Friday, November 25, 2016

Yes they do, no they don't, yes they do, NO...they don't!

I am really tempted to begin this update with yet another rant. However, having given the matter a great deal of thought, ok...not too much thought at all, I have gone for substituting 'rant' with 'question'. And here it comes: "What would you get if you crossed a seal pup with a shark and an aphid?"

No I haven't gone crazy (well, that's a matter of conjecture) and this isn't a photo-shopped image or even some sort of genetic mutant. Why would you need to hybridise when we already have creatures like these. Nope, this is the large (giant) willow aphid: Tuberlolachnus salignus. 

Professor of Entomology at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, Professor Simon Leather, wrote in June of 2014 "The large (giant) willow aphid, Tuberlolachnus salignus, is, in my opinion, one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries". He went on to say that it is sometimes regarded as the largest aphid in the world. What is the great unsolved mystery that surrounds this aphid? Professor Leather again: "A great unsolved mystery about this aphid is the function of the dorsal tubercle, which so closely resembles a rose thorn, or to me, a shark’s fin". 

And the professor's conclusions? "Nobody knows".

But it doesn't end there, as the comedian Jimmy Cricket used to say..."Come 'ere, there's more". 

There's a second unsolved mystery... knew you'd be pleased!

The second mystery is that every year, in about February, it does a disappearing act and for about four months its whereabouts remain a mystery.

Professor Leather: "We have an aphid that spends a substantial period of the year feeding on willow trees without leaves and then in the spring when most aphids are hatching from their eggs to take advantage of the spring flush, T. salignus disappears! Does it go underground? If so, what plants is it feeding on and why leave the willows when their sap is rising and soluble nitrogen is readily available?
So here is a challenge for all entomological detectives out there. What is the function of the dorsal tubercle and where does T. salignus go for the spring break? Truly a remarkable aphid and two mysteries that I would dearly love to know the answers to and yet another reason why I love aphids so much".
You and me both professor. Oh and whilst I think about it, are you sure about this statement, 'when most aphids are hatching from their eggs to take advantage of the spring flush'. I wonder if you have read the article in my link at the bottom of this update?
Jimmy Cricket
You see...the reason I can't forget about this latest faux pas is that, well, I kinda lambasted the local and national newspapers last time over their poor research skills and yet this one seems to out-stupefy the papers. What troubles me about this latest find is that it concerns the University of Illinois. Bad enough you might think that a university is publishing 'facts' about insects that are incorrect; worse still is that this is in a GUIDE FOR TEACHERS entitled 'Let's talk about insects'. 

Number one on their list of important facts for teachers to impart to students is that 'all insects hatch from tiny eggs'. VIVIPARITY is what I suggest they look up in the dictionary! Most insects lay eggs but NOT all. The university of Michigan run something called 'BioKIDS' and their mission statement is to 'promote students' deep understandings of current science topics'. And yet.....

Sacré bleu!

Here's where it ties-in nicely with my aphid story. Let's get the correct information from The Amateur Entomologists Society eh? Quote: "Viviparity means to give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. Most insects produce eggs but some, such as aphids, are viviparous and give birth to live young".

Changing tack then: I recently found a couple of nice fungi ...

This bracket fungus, possibly Piptoporus betulinus or 'Razor Strop' and a beautiful one that I found in local pine woods that I think is a coral fungi, but as always, happy to be corrected...

It's quite odd just how many times this phenomenon occurs but once again, no sooner had I said that I hadn't seen a particular bug this year, than one appears as if by order. I am referring to my old friend 'Issus coleoptratus' this time. I posted a photo of a nymph in my last update, stating that I hadn't seen an adult...

The nymph from my last update
The adult I found a few days later

I think that concludes today's business and so I will bid you farewell until next time and leave you with a couple of phone pics of the glorious Kentish autumn that we have been experiencing...

                                           Giant Willow Aphid link is HERE

Thursday, November 10, 2016

“The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.”

There's a quote I once read that goes something like this: "The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it". Which is my way of illustrating that 'blogging time' is not always as readily available as I would wish. Since I have found time to compile this update, shall we indulge? (By the way, I have updated both the Magnet and Wealden pages with November articles now. Links at the top of this homepage).

You may recall this from a recent post...

It was a short story about how this company were misusing an image of an invertebrate. Well, blow me down with a feather, and other expressions of amazement! No sooner had I settled on the thought that it was a 'one-off' than this was brought to my attention by Eagle-eye Cherry (obviously I have changed her name for fear of reprisals). Take a look please...

At first sight it seems quite innocuous? Yes, and probably is, but it was the word caterpillar that attracted my attention: this is not an image of a caterpillar, rather a larva. An easy enough mistake to make, but along with the headline text, it piqued my interest enough to read inside. It read: This little creature hosts a fungus that is the source of a compound called cordycepin, which could be part of a radically different way to treat the pain of arthritis. 

So far so good. I could believe that is a possibility. The name of this little creature then? "The Ghost Moth Caterpillar". Wait a little, itty-bitty minute, a what? This is not a ghost moth caterpillar, or the caterpillar of any other species of moth for that matter. It's a sawfly larva, quite distinctive. I wonder if these people do any form of research whatsoever.

Let's move on. Yes, let's move on to...yet another piece of piss-poor journalism (excuse my French). The local press are the offenders this time...

Somebody calling themselves SophieAM has put their name to this incredibly stupid writing. Did you write that headline yourself SophieAM? Perhaps your brilliant journalistic skills were more in evidence in the actual article? Maybe you were only trying to grab my attention with that leader headline? Okay, you did get my attention, although I fear for the wrong reasons, but still, tell me more...

"Millions of ladybirds carrying sexually transmitted diseases are making their way to Kent. Harlequin ladybirds are flying to Britain from Asia and North America due to the mild autumn winds, and they pose a threat to native ladybirds as they carry an STD called Laboulbeniales fungal disease".

I know it's said that sarcasm is the brain's natural defense against the less intelligent but....REALLY! Flying here from Asia and North America on mild autumn winds are they? According to Sophie, "Large numbers of ladybirds have already been spotted across Kent, including in Cranbrook, Tunbridge Wells and Thanet". Yes, and almost every other part of the country if you were to DO SOME RESEARCH! Let's try and get a different angle on this story from another newspaper, just to try and balance things a little. Here's how Kent Online reported the story...

Hmmm... I am not sure which is stranger, this reportage (actually, I am not sure I can use that word because it refers to 'factual' reporting doesn't it?), or the reporters name here of 'multimediadesk'? That must have been a mouthful for the vicar at the christening? So this lot think that harlequin ladybirds have 'black wings, rather than our common red'. Then go on to say: Is it some sort of mating season? In the same newspaper, someone calling herself Joanna Missis Shed said: "We have loads everywhere inside and most are black with 2 red dots". Nicely observed Missis Shed. 

Should we be concerned about this 'invasion' then? Will they cause us harm? Well, "they could congregate in a corner and go to sleep until spring". Worse still, 'Kent Live' point out "they can leave a nasty smell & leave stains on furniture". Like teenagers you mean?

The final word comes from The Independent newspaper. This is a 'national' and can be relied on to publish the real facts...can't they?

No seems to be the definitive answer. At least they don't think the ladybirds flew here, but were the result of a wet summer. Dangerous though, very dangerous! "they can be murder on the wallpaper". Oh yes, and "exude chemicals that could ruin your curtains". 

No mention of hibernation being the cause of so many ladybirds then. From the research I have done it also seems that the "Sexually transmitted disease" they are "riddled with" could well have been transmitted by our native 2-spot ladybirds. I did have a quick foray into the Cranbrook jungle to try and locate this 'explosion' of harlequin ladybirds. I found a few, maybe even a few more than most years but nothing exceptional...

A phone grab

A few recent finds, in all honesty, there is not too much about now at this late stage of the year. Still, here's what I did unearth...

Kleidocerys resedae 

Kleidocerys resedae 
The Birch Catkin Bug belongs to the Lygaeidae family and is commonly found on birch trees. I often see them late on in the year as the adults overwinter. About 4-5mm.  

Capsus ater
I was quite surprised to see this little mirid bug. It feeds low down in the grass and that's where I spotted this one. Don't think I have seen them past September before though. Around 5mm.

Issus coleoptratus (nymph)

An old favourite. Plenty of these tiny planthopper nymphs to be found, but as yet, and it is getting quite late now, I haven't seen an adult this year. These are interesting creatures as the nymphs have small gear-like structures on the base of each of their hind legs. These gears intermesh to keep the legs synchronised when the insect jumps. The don't actually fly. The nymphs then shed these gears before becoming adults. Quite why they no longer need them as adults I have yet to discover.

In local woodland I photographed this looper caterpillar on a fallen leaf. 

A tiny video now. This is a Red Admiral in my garden that I photographed in slow-motion as it was taking off. Detail isn't much but it's kinda fun...

The usual reminder about having to view these vids directly on the blog as they don't always show in the emailed version.

And just for a even slower version:

And I think that will suffice for this particular update...

I will leave you with this final thought: There are actually only two things we fear when we are born: loud noises and falling. Our fear of insects has been handed down through the generations and is also partly due to unfamiliarity, we just don't see many bugs enough to become familiar with them. As well as fear of insects in general (Entomophobia) there is Lepidopterophobia (fear of butterflies), Melissophobia (fear of bees) and of course, the one we all know, fear of spiders-Arachophobia. 

Hypnosis is said to help, and with that in mind, I have included subliminal hypnotic cues throughout this text to start you on the path to a cure. 

                                                 Or have I ? 

"I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it".

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Birds, Bees, Barkflies, Beetles and other Bugs...

Despite the fact that this 'Blogger' blogging platform has been doing its level best over the past few days to frustrate me to the point of pulling out my remaining hair and giving up; I am pleased to say that I have instigated a few changes to the layout of the blog and I am ready to produce update number 188. I apologise for the fact that I have been unable to get my 'Magnet Articles' page to show correctly, I am working on it. Shall we start with this:

I'd reached the age of fourteen and I hadn't started courting,
And my mum was getting worried about me.
She said, "Dad, it's time you told him all about the birds and bees,"
He said, "The birds and bees," and sat me on his knee.

You won't be old enough to remember this, but it's a monologue from the days before it was politically incorrect to like Benny Hill. It's a lead-in to this first little section which does indeed feature the birds and bees. 

There are 4 requests for help attached to these sounds files. The photo isn't relevant by the way, just that the only way I could load a sound file was if I included a picture.I am not sure I have cracked the best way of adding sound files to my blog and so these may not play on your phone/tablet etc.



Here's where you can help me: I would be the first to admit that I am not at all experienced with birds! I could be described as something of a bird-virgin and so I was kinda hoping that you might be able to educate me. I would just love to know which species these songs belong to. For all I know, they could be the same species, if not the same bird. 
I would be eternally grateful for any information you might be able to share using the comment option at the bottom of this post. 

What about the bees though? In light of the current dire predictions regarding these insects, I wanted to show that, in my garden, the bumblebees at least were doing well this year...

They seemed to love the addition of the Eupatorium plant. This one is 'Eupatorium purpuream', or 'Sweet Joe-Pye Weed'. According to Wikipedia (and who could doubt Wiki?) it is native to Central North America. It loves my garden though and the bees love it. 

It's about now that I check whether you have been taking everything in thus far. You have? Oh goody. It didn't escape your notice then that I said there were four things you could help me with regarding the birds, and yet, I only mentioned three? Number 4 is the picture that shows on each of the sound clips. It's a little bird that I photographed back in the summer at Great Dixter in Sussex. I couldn't get close enough for a really detailed photo, but once again, I have no clue to its identity. Do you?


Now here's an interesting little beetle. I think this could be 'Ptilinus pectinicornis', the Fan-bearing Wood-borer. This is the description that I found:
3.5-5.5mm. Distinctive due to the highly developed antennae; very strongly pectinate in the male and very broadly serrate in the female. Head deflexed, eyes much larger in male. Pronotum highly arched. Widely distributed across southern England and the midlands to south Yorkshire but lacking records from Cornwall, East Anglia and most of Wales.

On one particular day in August: the 19th in fact, I saw more green shieldbugs and their nymphs than on any day before, or since...

There were plenty more but I have spared you those. 

Wasp faces. They are all different you know. They can recognise one another by their face markings. I know that is true of paper wasps at least. I am fairly sure that the markings on this one make it a common wasp 'Vespula vulgaris'. 

Whereas, this one I have not got an ID for yet, unless you...? I wonder if this is a paper wasp. If so, then I think they catch these insects not to eat themselves, but to feed to their larvae...

UPDATE: Mellinus arvensis (A Field digger-wasp) Thanks to Maria J for ID.

The next photograph may not win any competitions, it lacks detail for a start. But, I do like the fact that it is thought provoking. It's a stand off, but just who is being threatened here. Is the spider just standing tall and saying 'don't bother me little ant'. Or does the ant think it may be able to overcome the spider?

A couple of flies next. How amazing that they are both flies and yet they bear little resemblance to each other. That's nature, so diverse it never fails to impress me...

               UPDATE:  Little Snipe Fly - Chrysopilus asiliformis. Thanks to Maria J for ID.

I don't know what this one is, perhaps a little soldier fly? What I do know is that it was yet another of the insects I have rescued from the bird-bath this year.

You have to admit that this scorpion fly is something that most people would not even realise is something that belongs in the Diptera order...

If I make this entry too much longer you will need to spend longer scrolling back to the top, than you have reading it, and so I guess I will cut and run. Not before I have added one last pairing though. A couple of barkflies...

I appreciate that the lower photograph appears to show a giant of a barkfly, but they are both actually around 2-3mm. The barkfly (or barklouse) is really under-recorded and we are told that there are still many more species to be discovered, even here in the UK. 

I have added a new, easy to use comment box right at the bottom of this page. I hope it helps to make it easier to get involved and tell me what you think. It seems that the original comment box only appears when you view this update on its own page and not from the home page. 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

I was born yellow but soon had spots...

Sometimes I get to witness insect behaviour that just has to be shared on this little blog of mine, and is hopefully interesting and important enough to make a 'stand-alone' entry. "Tell me more JJ"..."I will..."

I had been observing a group of ladybird pupae for quite a while in the hope of catching a newly emerged ladybird. I took a number of photos of the pupae over a few days as they matured. It is so hard to tell exactly when an emergence might take place though. One or two looked about ready to pop and yet, nothing changed for what seemed like forever. Eventually my patience was rewarded. I arrived one day just at the right time to witness a complete eclosion.

Time to let the pictures do the talking...

Click on any photo for a larger view
This first shot was taken at 8:10pm when the light was already failing

Just 5 minutes had passed at this stage

That whole process from start to finish took around 10 minutes. I don't know if that is about average because I have never before seen this in real time, but I would think that even 10 mins is long enough to be in such a vulnerable state. 

50 minutes later it was recognisable as a harlequin ladybird, although the pupa itself is quite distinctive and obviously that of a harlequin...

I was so thrilled to be able to not only witness this unseen behaviour, but also to be able to photograph it and share here on my blog. Some of the photos are maybe not as crisp as I would have wished them to be, but that background you can see is provided courtesy of a leaf that I was holding in one hand, whilst holding my macro gear with the other.