Thursday, March 26, 2015

Which bug drinks through its anus and doesn't urinate?

I don't usually like distractions of any kind whilst writing these updates; that includes music, but this morning (24th March) feeling a little strung-out and tense from....well, let's just call them 'noises off'? I'll say no more than it involves neighbours children screaming unchallenged for what seems like hours and at a level that can be heard inside my house as clear as day, I scanned the CD rack (yes, I'm afraid I haven't fully joined the digital revolution yet, in fact, I'm still in mourning for my old vinyl discs) and looked for something that would serve as an antidote to all that.....kerfuffle. 


I found the perfect thing-Clifford T.Ward is to be recommended as one of the best singer/songwriters to emerge during the 1970s and multiple sclerosis claimed his life way too early.

And so I was sitting here contemplating how to begin this writing, when his song 'A Day To Myself' came on and although the beautiful, poignant lyrics are Clifford reflecting on all the lives lost at war over the years, this line seemed to fit so well with this time of year...'When April was about to smile on England'. 

Yes April in all its glory, is almost upon us and you feel that our stop-start spring is about to burst into life at any moment. Let's get cracking on updating you on what's been happening then...




The blue-tits that I have been hoping will use the nest box that I fitted a camera inside, have been showing more interest. They seem to be into a routine of checking it out every morning between about 8 and 8.30am.

 I also got this brief view on the video camera...

video

 To encourage them to nest build and ensure there is enough nesting material to hand, I have hung a net filled with moss close by...fingers crossed...



And here's one of them in the cherry tree...








I haven't seen too many native ladybirds this year yet but did find plenty of the tiny 16-spot still overwintering in quite large aggregations...

16-spot Ladybirds (Tytthaspis 16-punctata)
And a few snapped with my phone...






This is the first butterfly that I have seen at close enough range to photograph this year-it's a small tortoiseshell recently out of hibernation.


There is lots of goat willow in flower right now and that seems to be attracting the attention of the golden dung flies...

Scathophaga stercoraria


Scathophaga stercoraria-A Golden or Yellow Dung-fly

An update wouldn't be complete without a spider photo and so I should probably include this wolf spider?



The nursery web spiders are back too...






Now!This is a really strange one...I found these little bugs recently in the kitchen but, I have no idea what they could be-any guesses at an identity would be really appreciated...


video



I do know what these next creatures are though and it isn't a couple of little sweeties-well, actually they are kinda sweet but you know what I mean...


Yes they do look a little like sweets (candy for our overseas friends) or even pills maybe? You would hope so because that's the origin of their common name of Pill Millipedes. Here's what they look like when not curled into a tight ball...

Pill Millipede (Glomeris marginata) 
Most pill millipedes are black but they also come in brown, red and yellow.

Pill Millipede (Glomeris marginata) 
Not to be confused with pill woodlice which only have seven pairs of legs, rather than the 18 (around) that these millipedes have. Fascinating creatures, for instance, did you know that they don't urinate? They can tolerate ammonia gas, which they can pass directly through their exoskeleton. Strange? Maybe to us it seems strange but not as strange as the fact that they can drink through their rear ends! Yes it's true, they have special tube structures called uropods that are used to 'wick' up water.

Weird enough for you? Have you heard of coprophagy? It is yet another trick these millipedes get up to and involves eating their own poop!  Apparently they loose a little copper each time they poo and can replace it by eating their own poop.

My first Bee-fly of the year...

Also my first moth of the season-found on a fence-post...
And so, as you can tell from this update, things are moving in the right direction at last with a lot more finds now. All we need is some decent spring weather and all will be well.

Until the next time..

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Leeds in Kent, not Leeds in Yorkshire...

I have been sitting on these photographs for a couple of weeks now, figuratively that is, not literally. Really just wondering what I could do with them and so I thought I'd make up a little blog entry with a few. They come from a nice morning spent at Leeds castle, which by the way for anyone who doesn't already know, isn't in the city of Leeds, Yorkshire; but the little village of Leeds, just along the road from me in Kent.

Most are from the birds of prey centre-although, just to contradict myself, the first couple aren't...

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO VIEW ON BLACK

A Black Swan

Leeds Castle

Panoramic view taken with my phone


A Harris Hawk

These are from the southwestern United States and can also be found in Chile and Argentina. Although they have been spotted in the UK, these are thought to be escapees from falconry, a purpose they are well suited to. They are also known as the Bay-winged Hawk and Dusky Hawk.

A Harris or Bay-winged Hawk



The castle again, this time in cloudier conditions



A Black-headed Gull


Black-headed Gull
As always I am happy to be corrected, but I think this is also a black-headed gull in winter plumage? According to the RSPB this is not really a black-headed gull at all, more chocolate brown and for most of the year, it in fact has a white head. It's also most definitely not a seagull. It is found commonly almost everywhere inland.


A Kestrel
I would have to say that this little beauty was my favourite on the day by a long way. There's just something special about Kestrels for me. The plumage is beautiful and they look so intelligent...



Probably the bird you are most likely to see hovering above open ground or even beside the motorway and roadside verges. There are said to be around 46000 breading pairs in the U.K. These birds have adapted well to living in city centres as well as the countryside.
I really could have stayed all day photographing them-as it was, I did take far more shots than I could ever use but enjoyed every moment.



A Coot-there were plenty of these to be seen

A Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine falcons are large and powerful birds that do breed in the U.K.The strongholds are the uplands of the north and west, along with rocky sea coasts. After suffering an all time low in the 1960s caused by illegal killing by landowners and gamekeepers added to being a target for egg collectors and then the use of pesticides, they are now thankfully making a good recovery. 




Those are just a few of the photos I took and I'll leave you with what was probably my worst picture on the day and yet....I wanted to include it just because the pose made me smile...



Until the next time...

Monday, March 02, 2015

What has no legs and moves by flexing its body?

I know there are those amongst you who don't care for spiders, so let's start this update with a couple and get it over and done with. Yesterday I spotted my first jumping spider of the year in the garden...


Click on any photo for a larger view
Salticus scenicus-A Jumping Spider
Commonly known as the zebra spider, this is probably the most familiar of the British jumping spiders. This one is a female, the males have huge chelicerae (mouth parts/fangs) used against prey and in defence-or even fighting sometimes.

Second one is this little spider I found under bark. I think it might be Clubiona species but I am really not sure...C. phragmitis-C.reclusa-C.terrestis all looked like possible candidates, but then it might be none of them!



There is something just as interesting to me as finding an identity for the spider, if we pull back a little with the camera...



What do you think that object to the left of the spider could be? It looks like the head/pronotum and eyes of a bug or beetle? Quite large compared to the spider, but from memory that was less than 20mm total length.


There are two directions I could head from here, there's an arachnid related find I could post, but maybe, as we are in a 'what do you think this is' kinda vein, I'll choose this photo instead...

Mystery object...
This was also found under dead bark on a tree stump, at about head-height; well, my head height anyway. I wondered if it was part of a moult from a shieldbug or beetle maybe? Or even the remains of a meal? But, what puzzled me was the size-it was fairly large, too large I would have thought for a shieldbug. This section alone was bigger than any shieldbug I know of. A conundrum then? Unless you know that is?

And the arachnid related thingy? Well it's this pseudo scorpion...

A Pseudo or False Scorpion
I couldn't be certain of an identity on this one either, other than it might be       Chthonius species? They are tiny beasts that are related to spiders rather than scorpions. 



A False Scorpion (2~3mm)


            


Here's one that I have found and even featured on my blog in the past; but this time, I think I know the identity of it...

Paederus littoralis-A Rove Beetle
These little flightless beetles are said to carry a toxin that can cause blisters or a rash if handled...so I didn't! From the same family (Staphylinidae) comes this ferocious looking larva...

A Rove Beetle Larva


Eggs/Ova now...and an unexpected find of an egg batch; unexpected because, once again I found these under bark and that's a first for shieldbug eggs for me. Then, I wouldn't expect to be seeing these at this time of year and so they must be duds..some that didn't hatch last year...


I thought on first sight that these were Hairy shieldbug eggs, but having researched it a little and compared both, it seems far more likely, given the location and closeness to lots of gorse also, that they are in fact Gorse Shieldbug (Piezodorus lituratus) ova. The little purple critter bottom left is a springtail by the way. It still amazes me that these were laid under bark.

More eggs? Why then am I posting this photograph of a marble gall?


Well because I almost dismissed the next subjects as being exactly that. At least they looked like a dirtier...winter worn version to me. But then pausing for a moment to think it through before moving on, several things puzzled me about my initial diagnosis; let me share the photo I did take first though and you might see what I mean...



Hmm...okay, so maybe not! Funny how you can convince yourself of something and that others will see it too-and then, when the hard evidence is suddenly available and placed side-by-side, or in this case, one under the other, you feel like a complete nincompoop (Google it if you are not familiar.) All this means nothing anyway when you consider what struck me next-if they were galls, how could they possibly be on a fence post, rather than a tree? Size was wrong too, way too small; although I guess all galls are small at some stage of growth.

Let's have a look at another photo then that should provide the answer...



The spheres to the left here have markings that look more familiar as moth eggs and I eventually found out that they are indeed eggs of the December moth (Poecilocampa populi) not to be confused with the winter moth by the way. These should hatch in spring when there are leaves for the larvae to feed on.




Meanwhile, under bark (have you noticed a trend developing in this update yet?) I came across this metallic beetle-I am guessing it's a leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) but yet again, really not sure of ID... 
  


                                                                                            


    A little later on...under bark-I discovered this next beetle...


Pediacus depressus-A Flat Bark Beetle?

I am hoping that this is P. depressus as this one seems to be the rarer of the two UK species. Unfortunately it only allowed me this one photo before disappearing forever. You'll be pleased to learn that the next creature wasn't discovered under bark on a tree stump-No..this one was on top of a tree stump...




This is the larva of a cardinal beetle. There are two possibilities for this one-Pyrochroa coccinea and P. serraticornis. They are really similar but the raised, transverse line as indicated in my next picture appears to be diagnostic and confirms this as P.serraticornis: The Common or Red-headed Cardinal Beetle.




The final one is something new for me as I haven't see it before. At least, I don't remember finding anything like it...




What is it? My best guess is a soldier fly larva. It has no legs and moves by flexing its body. What is a soldier fly? I was hoping you might know! Is it like this little one I found the other day perhaps?



Hmmm...maybe I should end this particular update here as it seems to be asking more questions than it is answering...

Until the next time....