Friday, June 27, 2014

Bugs at Low Burnhall

Low Burnhall is a Woodland Trust reserve just south of Durham city, with new tree planting to link up fragments of ancient woodland. It will take a while to produce a continuous woodland canopy but in the meantime the existing woodland and large areas of open grassland are home to a wide range of interesting insects species.

Our best find on this visit was this handsome wasp beetle, Clytus arietis, an amazing example of mimicry. It not only looks like a wasp, it moves like a wasp too, with the same jerky walk. No sting, perfectly harmless. Breeds in decaying wood - we found it close to the rotting fallen branches of an old willow.

Our visit coincided with the hatching of scores of five-spot burnet moths.

Unhatched .....

..... and hatched five-spot burnet cocoons

Newly emerged five-spot burnets mating

Possibly the shortest courtship ever - these two five-spot burnets emerged simultaneously from the upper and lower cocoon and mated immediately

There were plenty of newly-emerged ringlet butterflies around. They even fly in light rain.

A very unlucky large skipper, caught by a spider. Maybe the two froghoppers will be luckier when they emerge from their cuckoo spit.

The caterpillar of the Timothy tortrix moth Aphelia paleana, which feeds on a wide range of plants including docks and plantains, as well as Timothy grass. Thanks to Colin Duke for identifying this for me, via the excellent iSpot web site

A capsid bug - I think this is the cock'sfoot bug Leptopterna dolobrata

A sawfly, which I think is a Tenthredo species , feeding on buttercup nectar

Forest shieldbug, Pentatoma rufipes, on an oak leaf.

Kentish snail Monacha cantiana, found inside a curled-up hogweed leaf. Thanks to Martyn John Bishop and Steve Gregory for identifying this for me, also via the excellent iSpot web site

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Irises at Dawdon

This rather lovely iris, which I think is probably an old Iris spuria hybrid (not the typical I.spuria which is blue), is growing on the site of the old colliery at Dawdon on the Durham coast. There's a second plant growing on the cliffs nearby. 

It's tempting to speculate that these plants are survivors from the gardens of the old terraced colliery houses, which were demolished along with the colliery many years ago. The site is now open limestone grassland, covered with wild flowers.

To see some pictures of another unusual garden escape iris, Iris sibirica, on sand dunes on the Northumberland coast, click here

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

South Tynedale Railway

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary concerns the wonderful South Tynedale Railway at Alston in Cumbria, a narrow gauge line that epitomises the spirit of the small country railway.

Even this saddletank steam locomotive, Harrogate, here being refilled from the water tower by her fireman, harmonises with the line-side vegetation. Harrogate began her life as a shunter in a gasworks but is now in fine fettle in this rural retirement.

On this occasion we decided to follow the footpath beside the track out from Alston into glorious Cumbrian landscape. In summer the lineside is fringed with wild flowers, including spotted orchids, and some very fine displays of guelder rose (above).

The line crosses the South Tyne about half a mile out of town and it was while we were leaning over the bridge parapet that we watched this spotted flycatcher, flitting out from an ash branch and snatching insects. The afternoon was so still that you could hear the bird's beak snap shut over its prey.

Harrogate caught up with us and steamed past, sounding her whistle, hissing steam and pulling her rattling carriages, clicketty-clacking over the rail joints. After she'd passed and disappeared around the bend in the track the flycatcher was still on its branch, undisturbed by the passing mechanical monster. 

A transport system at one with its rural surroundings...

For some more photos of wildlife and scenery along the South Tynedale Railway, click here

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cucumber green spider

This little green spider is Araniella cucurbitina, sometimes known as the cucumber green spider. It's quite common here in Durham at this time of year and often weaves its snare across leaf surfaces, blending beautifully with its background.. 

It hangs under its web, impaling any small insects that become entangled and dragging them through the snare.

This one set its snare across a leaf of our apple tree

Monday, June 9, 2014

Exploring the undergrowth

I spent a couple of hours last week, on a warm, humid afternoon, exploring the undergrowth at Deepdale Nature Reserve in Barnard Castle. The boggy ground on either side of the footpath was overgrown with butterburr leaves, meadowsweet, vetches, red campion and docks and was seething with insects and spiders.  These are a few that I managed to capture on camera. 

Earwig  - for more about earwigs click here

Female scorpionfly

Male scorpionfly - for more about scorpionflies click here

The beautifully iridescent green dock leaf beetle  - for more about this species click here

A sawfly that I haven't managed to ID for sure yet - for more sawflies click here 

A spider, Tetragnatha extensa, with a golden abdomen. For more spiders click here.

A very bug-eyed mayfly - possibly Ephemera danica. For more on mayflies click here.

A common green capsid bug Lygocoris pabulinus - for more on capsid bugs click here

A staphylinid beetle stretching its wings....

..... curling up its tail in characteristic defensive mode ....

..... and with its wings packed away, showing the extremely short wing cases. For more staphylinid beetles click here

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Garden visitors

Some recent garden insect visitors during the last week. Thanks to Africa Gomez, author of the always fascinating BugBlog for IDing some of these for me.

I think this hoverfly, that had a conspicuously loud buzz and frequently returned to the same sunny spot when disturbed, is a narcissus fly Merodon equestris. Probably its larvae are even now feeding on our daffodil bulbs.

I think this is a small cuckoo bee (Nomada sp.?) visiting a Welsh poppy

An azure damselfly that hatched from our garden pond - didn't know until then that they were breeding there

A large hoverfly, identified for me by Africa Gomez as Myathropa florea

A sawfly Arge ustulata, whose larvae feed on the leaves of various hedgerow trees and shrubs

Two froghopper larvae that were inadvertently separated from their frothy 'cuckoo spit' when I was weeding the garden. They quickly blew some more bubbles.

An exquisitely metallic hoverfly soldier fly with interference colours in its eyes (thanks to Africa Gomez for the ID)

The solitary bee Osmia rufa collecting pollen and nectar from the poached egg plant Limnanthes douglasii. You can see here how they collect pollen on the underside of their abdomen. Thanks to Africa Gomez for the correct ID.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Fraught Courtship of Wolf Spiders

Thurday's Guardian Country Diary is a description of the courtship of wolf spiders

The low stone wall along our garden path is a favourite haunt of wolf spiders, like this male that has caught and is eating a fly. Wolf spiders don't make webs - they stalk their prey, so any fly landing on the sun-warmed stones is taking a big risk.

The male wolf spiders detect the presence of females while they are still hidden in the undergrowth - there must be some scent communication. As soon as the males detect a possible mate they begin signalling with the black palps on either side of their head - left,.....

..... then right, alternately ..... then he lowers both and vibrates his front pair of legs, before repeating the whole performance which can go on for hours

The female is larger than the male and very aggressive, so he creeps up on her a little at a time, attempting to pacify her and mate. She repeatedly chases him away, but he doesn't give up.

Here he's captured her attention and is signalling furiously with those palps ...

...... and edges closer. Eventually, when he has her confidence, he transfers sperm to her with those brush-like palps ...

...and then she appears with her egg case attached to the tip of her abdomen, speeding up incubation by sunbathing on the warm stones. Eventually.........

..... she appears with the hatched spiderlings attached to her abdomen. They'll cling to her for a few days until they can fend for themselves.

Double clicking on images will produce a larger, clearer image