Aphantopus hyperantus – female
Here’s another photograph from back in July, again from Morgans Hill. This time it’s the Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus.
This example is in full sun and therefore appears to be a rather pale brown, but at least that allows you to see the detail. The plumper body suggests this may be a female. However, when freshly emerged the colour is a much darker, velvety chocolate, verging on almost black in some instances. You can get a flavour of this in the example below that I photographed in July 2012 which I’m guessing may be a male. And a very handsome butterfly it is too with the contrast of the delicate white lace-like fringes to the wing edges.
Note the variation in the spots which are much more prominent on the specimen above.
Thymelicus lineola – female
Here’s a photo from Morgans Hill that I took back in July of a female Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola. Followers in North America may recognise this butterfly as the European Skipper. It closely resembles our Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris which it is often found in company with, but that species lacks the black tips to its antenna.
Because of the similarities, it is often under-recorded and for this reason was not recognised as a separate species until 1889. As such it was the last British resident species to be described.
Pararge aegeria – male
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.
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?
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
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.
Pholidoptera griseoaptera – Female
On Saturday I attended a course on Grasshoppers, Crickets and Allied Insects. Allied insects covers groundhoppers, our native cockroaches and the earwigs. So what did I learn? In the UK there appear to be eleven grasshoppers, about fourteen crickets, four true crickets and three groundhoppers, all of which can be identified in the field or from photographs and then keyed out. So for once there isn’t really any need to collect specimens, particularly as most will lose their colour after death anyway. Three of the crickets, the Field Cricket, the Mole Cricket and the fabulously named Wartbiter are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and so cannot even be handled without a licence from Natural England. Apparently even taking photographs of them is discouraged as this could be interpreted as interference.
One of the more unusual day flying moths I’ve encountered on Morgans Hill is the Mother Shipton Callistege mi which has a very distinctive cream-edged dark brown central blotch on each forewing which is said to resemble the face of an old hag or witch. Look and you’ll see a beady eye, long hooked nose, downturned mouth and knobbly chin. Read more
Cupido minimus – Male
When I saw my first Small Blue Cupido minimus I was surprised at just how tiny it is. The wingspan of our smallest butterfly can be as little as 16mm, so it’s well named. It’s rare though, being no more than locally common even in its strongholds of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. Here in Wiltshire up on Morgan’s Hill I’ve only come across it in one sheltered spot and even there it’s largely confined to the base of one steep bank. Read more
Parasemia plantaginis – Male
You’ve probably gathered I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to butterflies. Well then it’ll come as no surprise that I’m even more so when it comes to moths. However, when I’m out surveying, particularly at Morgans Hill, I quite often see a few day-flying macro moths like this fantastic Wood Tiger Parasemia plantagins but if anything they’ve proved even harder to photograph. One afternoon I saw four of these, yet as soon as I brought my macro lens anywhere near they were off, catching the wind like little kites and then arching through the air 30 or 40 feet at a time. Most of the time I soon lost track of them across the steep terrain. But I guess eventually I had to get lucky and eventually I did. This little male sat still for a split second longer than usual and here’s the result. Read more