Saturday, August 24, 2013

Don't waste your walk chatting on the phone...

The countryside isn't an extended office-get off your phone and watch what your dog is doing, stop it from messing on the footpath and from pestering people (me) who want to experience the surroundings in solitude.....

Did I say that out-loud? I was just letting off steam...

I should begin this update with a reflection on my last-you might remember it was partly about some fox moth caterpillars that I had discovered as eggs and had assumed they had reached maturity as larvae...



Well that turned out to be quite wrong as they continued to feed and grow and now have evolved into something quite different...



As well as being hirsute,I have also learnt that this colouration is referred to as rufous, meaning reddish-brown and is actually used as an adjective name for many animals, and in particular birds. It's also where the name of the moth is derived I guess.



A spider....Oh! Spider alert for those who are averse here...a spider that I have been seeing fairly regularly of late is the crab spider Misumena vatia...


These are remarkably able to change colour from white to yellow, although I have read this can take up to 20 days with the reverse only taking 6 days. 

It's thought that this species lives for no more than 2 years and so, let me think...20 days to change, 6 to change back...erm......over 2 years, only 28 times max?


These spiders don't spin a web to catch their prey-rather they use the colour change/camouflage trick and then grab their prey with front legs that have tiny hooks at the tip. Then, instead of wrapping the prey in silk as many spiders do, they will (here comes the gory bit) hold the prey and suck all of its bodily fluids dry.

And so what is the web/silk in my photo above? Well this is a female and I know that they use silk to protect their eggs (yes, these spiders lay eggs) and so I assume that's what's going on here and she is protecting her offspring.

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Having been lucky enough to see painted lady butterflies this summer,I began searching for evidence of egg laying on thistle. It was always a long shot and I found none, but did discover more moth eggs...


A few days later these extremely small caterpillars began emerging...



Having moulted at least once (not quite sure how many times) they looked like this...


I'm sure you won't be too surprised when I tell you that I have no idea of identity at this stage,
 but will try and keep observing to see if later instars provide better clues.





     I did come across another couple of eggs that I am sure are moth...



They turned this amazing red colour just before hatching...


What emerged however, was not bright red larvae but...well...I have to be honest here and say that I've failed to get any photos that I am happy with as yet-but as soon as I do, I'll post here...


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A couple of strange ones now-something unexpected that I found on alder and has been puzzling me ever since. This little bug? Parasitised somehow or is it as simple as it hasn't emerged properly? 



All I can really add is that it was still alive at this stage but didn't make the following day. I did see something similar a few years ago, but that involved a fly-I have tried to locate that picture but my filing system is less than perfect and....no chance!


Again, with this next 'thing' I have photographed one before but didn't get a positive i.d. at the time, with most people thinking it was spider related...


It was only around 15mm or so across and woolly looking. It was firmly attached to the underside of the leaf and there was no sign of activity close by. Tell you what...if I find out what this is for sure I'll tell you, as long as you tell me if you already know?

Enough for now, just to add that for anyone who follows my monthly article in print, I promised to provide a full list of butterfly species spotted within half a mile of home this year...

They are, in no particular order, to date:

Brimstone
Common Blue
Speckled Wood
Comma
Peacock
Red Admiral
White Admiral
Large White
Small White
Green-veined White
Gatekeeper
Silver-washed Fritillary
Small Tortoiseshell
Small Copper
Green Hairstreak
Large Skipper
Small Skipper
Orange Tip
Holly Blue
Painted Lady
Ringlet
Clouded Yellow

Until the next time...



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...

video
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...