Monday, January 06, 2014

Michelin man and the Magnet...

Having never been respectful of rules and boundaries, I have no problem at all in snubbing the unwritten law that states it's bad form to apologise for the lack of recent blog updates.
I spent Christmas and New Year suffering from what I had thought was a troublesome cough, but was actually pneumonia.
And so blogging wasn't something I had the energy for.

Anyhow, brave little soldier that I am, I will struggle on and update right away...

Click to enlarge
Exciting  news to start 2014 actually; I have been invited to write a monthly article for a second magazine. This time I am pleased to say that I have the luxury of a full page and full-colour photographs too.

There is now a link at the right hand side of this blog to a page where I will upload a copy of each issue as published. The magazine is 'Magnet'- Please do take a look.

Late in December whilst looking for collembola, I found an oak leaf with a couple of galls still attached. I put it in my bag to take home and photograph on one, or any, of the bad weather days we have been getting. I took a couple of shots and then, thinking perhaps I would just drop it close to where I found it next time I was out walking, left it on a shelf in the garden shed.

This particular gall seems to have been formed by the cherry gall wasp (Cynips quercusfolii) and although most species of gall wasp emerge in the spring and summer, this is one that can and does emerge in the wintertime.
They are called cherry galls as they are similar in size to cherries and can have a reddish hue; a word of warning though, they contain lots of tannin, so don't try eating one. They are likely to be quite bitter and unpleasant.

Anyway, I forgot (of course) about the galls over Christmas and when at last I felt my energy returning, I looked at the shelf one day expecting to see them exactly as I had left them earlier. Indeed one was just as before, the other however didn't look anything like, instead, it had changed shape and had a largish hole in it. It didn't take too long to find the reason behind the changes either...

This little wasp had emerged since I last looked and I don't think I had missed it by much. I left it in peace and the next time I visited, assumed it had wandered off as there was no sign of it. I say wandered off because I have read that they are reluctant to fly. Quite a common gall in this part of the world. Another name is actually the common oak gall.

Back in November I posted a photo of a millipede that I had found and I came across another yesterday. This time it was one I hadn't found before despite it being widespread and common.

Cylindroiulus punctatus

This one is the blunt-tailed snake millipede. What a big name for such a small thing (25mm) but I think I have got this one right as although there are several similar ones, this one has a few markings that combine to aid identification.

As well as the dots along each side of the abdomen (hence punctatus) and a banded appearance, you can see here that the face has this wide, dark band across it, almost like a mask. This one was quite a golden brown but they can also be paler and even more of a buff colour. The legs are pale and my best (rough) estimate would be that there are somewhere between 180 and 250 in total.

These are long lived invertebrates with the female laying eggs every three years. They are also the most frequently recorded species in the British Isles.

There is one more defining feature and that is at the other end! The tail-end points backwards in a rounded, club shape that is known as a 'caudal projection'- I have circled it in the photograph below...

Back to the collembola that I was telling you about right at the top of the update; I have covered these before in some detail and so won't add loads again here but below is a photo of a couple of the more colourful, globular springtails that I spotted...

The one that I really enjoyed finding though,  was this strange example. I think this might  well  be
Onychiuridae species, although there are others similar. It might be Kalaphorura burmeisteri? It's one that is often recorded in winter and is even active under snow. The other thing to consider is that I have found the same species in the same location before too.

It measures around 3mm in length and hides away in leaf-litter.

If I wished to get really nerdy...I could check out the anal spines and vestigial furca to fully confirm an identity but let's just settle for 'possibly' as an identity on this one and then we can all get on with our lives! 

Besides all that, there is something far more interesting I discovered about this tiny creature; I doubt if it'll need much of an explanation after you look at the photo that follows?

C'mon, there's a resemblance to this Bibendum right? Ha, ha...that's what it reminded me of as soon as I saw it anyway. 

Actually, this is another example of what is a bad habit of mine, I am forever trying to liken one thing to another. Not just insects but all kinds of things, even music-I'll hear a song or tune and immediately think how it reminds me of something else. 

If you have an interest in trying to find some of these springtails (collembola) for yourself, then I would advise that you look.......anywhere, as there are an estimated 100,00 individuals per cubic metre of topsoil. Basically, everywhere on Earth where there is soil, or related habitats, such as grass and moss, will support populations waiting to be discovered.

2013 was the first year of running my home-made moth trap and I think it was quite successful regarding the number of species recorded. I need to make a few design changes for this year but nothing major.

I don't know if it's coincidence but I have noticed an increase in the amount and variety of moth caterpillars or larvae that I have been finding recently in the garden...

This little one pictured above turned up a few days ago-it's only about 35mm total length and I haven't managed to confirm an identity yet but I think it may be one of the tortrix moths? Moths are so tricky as there are so many and variations are often subtle.

This cocoon was another find. It was under what I think might be a dried willow leaf and I am sure it is a moth pupa/cocoon, perhaps a pale prominent? I plan to try and keep this one through the winter and so should be able to find out exactly what it is, providing it survives okay that is.

If it does turn out to be a pale prominent, I would expect it to emerge around May time.
I'll certainly add photos to the relevant blog update come next spring.

And so the first update of 2014 is complete and I hope before the next, I shall have better health to allow me to get about and about taking photographs.

Until the next time...


  1. Sorry to hear about health problem, I was thinking your absence indicates long holidays. Wish you regain strength soon. and, Congratulations and good luck for the Magnet.

  2. Thanks for your concern, I am slowly getting better and my interest in the camera is returning...

  3. Pneumonia isn't good at all. Pleased to hear that you're recovering well now though JJ>!
    I was in your neck of the woods on 27.12. Did my annual stint down to Kent to see friends and family between Xmas & NY!! Drove through Cranbrook and thought of you! :-)

    What a great blog you've started the New Year with. Great news about the magazine article!! Look forward to seeing how it goes.

    Love the gall and wasp as well. They're a fascinating family aren't they? Always wanted to capture one in the process of emerging from a gall.

    The reference to Bibendum made me laugh! Think as humans, we all try to relate things to what we already know. Not always a good thing I don't suppose but it must help us to 'classify' what we experience (see, hear, taste, smell) and better understand it!
    Having said all that, relating a collembola to Bibendum is hardly a good example of this! Lol!

    Already looking forward to seeing what emerges from your cocoon!!

    Best wishes for 2014,


    1. Thanks for this Maria-If I had known you were in Cranbrook, I would have invited you in for a coffee but as it happened, I wouldn't have been good company! I agreed btw about catching an emerging wasp. I have kinda told myself that I must aim for more action in my photos this year.

      Anyhow, I hope 2014 is a good one for us all and that you find every species of shield-bug possible.


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