Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fencing weevils and spiders that change colour...

I've been looking out for some fantastic little weevils that usually appear with,or soon after, the first hazel leaves. This year,as with many invertebrates,they were somewhat later than previous finds. But...on a superb spring day that saw rising temperatures recently, I spotted my first...



These are hazel leaf-roller weevils (Apoderus coryli) and although I've yet to find evidence of this (a task for this year) they get their name from the way that adult females roll the edge of a hazel leaf and lay eggs in the cradle it creates.

I did also witness something of a first for me regarding the behaviour of these beetles. I found what seems to be two males,both intent on mating with the same female (although,I'm not sure either was) and this involved lots of posturing by the males. They seemed to be almost 'fencing' with their antennae with heads raised and I am sure they were both sort of, clicking their heads/neck joints as well.

I attempted to capture it on the camera......just a very short clip that is a pretty poor effort but gives you some idea.....


video

I have read somewhere that the extended length of the head of these weevils may be associated with this activity.
I fully intended finding a female engaged in leaf rolling last spring but failed to do so and will double my efforts this year and hope that I'm lucky.

On a different note-I have not yet added to my moth trap finds. I have set it up twice in the past few weeks but sadly, the first occasion yielded just one (although a rather nice one that I've not had before and will add soon) and the second time, nothing! Not a single specimen, not even any flies.wasps or beetles....today is May 28th and I ran the trap again last night for just a couple of hours and have yet to check it out, so watch this space...



The woods where I found the weevils have been pretty productive for me over the last few visits and beneath the same hazel tree where I witnessed the 'weevil porn' I noticed this looper caterpillar hanging from a very delicate thread. It was spinning and wriggling and seemed to be trying to make its way back up to the leaf above,rather than down to the ground.

The soldier beetles are about now as well....


Again, this was on hazel and I think it's probably Cantharis pellucida but there are several similar ones including C.nigra and C.lateralis. I have a key somewhere to these and really should look it up.

From the same area came this fantastic looking crab spider...



This one seems to rejoice in the name of....'Common crab spider' and does appear to vary quite a lot in its markings (if I have the i.d. correct) with males having a very odd way of mating with females. He will grab hold of a female's legs and hold her until she stops struggling, then ties her down with threads of silk and finally, crawls underneath her to mate-how romantic!


My best find in this woodland though has to be this dragonfly. Not only is it just the second I have seen this year thus far (the other being a four spotted chaser) but is a first for me not only in these woods but anywhere locally....


Again,it's not the best shot but it was not settling for long and when it did, always in bright sunlight. I was very excited to see this one though as I am reasonably sure this is a Downy Emerald Dragonfly (Cordulia aenea) and looking at the abdomen shape a female. I think it is a fresh one too; the eye colour is bright.apple green in mature ones and this muddy brown in immature dragonflies.

I have only ever seen common darters, ruddy darters and southern hawkers at this site until now and after such a bad winter and cold spring, it really did make my day to find this 'newbie'. You can be sure I shall be looking out for more sightings and hoping for better photographic opportunities too. I think this makes three years in succession that I have discovered something new to me in these woods now. 

Misumena vatia
This spider (above) I do recognise. It is one that is common enough and quite easy to spot,unless it does its clever trick of changing colour to match the foliage. It can take a few days to effect a colour change but can vary from white to yellow, through to green.


Finding caterpillars is getting easier with each passing day it seems-here's another....


And another...


This one is not a caterpillar but a sawfly larva...



A the last for now...the tiniest you could imagine. I watched this emerge from an egg and photographed it soon after. It's a moth larva and was probably around 2mm at best...




Plenty of weevils to be found now and a real treat to find something out of the ordinary,or at least, different to the ones that I usually see...


Not actually sure about species here because of the mottled colour. Sitona or possibly Phyllobius? So many weevils,so little time!

To end this update I'll return to those woods where I have been finding lots of nice things this spring. Despite reading that butterfly sightings are well down again, I have found that locally at least, we do seem to be having a reasonable year and certainly well up in numbers and species from last year's appalling results...


A Large White Butterfly

Okay...more to come very soon including the results of last night's moth trapping.

Until the next time...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Butterflies and The Bard.....

Just back from a week in Oxfordshire and whilst there I managed to find time to cross the border into Warwickshire and pay a visit to the Butterfly Farm at Stratford-upon-Avon.




Billed as 'The UK's largest tropical butterfly paradise' and located on the south bank of the river Avon,opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, I had read about it and was keen to take a look for myself.

Even after preparing my camera for the humid conditions by sealing inside a plastic bag, it was still around 20 minutes before it had settled enough to allow me to take any pictures:Very hot and humid inside there. 

However, once I'd sorted that, there were subjects a'plenty to photograph and aside from the constant,but expected interruptions caused by the numerous parties of schoolchildren being ushered around, at what seemed to be every 15 minutes,I was in butterfly heaven.




I didn't find photographing some of these insects at all easy using just natural light indoors but even though it would have been possible, I really didn't feel I wanted to add flash.


It was also a little challenging to get anything other than distracting backgrounds. There was lots of rich vegetation and not much space between planting. I suppose I had around 90 minutes at the farm and could easily have spent all day getting the shots I wanted but there were other things to do that day and anyhow, I was already starting to flag in the heat.



I have to add that having said how I struggled with getting the photos I wanted, I met a Frenchwoman with a little 'Ixus' camera that she described as 'cheap but very good' and was impressed by both how close it allowed her to focus (I think from memory she said something like, less than 25mm) and then how great her photos looked onscreen.



Tree Nymph Butterfly

I wish I could provide identities for all of these wonderful insects but I am unable to do that without extensive research and try as I might, I could find no relative information at the farm. 


Blue Morpho Butterfly




This selection illustrated here is but a tiny proportion of the total I could have photographed and as well as the insects there were plenty of caterpillars too...




Then I found some eggs to add to my haul. I think these may well be moth rather than butterfly...


Actually,looking at them again here,I'm not even sure they are viable. They do seem to be a bit messy.

In the caterpillar room, by the way that's not where I found mine, those were on the foliage inside the main dome with the butterflies, I had a go at photographing some pupae. These were all either behind glass or netting...



Again,I'm almost ashamed to admit it but I have no idea which insect these pupae represent but some of the most spectacular ones I have ever seen were these golden ones...


And so a visit to the butterfly farm was a terrific way to spend some time and I will certainly be returning sometime soon. There is also an 'Insect City' with stick insects, beetles, leaf-cutting ants, as well as millipedes,snails and crabs in the mini-beast section that I didn't even manage time to visit this time.

I was however struck by the amount of butterflies,in fact,almost all that I photographed, that showed signs of damaged/tatty wings. I thought about it a lot and decided to e.mail the farm for an explanation;asking if this is common in the wild or something related to how they are kept indoors. I have as yet not had a reply but will publish it here should I get an answer from them.

Until the next time then...


More information on the butterfly farm....HERE


Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thimbleweed and smell-fox...

Tempus fugit....

Although, I believe the proper translation of this is not 'time flies' but rather 'time flees' and so maybe not the best opening line as I haven't seen any fleas this year yet. Alright! It isn't even the same spelling and so doesn't work on many levels. 
I was just trying to reference the fact that my last blog entry was April 12th and since then, spring has definitely arrived proper..... hooray!



This little wood mouse turned up on the bird table early one morning. I watched it deftly climb the trellis and then leap across to the table with no problem at all, have its fill of the bird food and then just as easily, returned the way it came and disappeared behind the foliage.

Meanwhile...at the local pond...


I spotted these two. Even though they were underwater and amongst the frogspawn, I think they are actually toads. I know there are some warty frogs but not that warty surely? I think the horizontal,slit pupils give it away too.
I like the expression of pleasure? on the male and the fact that the female seems totally uninterested...

By the way...does anyone know the correct names for male and female toads? Not sure I have ever heard this? A male frog is a bullfrog? Not even sure that's correct.

Frogspawn
Some of the frogspawn looked in pretty poor condition and I wondered if it was going to be viable as several clumps were this milky colour, and looked deflated in places. I have read that frogspawn is easily damaged in this way by cold weather and that would fit-however, when I returned a few days later, it did seem to be doing okay for the most part.



At least, what wasn't being used as a tasty treat by the newts was doing alright. 
I have seen good numbers of newts this spring. A few days ago I found more in what was little more than a puddle in the woods at Sissinghurst Castle...



Now seems to be a busy time for the ants as well. Almost every-time I walk in the local woods, especially the managed pine forests,I come across thousands of tiny black, wood ants, scurrying around carrying all manner of things back to the nest site...




Besides the increase in invertebrates that has happened over the past couple of weeks, the bluebells have finally decided to put on a show and a few days ago a visit to a spot known to be rich in the wildflowers was in order...


It was  beautiful weather and the bluebells were at their finest on this particular spring day...


Click any photo for a larger view










Mixed in with the bluebells,buttercups and wood anemones were quite a few early orchids...


I recently found out that common names for the wood anemones include:  windflower-thimbleweed and smell-fox. These photos don't really do it justice, you really had to be there-and to experience the smell too...it was quite a day and really lifted me. I spent an hour or so wandering around the woods, thinking to myself that I must store away these memories to recall in the depths of winter, when things can seem bleak.

I listened to the birds singing and the insects buzzing and then, drove home in the car, listening to The Byrds singing...I'm not sure which sounded sweetest.

Back at the waterside, I found my first Caddisfly (thanks for correction Maria) of the year...



On some vegetation below an ancient oak tree or two, I found a little acorn weevil. It can be rough being a weevil at times, this one couldn't have been long emerged and yet, seems to be missing part of a limb already. I wonder what caused the loss?




Also, this rather pretty looking snail...



In the garden, I came across another of the strange jewel like,hanging cocoons? That I saw last year...



And the example I found last time...



I'm still not exactly sure what these are but the consensus last time seemed to be caterpillar?

Hmmmm...this blog entry is turning into something of a monster and I still have lots to share. I guess I'll end this one here and add the rest to another very soon.

Until the next time then...