Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A neglected Kentish orchard...

Immediately behind our house is an area of land that was once a thriving apple orchard, but has now been neglected for a number of years.
As nature reclaims the orchard, the habitat is gradually improving for insects and bugs. Until such time as the land is needed it makes for a great hunting ground, right on my doorstep.

I thought that I'd dedicate this blog entry entirely to creatures that I've found in this area in the past few days. Armed with my pith helmet and machete I ventured into the jungle...

This sawfly larva seems to be around in good numbers and I did find quite a few in a fairly small area of the old orchard.
I'm never sure on identity with these sawflies and so won't even attempt a guess here but I can show you another example of the same species-this one has some little hitch-hikers in the form of mites...

The next find was this very cool hopper. I think this one might be Aphrodes bifasciatus but once again not completely sure, as it's a variable species-I think it's safe to say that it's Aphrodes species though.

This species belongs to the cicadellidae family of leafhoppers.They feed by sucking plant sap from grass, shrubs or trees. This one was under 5mm in length.
My plant knowledge is pretty bad but I'm confident that this hopper is on Ribwort Plantain, there, that's left myself open to correction!
A couple more views

Each time I walk this particular area my footsteps are accompanied by the sound of crickets/grasshoppers calling but for some reason I've not got around to trying to photograph any-until now that is...

Roesel's Bush-cricket
I caught this one in full sun and it was quite lively, staying in one spot just long enough for a snap. It is Roesel's Bush-cricket (Metrioptera roeselii) a cricket that is separated from the similar Bog-Bush cricket by the pale yellow, or green border that edges the pronotum.
The song consists of long bursts of sound, said to resemble a dentist's drill.


I'd have to say that this little grasshopper pictured above was something of a star find for me. Not because it is anything special by way of rarity or form but just that I was amazed by the facial markings that appeared when I put the macro lens on it. I've said it many times now but this is what makes macro photography so special for me-the unexpected detail revealed through the lens.

It'd be obvious to choose the mottled grasshopper as an identity for this one but in truth, I have no idea which species it is! It was only around 10-15mm and found in an area of long grass beside water.

Edit: Since posting this image I've been told by a flickr contact that it's actually a cricket rather than grasshopper and could even be the same species as the one in the first picture (Thanks Neil) and so probably best to ignore what I've written about a possible identity!

The water  is actually a small pond and the pond is home to a host of insects and bugs. The dragonflies that I've seen in reasonable numbers previously, have been hit badly by our awful weather this year and numbers are way below what I would expect.

There have been some though as this empty larval skin shows. I spotted this prehistoric looking thing whilst searching for damselflies at the water's edge.

If the dragonfly skin looks like a monster to you then here's something I found that demonstrates the other extreme. The world must look like a pretty big place to this little turtle bug I spotted...

A Turtle Bug- Podops inuncta

Leptopterna dolabrata

Leptopterna dolobrata is a common species of large grass bug (Miridae) and the males are always fully-winged but females are usually partly-winged, as in the photo of a female above.

I said that the grasshopper/cricket was a star find for me and it was, but I was equally excited by another stellar spot-this time a beetle. Not just any old beetle though, oh, no!

This stunning creature is a beetle from the Buprestidae family. Known as jewel beetles for obvious reasons, sometimes also as metallic wood-boring beetles. I don't find these too often, I think this may only be the third in all the time I've been bug-hunting and so it was quite a treat.


Butterfly sightings in the old orchard have been limited to mostly meadow brown and ringlet. A few small skippers have begun to appear though and I also spotted a couple of comma's on nettle. I once overheard two gents discussing species and heard one say "Oh no, I don't like skippers, they're not a pretty butterfly" well, firstly to me that sounds a ridiculous statement, and secondly, I don't agree-I think they are very nice and I love the subtle colours.

This fly, pictured above is not the sharpest of images but was taken very early one morning in the orchard. I was trying to get some natural light shots hand-held but the light was poor and even dragging every drop of light I could into the camera, it still required a low shutter speed. It was windy too and has made me decide that before I attempt a similar excursion, I must get a device to hold foliage steady for me.

Anyhow, I wanted to include this one as it's quite an interesting looking fly and has great eye colour.  I think these are marsh flies.

Sometimes you have to look underneath leaves to find insects and bugs and that's how I came to find this strange looking critter. It was underneath a willow leaf.
I have seen something similar to this with ladybirds where the ladybird has been attacked by a parasite-I'm pretty sure that this is an aphid that has suffered a similar fate.

On that final gruesome note, I'll put an end to this update. Quite a lot of finds then for a small area that I didn't really spend much time in. I may add to this at a later date with an update of anything else of interest that turns up.

Until the next time...

Friday, July 13, 2012

To quote D.Ream "Things can only get better..."

Note: Actually, Prof. Brian Cox (erstwhile member of D.Ream) might well be able to supply the definitive answer as to just why the weather is behaving as it is this year?

And so here we go with another blog update...
As we climb deeper into this weird summer here in the U.K. most of my plans have bit the dust. At least, if there were any dust they would have done! It's not that I haven't been able to do the things I planned, just that most have ended in disappointment.

Perhaps I'm guilty of setting my sights a little higher with each passing year too but there's no escaping facts-2012 unless things change really soon, will go down as another strange time for many invertebrates (and those who choose to photograph and record them.)

All that is just a taster to the main course though, and keeping the food analogy going, it's going to be something of a schmorgesborg of an entry this time.

130+ words already-apologies, let's crack on then...

Close to Hastings is The Pebsham Countryside Project. Described as 'An open space with access for all' and spread over a vast area with mixed habitats, it seemed like a promising site for bug-hunting.

The day of my visit had been forecast as poor weather but it actually turned into a beautifully warm summer's day. Perhaps that was the problem? Maybe the inverts didn't want to be out in the hot sunshine and were all hiding away. 

I certainly struggled to photograph anything of interest-oh it's there alright, I have no doubt that. I'm sure on another day the results would be much better but today, although I did spot a fabulous adult slow-worm, a small heath butterfly, a few dragonflies and unidentified longhorn beetle-sadly, I managed to avoid getting photos of any of them somehow!

It won't take long to list what I did find either. Have a look at the following two photographs because they are the sum total of my pictures taken that day...

The longhorn beetle pictured above is a fairly common beetle at this time of year. Rutpela maculata, still a nice find for me though as it was actually the first one I'd seen this year. These are also known as spotted longhorns and I've read that the adults only live for between 2 and 4 weeks. That spotted, yellow camouflage of course is its attempt to look a little like a wasp to avoid attacks from birds.

Ichneumon stramentarius

Again, this Ichneumon wasp was great to see. I think it may even be the first one I've ever photographed. That is of course with the proviso that I've got the identity right for it.


Blean Woods close to Canterbury are alive with Heath Fritillary butterflies right now (providing you know where to look) and so I was assured of finding some to photograph on a recent visit...

Heath Fritillary
After taking more photos of these beauties than is healthy, I had a roam around other parts of the wood to see what I could spot.

When I came across this little bug pictured above, I thought I knew immediately what it was-that being a plant bug named Capsus ater. When I checked this out however, this bug is characterised by it's somewhat oval body shape and this one seems a little long/stretched when compared to other examples. It does have another tell-tale sign though, the antennae do seem to be swollen at the second segment and so possibly I was right all along?

Cryptocephalus bipunctatus
This  was a good spot. I have only found this leaf-beetle once before and it may have even been at Blean.Once again I hope my i.d. is correct, there are other possibilities!

A bit more luck at Blean then but once again, the finds were few and far between. 

I've been promising myself a return visit to the Rare Breeds Centre at Ham Street since it re-opened for the season in May. It has a butterfly house that I like to check out whenever I get a chance: this then was the next excursion. Would I fare any better here?


Let's give them the benefit of doubt and say that I miss-timed my visit and the season was almost over.
It has to be that or the butterfly house is sadly in decline. I know I did speak to one of the people who's job it is to care for the butterflies last year, and they were telling me that with all their other duties, it was impossible to give the butterfly house the amount of attention it required.

On the day of my visit this year I couldn't find a single example of a native species in the British Butterflies section-I'm not saying that there weren't any, but numbers must have been very low if I couldn't find one at all.

I did slightly better in the tropical house, where I think I spotted around six species but I had to hunt for those and their condition for the most part meant that I didn't feel I wanted to photograph them.

This Indian Leaf-butterfly was the highlight and almost made the visit worthwhile on its own. I managed this shot using natural light but it wasn't an easy thing to photograph as it was in front of the pale poly-tunnel material making for an awkward contrast.

Wandering round I found part of a wing from a long since deceased butterfly underneath a food tray and I decided to bring it home so that at some stage I can try a real close-up shot of the wing structure (if it stays in good enough condition.) 

And so it was that I left the Rare Breeds Centre a lot quicker than originally planned. On the way back to my car I was looking at the vegetation beside the pathway and found this pied shied-bug...

A frustrating few days then-that's how it goes sometimes and there will be other times when I'm spoiled for choice. As long as it evens itself out over the season, then I'm happy.

A flickr friend,STVPX(thewaspwhisperer) recently found a white earwig. In her text that accompanied her excellent photos (take a look at her whole photostream using the link, some fabulous work) she explained that the colour was due to a recent moult. That reminded me of one that I found myself but had put it's colour down to it being a junior. I now know the correct reason, so thanks must go to her for that.

Here's the one I found...

That seems more than enough for this particular entry-as I mentioned at the top, it's been a bit disjointed due to circumstances but I'll try and cobble together a more coherent entry in the next few days to get things back on track. If you've stayed with me this far, I thank-you. If not, then please do come back for the next edition! Oh, hang on, you won't be seeing this will you.

Until the next time then...