Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"The most dangerous caterpillar species in Britain!"

Yes, it was Saturday December 18th 2010 when I wrote the following words in my first ever blog post: "In the beginning: I'm making a start on this new blog today. It's cold and snowy in Kent, with little to offer in the way of interesting, outdoor macro subjects to photograph".

And today July 12th 2017 I am here writing my 200th update. According to statistics, most people quit blogging within the first three months (you spend time working on something without a reward, the harder it is to continue doing it). For me the truth is that I love doing these updates and would probably continue even if they weren't being read. Thankfully, due to some loyal followers, my little blog continues to be accessed in at least a dozen countries, with UK, USA, Netherlands, China and Belgium being the top 5 regards amount of views. 

A sample of just some of the bugs and insects that I have featured here over the past seven years...

What have I got that is special for this update? How about...

 "The most dangerous caterpillar species in Britain!"

That is how I have seen the caterpillar of the puss moth (Cerura vinula) described. The puss moth is quite an easy moth to identify and inhabits wooded, or lightly wooded areas where there is plenty of willow or poplar. Here's a recently emerged adult moth that I photographed in 2015...

But it's the larvae that interest me most. As with all larvae, they are predated by many other creatures. In order to protect themselves, they have the ability to spray formic acid at their attacker! 

A Puss Moth Larva - Cerura vinula

Formic acid is interesting in itself and gets its name from the Latin name for ant "Formica". There is a little video of wood ants spraying the acid, it's on YouTube if you feel like having a look. Formic acid is actually found in the bites and stings of many insects, including bees and ants. It is also a contributing factor when you get stung by nettles. It's used by farmers to preserve animal feed, bee-keepers use it as pesticide against the deadly Varroa mite and if all that leaves you wanting more, then I can tell you that it is used in the treatment of warts and as a toilet bowl cleaner.

I'm starting to feel a tad guilty now, because the other day I had to rescue yet another bee from the bird bath. I really don't know why, or how they get into the water, but once in, they seldom get out...

This one however lived to see another day and once dry, flew off seemingly unharmed by its dunking. I think this is probably a wool-carder bee. 

I have been having a few early morning walks whilst this hot weather has been with us. I tried a few evening ones too, but the mosquitoes gave me such a hard time that I soon stopped those. In a local, uncut meadow, I found this large beetle. Unfortunately it was quite low down in the grasses and even so, the light wind was enough to make it almost impossible to get a perfectly focused picture...

This is most likely Nicrophorus investigator. There are other similar beetles but I think judging by its size and the reddish antennae tips (that you cannot see well here because of the movement) it seems to fit. As always, there are mites attached. This is the beetle that uses carrion to house its young.

In the same woods that I found the puss moth larva, I also spotted this fabulous grasshopper nymph. Possibly a field grasshopper but wouldn't put my house on it...that would flatten it for sure!

I was pleased with those two finds but ecstatic over the next: a species of butterfly that I have never seen before, let alone photographed. It was in woods that I know well too and have surveyed for insects in the past. There was another survey in about 2010 I think, and this butterfly was definitely not on their list either. It's the beautiful purple hairstreak...

A Purple Hairstreak - Favonius quercus

The UK Butterflies website says this about it: "It is often difficult to locate, due to its habit of flying in the tree canopy, where it feeds on honeydew. However, the adults are occasionally seen basking at lower levels, on various small trees, shrubs and bracken". It's the side of the wings that you can't see here that have the purple colour, although not as much in the males as females. 

One day whilst out walking without the camera, I managed to capture these 2 pictures of a brimstone butterfly with my phone...

When I found this crab spider, its face was still covered in the remains of its dinner (been there!)

And this is what it had just been dining on...

The crab spider here is Misumena vatia: It's the same spider that in a recent BBC 4 programme about life in our back gardens, Chris Packham
said could change colour to match the background. He didn't mention that it is only the mature females that have this ability; and that the colour changes are restricted to white, yellow and green(ish). 

Well I have lots more that I could share, but I think there is more than enough here for one update, so I shall save it for next time. Instead I will leave you with a few shots of something that has not featured much at all in the updates...until now: it's the humble garden snail...


  1. Great images and post, often get Puss moth in my trap but have never seen the caterpillar.
    Have you tried putting a stone in the middle of the bird bath so bees and other insects can get a drink, I made a gravel tray with water in the bottom for the insects... Hope this helps.
    Amanda xx

    1. Hi Amanda. Great to hear from you. Erm...I did used to have stones in the centre of the bird bath, more for the smaller birds, because I thought it would be too deep otherwise, but it seemed to put off the majority of larger birds from bathing and it's only since removing the stones that the bath is used regularly. I may have to re-think though. Perhaps there's another way, or possibly I could provide a secondary, shallower one in the garden somewhere.

      Many thanks for your visit and comment.

      JJ x

  2. PS.. happy 200 th up-date :)
    Amanda xx

    1. Thanks! XX

      PS: Still struggling to find your blog posts Amanda. You don't seem to have an option to get posts by email? Or am I just being simple? I will look again anyhow...

    2. I have just checked out your 'quietwalker' blog again Amanda. I saw it has the option to subscribe, which I am sure I have done before but entered my email address again anyway, and it told me I am already subscribed. I have never had an update from you in my email though..;-(

  3. Congratulations on your 200th blog entry! I am not a blogger actually but I periodically peruse blogs about nature and I have yours bookmarked because it's hands down, my favorite. Your photos are always breathtaking and the writing is refreshing and wonderfully individual. Hope you write at least another 200! ;-)

    1. What a fantastic comment to receive! Thanks so much for searching out my blog and bookmarking.
      As I said in my post, I would write these updates even if they generated no resonse at all, but, to get such a positive and encouraging comment from you is really uplifting.

      I shall look forward to hearing from you again on the day I publish my 400th update 😊

      Kind regards

  4. Wow! 7 years and 200 updates! Congrats JJ! Have enjoyed many of them over the years.
    What can I say? Another interesting and beautifully illustrated blog!
    Have only ever found small instars of the puss moth caterpillars. Would love to find one as illustrated here.

    Congrats also on the Purple hairstreak sighting! Stunning! Another species I've never seen.
    Love the shot of the spider with it's butterfly meal. Amazing!

    Just curious, do you have stones in your bird bath which just break the water's surface? It's said to help insects get a drink without getting into difficulties.
    Love the snail!

    1. And I have enjoyed your MANY comments Maria...;-) The Hairstreak was a real surprise to me as I wasn't expecting it in these woods, but was pleased as punch when I did!

      I used to have stones in the bird bath but it seemed to be stopping the birds bathing for some reason cos as soon as I removed them, the birds began to bathe. I think perhaps the bath is too close to some plants and the insects may be slipping into the water from these? I might re-sight it or prune! I never find bugs in the middle of the water, only at the edges. Maybe the fact that it's an old Victorian metal one makes it slippery for them?

    2. Ooops! Re-site not re-sight ;-)


Please feel free to comment on my blog. I am always grateful for any feedback, good or bad. Commenting should be fast and easy. Just enter your comment in the box, then click on the drop-down box beside 'Comment as'. You can use your Google ID if you have one, or just choose 'Name/URL and enter your name (URL is not needed). You can also just choose anonymous, if you would rather not be identified.

Regards 'JJ'.

If you do experience any difficulties, you can contact me directly from this blog and I will try to help.