Thursday, April 24, 2014

A trip to Malling Down...



Malling Down lies close to the East Sussex town of Lewes and is an outstanding area for wildlife and especially invertebrates.
Given the right weather conditions that is-on the day I chose to visit, I had stupidly relied on the BBC weather forecast for the area, only to find that in place of the expected 'sunshine and up to 18 deg.' what I actually experienced was, cloud and mist and wind and spots of rain. 
Undeterred, I still very much enjoyed the day and even managed a few interesting photographs/subjects...




Once you climb the steep slopes there are spectacular views of the Sussex countryside to take in...





I probably spent around an hour wandering about the hillsides before so much as a sniff of an insect of any kind. I then spotted in the distance, what turned out to be my only sighting of a butterfly for the day-all I can tell you is that I think it was brown, but I'm not even sure of that, it was so far away.

It must have been 11am before things seemed to warm up enough to encourage a few hardy inverts to appear. This tiny ladybird was one of the first. I think this is a 10-spot ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) judging by its small size (around 3.5mm) and the 5 spots on the pronotum.
The leg colour, which is tricky to see here was brown and that also fits for 10-spot.




Leucozona lucorum


At the bottom of one of the paths leading skywards, was a nettle patch and this proved to be a good hunting ground for hoverflies. I think this first one is Volucella species but which one? Maybe V.pellucens? Then again, it also looks similar to V. bombylans var. plumata? Not sure. (Edit: Actually Leucozona lucorum; see commentsI soon after discovered one of my favourite hovers. This one is what I recently saw described as the Pinocchio hoverfly! It certainly is quite a distinctive fly and one that I don't see all that often. Rhingia campestris to give it the correct title.

Helophilus pendulus was the next sighting I had. This one also seems to have acquired a nickname-the footballer hoverfly was how I recall reading it was described as on a fellow blogger's site.


Rhingia campestris
I think there is just about enough of a dark line at the base of the abdomen on this R.campestris hoverfly to be sure that it's not the other one R.rostrata.


Helophilus pendulus


My first green weevil of the year came next-a nettle weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus)


I know there are several similar weevils that this could be but have gone for P. pomaceus based on the antennae position and the shape of the front femora.



The same nettle patch also seemed to be a favourite spot for small tortoiseshell butterflies to lay their eggs, I found lots and lots of nettle covered in larvae and their 'tents' in the same area...







In some long grass, beside a footpath, I found a couple of very interesting looking cocoons. I thought initially that this looked like the work of a spider?

It was I suppose about 25mm across and soft to the touch. It looked very similar to me in size, texture and shape to the eggs sacks you see nursery web spiders carrying around at this time of year.

Well, I was still puzzling over exactly what it could be when my question was answered in part but what I discovered a few metres away lying on the ground.

It was in fact a second cocoon of the same kind, this one however was damaged (I assume) and had split open, revealing the inhabitants...





But now there seemed to me to be even more questions to be answered? Are these larvae/grubs the work of a moth perhaps, or could it be that they shouldn't be there at all and are the result of a parasitic wasp? 




Pomatias elegans
Although conditions didn't really suit me and made hunting for insects a little harder than I would have liked, it was perfect for slugs and snails, of which there were hundreds; most were the kind you would expect to see but this one in the photograph grabbed my attention as it seemed to be a tad different.

This is another interesting find for me because it seems to fit well to the description of a round-mouthed snail (Pomatias elegans) but there isn't too much in the way of information that I have been able to find about this species, save to say that it seems very scarce in the U.K. If I am right with the identity, it is a snail that only lives where there are high densities of calcium carbonate, such as on limestone or chalk.



One last photo of the stunning Sussex countryside...



Until the next time then...












Saturday, April 12, 2014

A dozen species on one walk..it must be spring...

Warning! This post contains several short videos and if you only view the e.mail version you will not see them-you need to go online and view the original.



Last October I came across a huge, plump, gravid female vapourer moth in the garden. She produced eggs on a honeysuckle bush leaf. Before autumn arrived and they all fell to the ground, I collected and over-wintered them in a suitable spot.

I made sure they were kept fairly chilled, sprayed them occasionally with tepid water and then waited and hoped that they would survive what turned out to be a reasonably mild winter. 


I've been checking daily for any developments and today when I looked in on them, there were three of the tiniest larvae I have ever seen crawling around. I know that vapourer larvae will feed on most broad-leaved trees and also I remembered finding caterpillars on willow previously and thought that might be a safe bet as a food plant. They now have a nice supply as well as a few rose leaves, another place I have found them in the past-hopefully they will take to one or the other.



I guess the larvae are about 2mm at present and I am keen to see and learn how they develop having only ever found final instar larvae before. It will be great to witness the change in appearance at each moult and I already know the final stage before pupation will look very different to this little hairy beast.




In the garden, the blue tits that I hoped were nest building in one of the boxes have been busy visiting the box and even hopping in and out of it, one has been doing a lot of beak-wiping on the perch too. However, I haven't yet seen it taking in nesting materials, so I am not sure if it's going to happen at this stage.


video

Could it possibly be that this feline presence is putting them off?





Kent is looking fantastic right now

And in my local woods-'Comfort's wood' things are hotting up nicely. Although most of the trees here are around 20 years old, there is an area of ancient woodland as well and so I can never be sure quite what I might find. I have already turned up several notable species and the commoner invertebrate numbers seem to increase year on year.

Below is a selection of photographs taken on a recent walk around the woods. These were all taken on one visit...





I was pleased to find the tiny leafhopper (1st photo line 3) which I think is Javasella pellucida. 

There are plenty of butterflies around too...



And a couple of contrasting views of a hazel leaf-roller weevil I spotted on a different day...




I guess about 100 old fashioned yards from the house, there is a small stream and here I saw another interesting creature that I have neither seen before, or have much knowledge of...



And a short video of this creature...


video

You're going to know what this is (if you don't already) and I can only suggest that I think it must be a freshwater leech. It isn't like any I have seen before but can't think what else it could be.

This is more like the leeches I am used to seeing-these were in my little pond in the garden...

video



Well that just about wraps up another update-my final offering is this tiny rove beetle that I photographed on grass a few days ago...



Until the next time...