Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The blob!

On a recent bug hunt in woodland that is within 100 mtrs of home, I found a large fallen tree, that I would think had come down in the great storm of 1987.

The natural process of decomposition means that the bark is now separating from the wood of the trunk and knowing that such conditions can provide winter homes for many invertebrates, I decided to investigate.

Once again I was lucky enough to discover something new to me...

Now this is obviously a larva of some description but I haven't found anything like it before.

Actually, that's not quite true because on discovering this creature, it reminded me right away of cereal leaf beetle larvae,although this 'thing' doesn't have legs/feet-at least, no discernible ones.

I'm not sure if those spots around the lower edge of the abdomen are significant in identifying them?

Anyhow, I've had a bit of a poke around the internet and thumbed through some reference books and thus far, I only have two possibilities.
Figwort Weevil-Cionus scrophulariae larvae looked kind of similar but that's 
purely based on photographs, I'm not sure the habitat would fit.

Here's a photo (not one of mine) for comparison...

The other possible one is the Fungus Gnat larvae {Mycetophilidae) but again, I'm not convinced that's right either.It could be right but of the examples I've found so far,they see to be a different colour and longer shape.

I don't think it could be  a beetle larva but there is still diptera to consider and maybe even tipulidae?

Pretty sure this one isn't hoverfly either (famous last words) but here IS a hoverfly larva that I found close-by on the same day...

Under the same bark I spotted some very pretty little snails that I also can't recall seeing before...

Away from the fallen tree I came across a few more tiny snails-these were all in leaf litter and were I suppose about 3-4mm long...

This next one was my favourite find, a real beauty!

Back on the fallen tree, under yet more bark I found some nice fungi...

And my favourite fungi find...

Look under any fallen bark etc. and chances are before long you'll encounter one of these critters...

I think these would come under the heading of Acari, or Acarina. This is a taxon of arachnids that includes ticks and mites-all are very small, as this one was.

Another creature that is beginning to show up now that winter is on the way, is the nymph of what eventually becomes quite a large hopper-this one is Issus coleoptratus...

These hoppers overwinter as nymphs and I usually find them either in leaf litter or on ivy.

And that just about completes another blog entry.

Until the next time...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tales of springtails, as autumn tails into winter....

The autumn colours have not been very evident locally this year. There certainly hasn't been the big show that we've been expecting when so many of our native trees are full of colour at,or around the same time.

I have managed a few shots though..

The first two photos are of the lakes at Colliers Green, close to where I live and were taken using the DSLR camera. These are directly from the camera apart from re-sizing...

The second two are local farmland,even closer to home and these were taken using the little point and shoot camera. Although these two look as though I have altered the colours/saturation etc.. they are actually as they left the camera too.

The frosts have stayed away so far, apart from the odd one or two and that has meant that a lot of the insects that would normally be long gone, are still around this year...

Whilst out walking for less than an hour a couple of days ago, I came across a number of 'Darter' dragonflies.

There are also still lots of the wonderfully named 'Dung-flies' still around. These are some of the first flies to appear each year and I would expect to start seeing them again as early as February...

This particular pair seem to be doing their best to assure there will be plenty around next year-well, the male does anyhow, the female seems more interested in eating!

We haven't had it all our own way regards the weather though, on one particular day for instance we had a hail storm...

The damper conditions has seen the numbers of those tiny critters called springtails, or more correctly 'Collembola' increase in numbers and I have captured a few pictures,although as the winter gets going, no doubt I'll be doing a lot more...

Here's one (pictured above) of a globular springtail taken on a flower seed head. There isn't an awful lot of fine detail on this one but they are very small to try and photograph without using flash and at the time I didn't have that option.

They come in many different colours and sizes...

This little orange coloured one was busy feeding and seemed unaware of the monster waiting to prey on it? Or is that all in my imagination perhaps?

For those of you interested in such matters, I think these are Monobella grassei, here's another view of one...


Lastly for now,I'm always saying that what I love so much about macro photography is that I can never be sure just what I will find on any given day. This next picture illustrates the point well...

A thrown away crisp packet revealed lots of water droplets on the underside, on closer inspection of a dark #blob' in one droplet, I found to my amazement that the blob was moving and it was actually a little brown mite.

Somehow the water tension seemed to be too strong and it was struggling to free itself from it's watery prison. I took this shot and they gave it a helping hand, well, even a mite deserves to live.

Until the next time then...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Ash dieback, it's no laughing matter...

My usual style of writing these blog entries is to try and inject a little humour to compliment some interesting dialogue.

Sometimes the subject matter requires a tad more gravitas though. The 'ash-dieback' caused by the chalara fraxinea fungus that is making headlines across the U.K. is a case in point.

As I write this update the disease now threatens most of the estimated 80 million ash trees and worryingly for me personally, there have now been 9 confirmed sites in my own gloriously,tree rich county of Kent.

People have already said to me that it won't be a disaster on the scale forecast by those in the know! This seems to be based around the (crazy to my way of thinking) premise that we had DED (Dutch elm disease) in the 1970s that devastated our native elm trees, yet nature reclaimed the open spaces that the felled elm left behind, and now, most people are none the wiser.

Well, there's an old saying that 'Nature abhors a vacuum' based on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something.

But to me the loss of these native trees is of huge importance and whilst it's true that nature will compensate by filling voids with other things, eventually the very nature of our British landscape and countryside will be changed forever.

Without getting into the politics of how and why this disease has taken hold in our county, there are, as always, knock-on effects to consider.
Ash dieback could have a devastating effect on our invertebrate population-especially those that rely solely on ash.

The Invertebrate Conservation Trust points out that there are 27 species
that rely almost entirely on ash for survival.
7 species that rely on ash are already considered to be rare. Nearly 100
invertebrate species in total are known to feed on ash.

Platyrhinus resinosus
This fabulous looking weevil pictured above is one of the species that is thought to rely solely on ash. It's not known to be associated with any other species as far as I know.

That of course means that should we lose all of our native ash trees, this wonderful creature would become extinct.

Ash woodlands have light, open canopies, so are an important habitat for flora such as bluebells. Birds like bullfinches feed on the trees' seeds.
Also, ash provides an important habitat for more than a quarter of Britain's lichen, including some of the nationally rare species.

I purloined this little graphic from the internet that shows how the loss of ash trees could affect nature...

It's a serious subject that I could bang on about for ages and turn this little blog update into a mighty tome but I won't do that because I would like to think that you'll return another day, to at least glance at future missives.

I'll return very soon with a more 'normal' style of entry- probably still no 'knob' gags though!

Until the next time then...

As a postscript I'd like to apologise if I have misused 'effect' and 'affect', I can't remember the verb/noun thingy but, you get the gist I hope?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

'Something nice'...twice!

Just when I was starting to think that it was all over for this year and my aching feet that have already been stuffed into wellies for too long, and the inevitable cake of mud that returns with me from my daily walks is telling me that escape from winter isn't an option,the same thing that happens most years, surprised me yet again.

Why does it surprise me? Because my memory would rival a goldfish for longevity. And what is it that occurred? Merely the appearance of what I like to refer to as 'something nice'...

Click on any photo for a larger view
Pogonocherus hispidus-A Longhorn Beetle

Of course, 'something nice' is what I'm always hoping to find but when something nice turns up at this end of the season, it gives me that kind of 'perhaps it's not all over just yet' feeling and encourages me to search with renewed vigour,at least until either I realise it was just a 'one off' or maybe the weather intervenes.

I have come across this beautiful little beetle before but usually in the springtime. I understand that some of this species overwinter as adults though and I do recall once spotting one in February.

It isn't easy to get an idea of size from these photos but body length is only around 5-7mm.

The patterns on the insect are said to be an attempt at mimicking bird droppings as a means of camouflage.
These beetles also rejoice in the name of 'Lesser Thorn-tipped Longhorn Beetles' If you take a look at the closer shot below, you will see the two thorn-like projections at the end of the abdomen that give it this name.

This beetle turns up fairly frequently across England and Wales. The much rarer P.fasciculatus is a notable B. species and can be distinguished by the lack of thorn-like projections.

There is yet another very similar beetle with a similar name too-this one is 'Pogonocherus hispidulus' and although it can easily be mistaken for the same beetle, it has much more white on the abdomen and also a white patch on the antennae.

Here's one that I photographed a while ago, for comparison...

And so to quote a line from a song that I can't remember the title of (see what I mean about my memory)..."This is where the story ends"-well, actually, no.

Because, no sooner had one 'something nice' come along, than I was gifted with a second...

This large female Ichneumon wasp was sitting on some fence netting and she was unusually cooperative.

The term 'Ichneumon Wasp' is used rather loosely to refer to wasps in the family Ichneumonidae. There is actually a genus called ichneumon but it is not easy to distinguish from related genera.

Identification of these wasps can be a real challenge with approaching 3,000 U.K. species and little information available.

I did find a check-list of British species at the Biological Records Centre when trying to identify this one but it runs to 162 pages and is just a list of names with no pictures to help.

Dr Gavin Broad of The Natural History Museum said this : 

"There are some ichneumons that can be readily identified from photos, such as Amblyteles armatorius, or Ichneumon suspiciosusOphion obscuratus is a wasp often photographed and easily recognised (its main confusion species is very rare and can almost always be readily discounted). Some of the larger Tryphoninae can be fairly easily identified and many of the larger Ichneumoninae can be recognised on colour pattern, if one is familiar with the species [that's quite a big 'if'!].
"It is also worth noting that Chinery's photographic guide has a page of ichneumonids entirely incorrectly named."

Here's a different species of parasitic wasp that I photographed a couple of years ago (might even be 3 years ago...memory!)

A colourful image to end on-here's a juvenile pill millipede that I discovered under a dis-guarded piece of red plastic...

Until then next time then...