This is probably our commonest bush-cricket, the Speckled Bush-cricket Leptophyes punctatissima is a small green cricket with a brown stripe down its back (admittedly it’s not very prominent on this particular specimen) and is covered in tiny black speckles. Crickets are easily distinguished from grasshoppers by their long antennae which can be easily twice as long as the body. In comparison grasshoppers have rather short antennae.
I’ve recently taken on the role of Entomology Sub-group leader for the Larkhill & Westdown Conservation Group. LWCG is one of three conservation groups that have access to some of the restricted areas of the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) which is where I took this photograph of a female Common Blue Polyommatus icarus resting on Devils-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis.
Earlier this year I enjoyed a short break on the Greek island of Kefalonia. I took quite a few photos of insects, many of which I have still to identify. Needing help I uploaded this image of a wasp to the Hymenopterists Forum on Facebook. Almost immediately Irenel E. Popescu came back suggesting it might belong to the Leucospidae, a small specialised group of ectoparasitoid wasps within the Chalcidoidea superfamily.
Using this as a starting point, and after a further trawl of images on the internet, I concluded that it was most likely the Parasitoid Wasp Leucospis gigas.
I found this splendid little chap in my garden. It’s an adult Hawthorn Shieldbug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale a member of the Hemiptera an order of insects most often known as the true bugs. It will overwinter as an adult, often darkening before hibernation and will emerge again in the Spring.
The antennae in Hemiptera are typically five-segmented, although they can still be quite long, as can be seen in this photo.
Hemipterans have sucking/piercing mouthparts. The mandibles and maxillae are sheathed within a modified labium to form a ‘beak’ or ‘rostrum’ called a proboscis. This sharply pointed tube is capable of piercing plant tissues and is used to suck out the liquids – typically sap. When the proboscis is not being used it is folded flat against the underside of the body.
The young are called nymphs and resemble the adults to a degree although they are often mistaken as other insects.
Ashley Wood has produced a series of illustrations showing the life stages of a range of UK shield bugs, which is particularly useful for identifying the immature nymphs and the various instars.
Check it out here.
Recently I set off to look for the Ivy Bee Collettes hederae, no luck but as soon as I crossed the river I found this spectacular looking caterpillar. It’s the larva of the Vapourer Moth Orgyia antiqua which are sometimes called Rusty Tussock Moths. The males, which can sometimes be found flying during the day, are a rich chestnut brown colour and have two distinctive white spots on the wings. The female is unusual in that she is completely wingless and resembles an overweight furry grey grub. There’s more info and images here on the excellent UK Moths website.
The Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria seems to be having a good year in Wiltshire. Whenever I’ve ventured near a patch of sun dappled woodland it’s magically appeared. Darting out to give me the once over before spiralling skywards for a honeydew top-up or returning to a favourite perch to soak up just a little more sunshine.
It’s always a welcome sight in my eyes but these adults will soon be gone as Autumn’s chill is upon us. This one looks to be a male.
It’s unusual as it is the only butterfly in Britain that can survive the winter as either a larva (caterpillar) or a pupa (chrysalis) before emerging again in the spring next year. Although it’s believed the caterpillars need to have reached their third instar (moult).
Get out and enjoy them while you still can.
I’ve been chatting to Michael Marlow via email about insects and macro photography. I explained that the majority of my photographs are essentially record shots and that I rarely take more artistic photos. But here’s an exception, a photo of a male Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni nectaring on Devils-bit Scabious and here’s another from a post last year.
I guess what’s probably most surprising about that statement is the fact that I am an artist or designer of sorts, albeit primarily a graphic artist and illustrator by profession. However, I have dabbled more seriously on the fine-art side of things and in this I was much encouraged by my late father-in-law, Gerard Lumley or Marcel Zouf as he liked to be known when working as an artist. He’s much missed.
For me though the fine-art path to be a serious painter led to nothing but trouble. Dilettantism, depression, and ultimately divorce. Well there’s only so much narcissistic self-destruction a relationship can take. Fortunately none of my paintings survive. I’ve rarely picked up a pencil or brush in the last 12 years but maybe my interest in insects will inspire me to start drawing again and who knows you might even get to see a doodle or sketch on this blog.
Incidentally, Michael’s just written an excellent series of articles about the reverse-lens method and diffused-flash on his excellent blog BugPhoto.net which I can highly recommend.
It’s taken me two years to find Arty the Marsh Fritillary caterpillar Euphydryas aurinia. I found him when I was out in the Salisbury Plain Training Area searching for larval webs with Mervyn Grist and the Bulford Conservation Group (BCG). Mervyn has been conducting these larval surveys and collecting this important data with the help of the BCG since 2001.
During last year’s survey I didn’t find any. But this year I found three webs, two had been vacated but the second had three tiny black caterpillars inside. One of which is shown above.
The once widespread Marsh Fritillary has declined dramatically throughout Europe and is regarded as endangered or vulnerable in most of its range. The UK is actually one of its remaining strongholds, but even here it has declined by over 60% and has become extinct in much of Britain. However, Salisbury Plain is recognised as an important (and protected) breeding site for the species and fortunately at approx 300 square miles, it’s big, but better than that, it’s right on my doorstep.
Ironically protection for the butterfly has come because the British Army use about 150 square miles of the Plain as a military training area, particularly its heavy artillery and tank units. Subsequently this little butterfly has been nicknamed the ‘artillery fritillary’ or as I call it ‘Arty’. Due to about 340 days of live firing, about 39 square miles are permanently closed to the public, and access is greatly restricted in other areas, although conservation groups like ours can get access on non-firing days, subsequently it’s a wildlife haven and if you like butterflies. A privileged glimpse of what we’ve lost.
The female fritillary will look for Devils-bit scabious Succisa pratensis, crawling down through the vegetation to lay from 150-350 eggs in neat rows on the underside of one of the basal leaves. She seems to have a preference for prominent, medium-sized plants growing in a sunny position. After hatching the caterpillars spin a dense web for protection and after eating the first plant crawl off together to find and spin a web in another. They might do this several times.
Fortunately this makes surveying relatively simple. Spotting the dark purple flowers of ‘devil’s-bit’ is easy enough as is the rather conspicuous larval web. However, there is a lot of scabious on the Plain, which is a good thing, but bending over to check the base of each one, hour after hour, is back-breaking work. Can I just remind you I found 3 webs and 3 caterpillars.
As the caterpillars grow they moult their skin – each of these changes is called an instar. At the third instar they change from greenish-brown to black with a speckling of tiny white spots and rows of short black spines. At the end of August, early September the groups break up and individuals go their separate ways.
The caterpillars will reappear in February or early March after making a new web on a scabious plant where they may be seen clustered together absorbing the warmth of the sun. By early May they will have pupated into a chrysalis and the adults will start to emerge two or three weeks later.
Incidentally the little black dots around the caterpillar are frass (caterpillar poo).
Taking macro photos of insects is as much about luck as anything. But of course you increase your luck by being out there. I was laying on Morgans Hill trying to take a photograph of a grasshopper when this little lady crawled out of the grass allowing me to get this side-on shot. It’s a female Roesel’s Bush-cricket Metrioptera roeselii. You can tell it is a female by the scythe-like ovipositor and that it is Roesel’s by the yellow/green edge to the pronotum and the three spots/patches just behind on the abdomen.
Roesel’s are normally brown or yellow-brown with a hint of green and maybe a touch of red but this may be the rarer green form.
This is a cricket that was rare in Britain prior to the 20th Century and pretty much only found on the South-East coast of England. Since then it has rapidly increased its range in the South, to the North and West possibly helped by the rough grassland found along the sides of many of our roads which have provided it with ‘corridors’ inland.
It favours damp grassland that is relatively undisturbed. The male’s high pitched stridulation is meant to sound like the crackle of overhead electricity cables. Have a listen here thanks to http://www.orthoptera.org.uk
Let me know what you think?
The photo above of a second generation Adonis Blue Polyommatus bellargus taken at Martin Down in Hampshire shows the typical chequered fringe of the male. This is a butterfly which can only be confused with the male Common Blue Polyommatus icarus but in comparison that has a plain fringe as can be seen here. In my opinion the Adonis Blue is bluer, less purpley and the colour is rather more dense. I’ve found that the wings of the common blue are slightly translucent, so depending on the light, the spots and markings on the underwings can often just show through. You may just about be able to make this out depending on the quality of your monitor.
Adonis in Greek mythology, is the male god of beauty. This is certainly a handsome butterfly, arguably the most attractive of the British blues.
What do you think? Feel free to add your comments below.