Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Style,grace and class.....Not!

Phew! Finally made it back here to update. Life gets in the way sometimes...so unfair!

At the closing of my last update I hinted that I'd been lucky enough to witness another 'first' regards invertebrates moulting. This time it was, well let me show you a photograph, maybe you will recognise the individual?

Click any photo for a larger view

A bit unfair I suppose because it is kinda contorted here as it struggles to free itself from the exoskeleton, but it is actually a speckled bush cricket...

I guess I watched for around 15 minutes and it still wasn't completely free of its old 'skin'...so vulnerable for such a long time.

Back in June whilst visiting Blean Woods near Canterbury, I spotted what I thought were emperor moth eggs-the only doubt in my mind came from the fact that they were on grass and I know that bramble is the main food-plant for emperors...

I took a few home to observe and meantime had another look at emperor eggs to see if these were a match...

I found these on the internet and they look a good match to me.

The only thing to do was to wait for the caterpillars to emerge, offer them both grass and bramble and see which they preferred?

It was quite a wait! Like a pregnant father I paced up and down for the next 15 days-slightly melodramatic? Possibly, but I had started to think that nothing was ever going to happen. But then...

Hmmm...looking very like emperor caterpillars aside from being a tad more hairy, or possibly just that the hairs seem a bit long? Once they'd demolished the shells, I added fresh bramble and grass and waited...

I guess you'd call the result inconclusive! Some headed for the grass, others the bramble and each tucked into their chosen meal. Perhaps the first moult would prove conclusive?

Well certainly with that orange banding starting to appear, they are looking less emperor-like, but what could they be?

They continued to feed and grow well and by the time of their last moult I finally realised that what I had were not emperor moth caterpillars at all but fox moth.

A new one on me, I hadn't seen either the moth or larvae before but they are impressive caterpillars, being about equal in proportion, but slightly slimmer, than the emperors...

The amount of butterflies and caterpillars I have been sighting has definitely increased dramatically of late, after what has been another poor year to date, at least locally. On a wander around farmland the other day, I saw these small tortoiseshell caterpillars...

By the way, as they approach pupating, caterpillars increase their intake quite markedly and here's a little video of one of my poplar hawk moth cats doing just that. This is real time..it's also a bit shaky as it was hand-held by...my shaky hand...

Just a reminder that this won't show in the e.mailed version of my blog

Now as often happens, I have been preoccupied with leafhoppers of late, just because I found an interesting one whilst looking for something else and that started me searching for more...and more...and...well, you get the picture? And if you haven't got the picture yet-here it is...

I couldn't offer an identity for this tiny nymph but, it's kind of cute, especially so when you consider the next photo...

I had to get the macro lens on this one as they are so small, I suppose it was about 3mm or so but once I had,I could see the huge hole in its abdomen, or perhaps more accurately, where its abdomen had been?

 Gruesome enough, but then...I was sure I could see movement inside! I waited a while and checked again-holy smoke! (apologies for all the exclamation marks) There was something and like a scene from Alien, it began to emerge (Don't use another exclamation mark John....don't...don't...just don't!.........Bugger!) What crawled out of the hopper was this...

What is it? No idea would be the closest I could get at present. It sort of looks like a dayglo hoverfly larva but, as 80's songstress Toyah once sang...'It's a mystery' for now at least.

Vying for the title of brightest addition to this blog update is this next little hopper nymph...

At least I can i.d. this one though; it's a rhododendron hopper. They turn this bright yellow colour at about the third moult, having previously been off white...

The adult is quite colourful too...

Erm...this is a bit out of sync should have added it when I was talking about parasites but anyhow; is this perhaps another, or even the same type of parasite still inside a hopper?

I may be at risk of repeating myself here but this kind of thing is what keeps me so interested and enthralled by nature. This year is the first time I have found/seen anything like this and each year brings something new. As somebody once said...'No man can be truly called an entomologist, the subject is too vast', or something similar to those words and the point is that there will always be a surprise around the corner as long as I keep looking.

Now...what this entry needs to really complete it with style, grace and class is a picture of some caterpillar poo...

You'll thank me one day you know? The next time you're at a dinner party and the conversation turns to invertebrate feces, you will be without doubt the only guest who can offer to identify caterpillar poo. Just to ensure that should that fact not be sufficient for folks to think you're some kind of oracle, you could quickly add that the poop of the alder moth (for that's what this is) is....groovy! 

Until the next time...


  1. hahaha mate you make me laugh ... you gotta be the only blog on the internet that has photos of caterpillar poo! :D
    The natural history stuff you have on here is amazing ... so impressive ... you really do have the 'eye' for insects and not just a photo but the whole story of their interesting and often traumatic lives! :)

    1. Awe,thanks mate....you are always so supportive of my efforts.

  2. Incredible blog JJ! Amazed at those hopper parasites. Fascinating! Wonder what they are. Certainly the day-glo one looks Diptera-ish, but don't know which species. Bet Tristan and Joe would be interested in those. Find it astonishing that insects, such as that green hopper, can carry on living with the parasite inside. Endo-parasites I think?

    Found a Grey dagger moth last week that seems to have been paralysed, with a cocoon. Just like the ladybirds! In fact, Jason Elmore had even collected one some time ago and raised it. He then photographed the wasp that eventually emerged. It is gruesome, but intriguing at the same time I think.

    Love the caterpillars; especially the monster muncher footage!! They certainly eat at an amazing rate.
    Got 2 sawfly larvae on my rose and they're devouring that quickly too!

    Fantastic to have found the skin shedding cricket and managed such beautifully detailed shots as well! I always wonder at how they can manage to pull their legs out of their and leave effectively, hollow legs!!

    Best wishes


  3. Thank-you Maria. Nature just keeps giving us new material to work with eh...so interesting to hear of your own find and Jason's observations too.

  4. Another fascinating blogg JJ. The dayglo one is amazing. Never seen a Cricket moult before, and as for caterpiller poo, usually easier to use this to locate the caterpiller. As you say, everytime you find something, there is something new to learn, One of my Tiger Moths had been parasitized, Tachnid fly of somesort, what I didn't realise was the caterpiller had to eat the egg of the fly from the food plant. Got a collection of Commas now, wonder how many of them will be what they are meant to be !!


    1. Thanks Jason,good to hear from you.How interesting about the parasites you have witnessed. Nature is just amazing eh. Good luck with the commas...had those a while ago without any problems at all.

      BTW...Got put in my place by somebody unloading sheep at M.M. the other day! Told me I couldn't park until she'd done and so I left her to it :-)

  5. What fantastic images! I particularly love the just-hatched caterpillars with their egg shells. And I have to tell you I, too, have a blog with pictures of caterpillar poop...discovered when a friend's daughter raised a Cecropia moth in a plastic jug, and later in the woods!

  6. Just double-checked and there's no caterpillar poop on my blog (must remedy that very soon) but there's some on my Flickr account!

  7. Ha....thanks for your comments...will check out that link too...


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