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".