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Posts tagged ‘England’

Far beyond the pale horizon

Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, female

Polyommatus icarus – female

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.

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Hawthorn Sheildbug

Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale

Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale

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.

 

Roesel’s Bush-cricket

Roesel's Bush-cricket, Metrioptera roeselii, male

Metrioptera roeselii – male

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

It’s also said to be reminiscent of the song of the Savi’s warbler. You can listen to that here thanks to http://www.rspb.org

Let me know what you think?

 

Blood spewers

Bloody-nosed beetles, Timarcha tenebricosa

Timarcha tenebricosa, male and female

The bloody-nosed beetle Timarcha tenebricosa or blood spewer as it is sometimes known from its defensive habit of exuding a bright red-orange fluid from its mouth. This fluid is foul-tasting to predators, seriously irritating the mouth of birds and mammals. Subsequently it can sometimes be seen wandering around in daylight largely unmolested. Read more

Juniper green

Green Hairstreak butterfly, Callophrys rubi, Male

Callophrys rubi – Male

I came across this easily overlooked green and gold-edged beauty while out on a 9 mile river amphibia walk on Salisbury Plain. It’s unusual I guess to see a Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi sitting amongst nationally threatened Juniper Juniperus communis famous for its aromatic berries used to flavour Gin.

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Rosemary, lavender, sage and thyme

Rosemary Beetle, Chrysolina americana

Chrysolina americana

Twenty years ago you would be lucky to see this attractive metallic green and purple-striped beetle outside a greenhouse. The Rosemary Beetle Chrysolina americana was first discovered living outdoors in Surrey in 1994. Since then it has become widespread throughout southern England. They are commonly found on aromatic herbs, mainly rosemary but also on lavender, sage and thyme.

This one was found on rosemary whilst I was attending a course on bumblebees in Winchester, Hampshire.

Common Wasp

Common Wasp – Vespula vulgaris

Vespula vulgaris

I togged this Common Wasp Vespula vulgaris in the garden when it paused for a moment to soak up some November sun after enjoying the never to ripen pinot noir on my grape vine. Now here’s an insect with attitude. Mess with these guys and they will sting you multiple times. But rarely without reason.

I realise they can be rather irritating if you are enjoying a pint in a beer garden or al fresco dining on a warm summers day. But they are usually harmless unless you absentmindedly drink one or allow one to crawl down past the gold medallion glinting from the depths of your far too open-neck shirt and then start leaping about like the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Obviously I’m making allowances for the innocent, babies, small children and those who suffer from adverse reactions to stings. Anaphylactic shock is no laughing matter. But nothing amuses me more than seeing a grown man or woman running around and screaming like a jessie convinced he or she is being chased by a wasp. As if. Wasps are far too cool.

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Jasper

Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis

Clytus arietis

Here’s an interesting beetle I found at Langford Lakes back in May. The Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis is one of the longhorn flower beetles and a convincing wasp-mimic. Both the protective yellow and black colouration and its wasp-like movements give it some protection from predatory birds. If you see it quickly scuttling over vegetation looking for flowers full of nectar and pollen, where it often imitates the distinctive sideways walk of the wasp, it’s not surprising if at first glance this fast-moving insect is mistaken for a jasper.

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Spiced orange

Comma Butterfly – Polygonia c-album (Female)

Polygonia c-album

This wet and cold weather will soon kill off the remainder of our summer insects, but quite a few of our butterflies will survive by hibernating. These include the Brimstone, Comma, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and to a lesser extent the Red Admiral (as the majority of these will migrate south back to the continent).

However, the business of finding a suitable spot and settling down for winter is a gradual process. So it is still possible to see a few butterflies on a sunny autumn day, particularly if you scan a good patch of bramble. My current favourites are the pristine, late-emerged specimens of the Comma Polygonia c-album. Basking in the sun with their wings wide-open these raggedy-edged, spiced-orange beauties really do stand out against the dark green leaves. But when, as in the photo below, they have their wings folded, they can be slightly harder to spot.

But that’s a good thing as it is this dark cryptic camouflage and irregular outline that will help keep them safe amongst the dry leaves of winter. Hiding them from the prying eyes of hungry birds and spiders.

Note the characteristic white mark or ‘comma’ on its rear underwing which gives this butterfly its common name. Personally I think it looks more like a squashed ‘v’ but let’s not get into an argument over aurelian typography.

If it survives the winter then it can be one of the first butterflies on the wing next year with sightings as early as January. And I for one will be glad to see it.

Comma butterfly with wings closed – Polygonia c-album (Female

Polygonia c-album

Wasp spider

wasp spider – argiope bruennichi – female

Argiope bruennichi – Female

I’m fascinated by insects but spiders give me the willies. I found this strikingly coloured example a couple of weeks back while practicing my grasshopper identification skills in Winchester, Hampshire. It’s a female Wasp Spider Argiope bruennichi which is a species of orb spider.

Initially believed to be a Mediterranean species it has been recorded in small numbers on the south coast since the early 1920s. However, it has started to spread slowly northwards and has recently been found at Lakenheath Fen in Norfolk. Here in Wiltshire it was first recorded in 1999 but is still a relative rarity as it only becomes established where long grass is not regularly managed. To survive wasp spiders need warm summers and mild winters, so with global warming they may become a far more common sight.

Be warned though, although non-poisonous if mishandled she can bite and her fangs are certainly strong enough to pierce human skin.

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