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.
Last weekend I attended a workshop on Auchenorrhyncha hosted by Alan Stewart and Tristan Bantock, superbly organised by Mike Edwards of the British Entomological and Natural History Society (BENHS). More info about BENHS here and the Auchenorrhyncha Recording Scheme here.
Leafhoppers, planthoppers, froghoppers, treehoppers and cicadas are a sub-order of insects from the order Hemiptera that I know little about, despite the fact there are around 400 species in the UK. I’ve rarely seen or photographed any of them but I did get a photo of this red and black froghopper or ‘spittlebug’ Cercopis vulnerata earlier in the year at West Yatton Down. This should be an easy species for me to remember in future as it is our only red and black ‘spittlebug’ and our only ‘hopper in the family Cercopidae.
As a quick way of telling them apart, leafhoppers Cicadellidae have rows of spines on their rear legs (hind tibiae). Planthoppers Delphacidae have a large moveable thumb (spur) on their hind legs and froghoppers Cercopidae and Aphrophoridae have one or two stout spines on their rear legs.
We only have two treehoppers Membracidae and both have a backward extension of the pronotum (basically the back of the head is pointed like a spine). As for Cicadas, we only have one species, the New Forest Cicada Cicadetta montana which is very possibly extinct in Britain.
They are good indicators of site quality, particularly grassland, so I’ll be keeping a look out for them next year on Salisbury Plain.
Leptophyes punctatissima – female
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.
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.
Gonepteryx rhamni, male
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.
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?
Last weekend I managed an early morning trip to Martin Down in Hampshire. In many ways it felt like the last day of summer. Certainly many of the butterflies, particularly the Dark Green Fritillaries and many of the Skippers were well past their best, distinctly tatty. But I usually find something interesting to gawp at and this time it was this wee beastie, the Giant Tachinid Fly Tachina grossa. Read more
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.
I hate it when the clocks go back. It’s still dark when I have to get up and already black as pitch when I finish work. Yet some creatures welcome the night, like this handsome copper-eyed chap I disturbed whilst stacking logs, the Common or European Toad Bufa bufa. Which you may notice has a tautonymous scientific name, where the first part, the genus, is exactly the same as the second part, the specific epithet.
Unless woken prematurely, toads normally remain hidden during the day to avoid being attacked by predators. Whilst it’s true that they are able to secrete a nasty irritant from their skin which prevents many predators from eating them. It doesn’t work on grass snakes or that other nocturnal wanderer the hedgehog, or help them much if they’ve just received a mauling from a domestic cat or a stabbing from a heron, so it makes sense to keep out of sight. If they avoid being eaten then they can be surprisingly long-lived, up to 50 years in captivity, although in the wild they’ll be lucky to reach twelve.
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.