Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Perry Como experience...



I always think when I go out bug-hunting that if.....oh, hang on! Before I do this, I wanted to just update you on the other egg(s) that I teased you with a few posts ago. You might remember I was asking if anyone could guess what this might be?
Well sad to say that nothing emerged from this ova at all. I am not sure if I failed to keep it in optimum conditions, but I was hoping that a tiny Black Arches moth larva would appear. I happen to know that was the moth which laid this egg and was looking forward to seeing and recording it. However it wasn't to be on this occasion.

Let me try again then...
I always think when I go out bug-hunting that if I find just one good thing, I will consider I have had a good day. Sometimes that will be a great photo opportunity, other times an uncommon or even rare (if I am very lucky) bug or insect. It might be as simple as being able to find the creature I have been set on locating on any particular day. 

What's all this preamble leading to? Well, an example of something that fits this criteria perfectly. It had been one of those frustrating days when I was starting to give up on the idea of turning up anything at all; let alone anything of interest. But then as I wandered home, I decided to take a short detour and found these...


Parent Bug nymphs (Elasmucha grisea)
They are parent bug nymphs and look like final instars. I have not seen these in such numbers before and so this was my 'magic moment' for the day. I would have been content with this find, but then by spending a little time examining the alder tree where I found these, I came across another batch...


It's quite a challenge to count how many there are, but it does seem to be remarkably similar in each photo? Here's a cropped version...


Such beautiful nymphs with those stripy waistcoats and brilliant green colouring. These bugs get their name of course from how the females will sit and brood the eggs and youngsters for some time.

I also found a few individuals wandering around...







Another shieldbug that seems to be having a good year judging by the numbers I am finding, is the common green shieldbug (Palomena prasina) and currently it's the final instar stage that I come across most often...




A number are now becoming adults too and I was lucky enough to find one actually moulting for the final time...









This bright, lime green, teneral colour will dull down in time and eventually of course come winter, the adults will take on a browner colouring. It doesn't matter how many times I observe this behaviour, it always affects me to think about the struggle of moulting or 'Ecdysis' to give it its correct name. Such a vulnerable time for all insects and traumatic too no doubt. To think that most will undergo this 4 or 5 times, it amazes me that any make it to become adults.



Whilst on the subject of bugs, I remember saying to a few friends at the start of the year that I just had a feeling it was going to be a bumper year for bug-hunting and it hasn't disappointed thus far. Another bug that I found locally, and by locally I mean within 100 yards of my front door, was the Nettle Bug (Heterogaster urticae) a common bug across southern Britain but not one I have ever found here, until this year...



I was surprised by the parent bug numbers but these were all over the nettle, wherever you looked, every stem seemed to be home to a posse...


Adult nettle bugs overwinter and then emerge to mate in the spring, during which time the sexes can remain coupled together for several days...a bit like Sting and Trudie then? Tantric bugs ;-)


One final bug then?... I did it again! Why do I add question marks to my text when you can't really answer? Damn...and again! Let's call it a rhetorical question shall we...Ha! Not gonna catch me again, didn't add one that time. Definition seems to fit : A question that you ask without expecting an answer. The question might be one that does not have an answer. It might also be one that has an obvious answer but you have asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for literary effect. 
Okay-enough prevarication, on with the motley...

A Bronze Shieldbug (Troilus luridus)
This little one was on the same alder tree as the parent bugs. These metallic looking nymphs (I think this is a mid-instar) do feed on plants, but also will eat caterpillars. The adults reach around 12mm in length.


Even though the season is moving towards autumn now, there is still an abundance of different insects and bugs to be seen, with different ones appearing as the months pass. Right now there are lots of these large hoverflies about...

Volucella pellucens

Another recent find was this striking mullein moth larva...

The mullein moth larva (Cucullia verbasci)
Such a brightly coloured larva for what will eventually become quite a plain moth.



When I was trawling through my photographs, looking to see which I could transfer to a satellite drive for safety the other evening, I came across a little video of some caterpillars 'twitching' as a defense mechanism and so I thought I'd end this update by sharing it here. There's also a more recent one of a predatory lacewing bug being stalked by a little insect nymph; a very dangerous thing for it to do and it must finally realise that itself, as it dives off the leaf after a while...

REMEMBER THESE VIDEOS WILL NOT SHOW IN THE E.MAILED VERSION OF MY BLOG-YOU WILL NEED TO VISIT THE BLOG ITSELF ONLINE TO VIEW THEM...


video


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This second one makes me smile because this is exactly what a lot of little bugs will do when you are just about to press the shutter to photograph them.

Until the next time then...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Just butterflies...


I wanted to share a few of the butterflies that I have photographed locally. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...


Brimstone


Brimstone



Comma



Green veined White



Gatekeeper



Gatekeeper



Common Blue



Common Blue




Ringlet




Peacock



Peacock




Comma



Silver-washed Fritillary



Silver-washed Fritillary



Silver-washed Fritillary



Orange Tip



Clouded Yellow



Red Admiral



Gatekeeper



Small White



Clouded Yellow



Small Skipper



Speckled Wood



Common Blue



Meadow Brown



Holly Blue



Green-veined White

Until the next time...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Silence of the Lambs and Out of Africa?

At the end of my penultimate update  I posed a question about the identity of the eggs in my photographs. This latest update will deal with one of those photos; why just one? Well because, as I write, nothing has yet emerged from the eggs in the second photograph, that will have to wait a little longer.

This then is the story of the little cluster of pale eggs in the second photo, that looked like this:



I would be surprised if anyone has been able to guess the identity of these as they are in fact a migrant species and can also be found throughout tropical Africa. 

The death's head hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos) is one of the UK's largest moths. The life-cycle has 4 stages: Egg, larva, pupa and adult. The eggs are pictured above and the first instar larvae look like this...


As they increase in size, they become greener...


The caterpillars are not very active and seem to move only when they need to get to another leaf, having eaten the one they are on. In the 2nd instar stage, the horn begins to shorten and turn yellow.  The body and horn become covered in minute pale tubercles...


By the time of the 3rd instar, the 7 lateral stripes are fully developed and are blue edged with white. The tubercles are now enlarged. This is a typical pose for the early instars, along the vein, underneath a leaf. As they grow they become too large to do this and have to rest on a leaf stalk or branch.




Here's a short video of one feeding (the usual reminder about needing to view directly from my blog to see videos, the e.mailed version won't show)...

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Instar 4 sees the yellow tone becoming more vivid and the horn recurves further...


The 5th instar is the final one before pupating-here's a freshly moulted one...


Now the tubercles are lost apart from the horn, which is strongly recurved. The blue edge of the lateral stripes becomes more extensive forming a series of broad, V'shaped bands along the back...


The final instar larvae are huge; I measured one at 100mm and it was still growing. They consume an enormous amount of the food-plant (in this case privet) at this stage as well.

When they are fully grown they darken a little and begin to cover themselves with a saliva-like secretion just prior to pupating. The next video shows this but I've increased the speed to keep the size reasonable for the blog...and your patience...





It then wanders away from the food-plant and pupates by burrowing into the soil...






The video above actually show the largest of the larvae I have, starting the pupating process. I originally had 15 eggs, from which only 4 larvae emerged. I'm not sure if this is normal but somebody else did tell me that they had 15 also and only had 5 larvae. Right from the start I have been amazed at how the growth rate has differed. These all emerged the same day and withing a fairly short space of time and yet.....well here's a photo that demonstrates the differences...



The larger of the two here appears to be two instars ahead of the smaller one. And so now I have three more yet to pupate and I am wondering if they will then over-winter before the moths emerge. My friend Su Reed who also had some of these said that hers emerged after around 4-5 weeks but I guess it may be getting too late in the year for mine. Either way, that will be quite an exciting time as the moths are huge and squeak!




It would be remiss of me when talking about these mystical moths to not mention that iconic film poster. As any film buff will gladly tell you (something I am not by the way) the poster shows Jodi Foster's face with a large moth placed over her mouth. That film being of course, 'Silence of the Lambs'. This is supposedly the 'Death's head' moth from the film...


But if you take a closer look at the ambiguous skull in the image, you'll find it has been manipulated and actually comprises seven, female naked bodies....


The image originated in a photographic portrait of the artist Salvador Dali and this photo itself was inspired by surrealist Dali's gouache 'Female bodies as a skull' painting.

The true 'skull' on the moth should look more like this...


That then is the story to date and I will be watching for any moths that might emerge later in the year, failing that, next spring. Whenever it is, there will be images here for sure.

That's about all for this update, I hope to have news of the other eggs sometimes very soon, until the next time...