fennahi nymph

 The Rhododendron Leafhopper.July-November: 8-10mm. An introduced species that is native to the USA. It can now be found quite widely in the U.K. One of the few insects to use rhododendron as a food-plant. I was pleased to get the photo of the nymph pictured above as this is the first year I've spotted any.

Graphocephala fennahi (adult)

A hopper 'moult'

By now I guess you're thinking, "By 'eck! That J.J. sure knows his hoppers" But the truth is that I probably found more that I couldn't i.d. than I could. This next section then, included the ones that I can't be sure of...

Eurhadina pulchella?

Philaenus species?

Aphrophora alni?

Then there are the unknown hopper nymphs...

Fieberiella florii?

I've no doubt that there may be doubles of some of these hoppers but if anyone has suggestions for an i.d. on the ones I've been unable to sort out, or indeed,any corrections on the ones I have, I'd be pleased to hear from you.

Not a bad haul for such a small area and there no doubt are lots more to find yet?

Until the next time then...

Friday, August 24, 2012

From eggs to...well, eggs!

I did promise to keep you updated on the news of my 'gals' (Giant African Land Snails) and I have to report that, despite an anxious wait, like a parent-to-be, not one of the eggs have yet produced baby snails.
It's now just a touch over 3 weeks and so, I suppose there's a little time yet before we can say for sure that they've failed.In fact, one care-sheet I have obtained states anything between 2-6 weeks to hatch. I'll let you know if anything exciting does occur over the next few days.

I did however manage a short little video showing how these creatures move around. Shot through the glass of the tank, it shows one of the snails climbing the side by means of this undulating/rippling movement.
(Apologies for the noisy kids in the background, I forgot to remove the sound before uploading the video)

Click arrow to begin video

Whilst on the subject of molluscs-this year may have been awful for butterflies and some bugs and insects but slugs and snails seem to be the winners regarding conditions needed for reproduction and even survival.

Arion ater/hortensis

Now here's the thing-I thought I knew exactly the species of slug that I found in huge numbers in the garden following recent rain. It's the large red slug-Arion ater isn't it? I checked my reference book and read the following: Large Red Slug- Widespread and common throughout Britain, especially in gardens.Orange-red in colour. Yep! That fits. 

End of story? Oh no! Double check with the Internet now just to be sure...............Erm....err... "Computer says no"

"What?"........  Arion ater: The European Black Slug..."Ugggh!" Two closely-related species are Arion rufus and Arion lusitanicus,and they can only be told apart from A.ater by dissection. "Riiiiiiiight!"  Best read on then and see if there's a logical explanation? There was...

As its common name suggests, it is usually black in colour, although considerable variation does exist, ranging from chestnut brown and orange to pale grey or cream. In general, slugs in northern England and Scotland are jet black, while in the south of England the orange forms appear to be more common - the colour variation is thought to be due to differences in ambient temperatures.


A closer look-have you had your tea?

Having cleared that up, I now have to consider that these may well not be ater at all but hortensis? Why so? Because after further research, it does seem to fit the description/photos better.....


As we edge ever closer to September,we are fast approaching what I like to refer to as 'spider-time'. That time of year when spiders not only seem to come into their own, but also, into the house!

Misumena vatia
The one pictured above is unlikely to do so though-Misumena vatia or as it's sometimes referred to 'The Goldenrod Crab Spider' is a flower loving spider with the ability to change colour to some degree, depending on the flower it's sitting on. Although it looks hard as nails in this photo, it's actually not a macho male but a pretty little female. 

Click on any photo for a larger view
House Spider
The house spider (Tegenaria species) on the other hand, would hardly dare to live anywhere else given its name? I think it's probably safe to say that these     spiders are actually living with us all year round. It's just that now they are fully grown making them more obvious ,and now is also mating time- therefore you're more likely to spot one stuck in the bath where it has fallen whilst actively seeking a partner to mate with-well, we've all done that at sometime or other?

Araneus diadematus
And so, if the tegenaria species of spider live in the house, where then do we think the araneus species, or 'Garden Spiders' live? Would you like to phone a friend? Oh, you'd like to use your 50/50? O.K. Computer, take away two of the choices please....."

The thing about being called garden spiders though is that they don't actually know they're supposed to stay in the garden, how could they? They don't read!
And so, the one report I've read of somebody being bitten by one. Yes, that's right...bitten by one, reads: Bite report-on the arm,while in bed.Felt nausea,the arm swelled badly for 3 days.

Yet another sure sign that the year is disappearing fast is the emergence of the dock bug nymphs. I usually manage to spot the early instars and if I'm really lucky a first instar-however, this year, I seem to have missed those but did find what I reckon is probably a 2nd or 3rd instar...

Coreus marginatus-A Dock Bug nymph

I also came across the eggs on one of my recent walks-I think these will be green shield-bug eggs but I'm not sure they are going to emerge now. I have checked them for several days and there has been no change and to me they just don't look right. No doubt I'll be proved wrong but I'll be sure to admit it if I am, so watch this space.

Bug eggs
We seem to have come full circle now, starting with eggs and ending with eggs. That must be as good a place as any to call time on this particular entry.
I have a couple of interesting things lined up for future entries and so I'll do my level best to be back really soon.

Until then next time then...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Dylan inspires me to shut up!

 "And how many deaths will it take till we know, that too many people have died?"

Any Dylan fan will know these words from the great 'Blowin in the Wind' but I'm offering them up here as an example of a rhetorical question.


Here's another-"Do you think that I sometimes rabbit-on a bit too much through these blog entries?"

Well I'll do my best to make this update the exception by letting the photos do the talking.

A backlit sawfly larva
If you've ever wanted to see the digestion system of a sawfly larva, this is the picture for you!

A grasshopper 'moult'
It was only a couple of days ago that I said to a friend I'd never seen one of these.

Pholcus phalangioides
A soon to be parent carrying around her offspring

A PaleTussock Caterpillar

This is one of the skipper butterflies I photographed the same day that I found the moth eggs. I think this is actually a small skipper (that's it's name, I don't mean it's small, although, it is! Confusingly, there is little difference in size between a small and large skipper.)

Each year that passes brings different conditions and therefore some species perform better than others in any given year and I wondering if the weird-weather conditions this time around have been responsible for so many hoverflies being affected by fungus infections?

I've been studying this photo to see if it is all the same species affected and then whether it's also all males or females but can't be sure-I know there are folks who read my blog sometimes and will know though, so maybe my question will get answered in time?

It's very strange how these flies are compelled to climb a grass stem before they die-I read that it's something to do with the highest available spot? Quite why this happens is a mystery, 'it's a mystery I'm still searching for a clue. It's a mystery to me. Shot in the dark.....' Ahem! (Toyah, in case you were wondering? You weren't were you.)

The last picture for this entry is a wasp that I was able to focus stack to get more depth of field and detail. I think this may be a potter wasp but if this close-up of its face is evidence of a different species, please do inform me, I'm always willing to be corrected-in fact I love it!

Potter wasps belong to the family......hang on! I said I'd keep the rambling to a'll have to look it up yourself!

Ooops! I promised to give you some idea of the size of the African land snails featured in my last blog update and so here's a photo taken with a 10p coin...

Alright then, I've realised my mistake myself and to avoid you pointing it out as well-this photo wasn't actually taken with a 10p coin...I used the camera.

Until the next time...