Sunday, 5 August 2012

Close Encounters

Here are some of the friends we made during our recent camping trip:

A Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar, who seemed intent on reaching the top of our umbrella as we curled up under it to get out of the sun for a while.  It made it, despite a few flicks into the grass when I thought it might drop on our heads.
Marbled White - rescued from the sea by Rob and drying off in Annie's hands.
 Finally ready to fly.
 Back at the tent, we had a visit from a Common Toad - caught it trying to get in the food box.
Distinguishable from the Common Frog by it's warty skin, less bulbous eyes and stumpier back legs and body.
 We all had a hold before he hopped away.  I didn't know at the time that toads secrete a poisonous substance from glands behind their eyes called Bufotoxin.  This can cause a reaction in humans from an itchy rash to cardiac failure.  Toady here must have known we were just curious and wouldn't harm it, but I think I'll be more respectful in future.
 Annie and I saw many moths over the week, some very teddy-bearish.  Unfortunately they were all in the ladies loos, and marching in there with my camera may have caused some alarm among fellow campers, so I resisted.  However, this pumpkin seed that turned out to be a  Common Footman, showed up in our tent as we were folding it away.
Here photographed on Rob's boot (after several futile attempts to focus on it while it sat on my lens, grinning at me through the barrel, well, perhaps not grinning.)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Cocooning In June

The year is racing by and photos I'd put aside for a moment are now a month out of date!  No less interesting though and now seems a good time to bring out this photograph of an Ichneumon Wasp's cocoon (probably campoplegine).  I had no idea what was in the cocoon until this morning, when David Notton, invertebrates expert from the Natural History Museum, helped me out on iSpot.
The Ichneumon's cocoon is the white bit that looks like a bird dropping (possibly to put off predators).  The dried wrinkled skin above is the remainder of the caterpillar it parasitised.  A happy coincidence that I should get this id just after posting the egg-laying Ichneumon video.

Also from June are these two photos showing weevil pupa inside intricately woven cocoons.  These are likely to be from the Curculionidae family -  'True Weevils' or 'Snout Beetles'.

I find cocoons and what's going on inside them absolutely fascinating.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Video Of Ichneumon Wasp Laying Eggs

 I was in the garden this evening, taking down the washing, when this Ichneumon Wasp caught my eye.  Needless to say, I flung the washing at the basket and ran indoors for my camera.  
Ichneumon wasps are parasitic; laying their eggs on, near or inside the larvae of other insects or spiders.  She will detect the larvae by the smell of their droppings and by sensing vibrations in the wood with her antennae.  I was incredibly lucky to have caught this female just as she was driving her long ovipositor into an old branch to lay her eggs in the crack.

You can see her walk up and down the wood, carefully laying one egg after another.  The long black sheath used to protect the ovipositor when not in use, helps her to balance.  When the eggs hatch, they will consume the host.  They will overwinter in the wood and pupate in the spring before emerging. 

Update (13/7/12) - David Notton at iSpot has given me a possible id for this ichneumon wasp of Ephialtes manifestator.  (Thanks David)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

More From The Campsite

A few more photos from our recent camping trip.  We pitched our tent on a clifftop, on the south of the Island, where we had spectacular views of the English Channel at the expense of feeling the full force of the high winds I mentioned in my previous post.  This Kestrel was a frequent visitor to the skies above our tent, its source of food being a ravine 20 feet in front of our pitch.  Despite seeing it often, this was my best shot.
 When we collapsed the tent at the end of the week, we found this Dark Arches moth in the folds.  It's quite a large moth, with a wing span of 46-54mm.

I found it quite handsome, and photographing it made a good excuse for me to hide in the tent while Rob wrestled the sleeping bags back into their cases.
This Lesser Stag Beetle walked across our path later in the day, fortunately nowhere near our tent, which was now packed away and in the back of the car.  I'm not sure how well I would have handled finding this in my sleeping bag!  In fact, I have a fair idea and it wouldn't have been pretty!  At up to 32mm in length, it's a whopper of a beetle, and those mandibles are very intimidating!
Dragging out the last moments of our little holiday, we stopped in a lay-by for a picnic lunch.  After chucking half the packing out of the boot of our car to find the not-so-cool-anymore cool bag and slapping some, by now, misshaped bread round some warm cheese, I took my camera for one last walk along the hedgerow and snapped this Wasp Beetle.
As the name suggests it is a (long-horned) beetle that looks like a wasp.  These beetles also move and make buzz-like noises similar to wasps, but they are harmless.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Video Of A Click Beetle

We've just got back from a few days camping on the south of the Island.  The wind didn't let up at all and so most nature photography was impossible.  However, a few bugs took refuge from the weather in our tent and shortly after we set up, our daughter, Annie, alerted us to this acrobatic beetle.  

(Turn up your volume to hear the click)

When these little beetles are scared or upside down they snap a spine on their prosternum into a corresponding notch on their mesosternum which produces a loud click and launches them into the air.  A useful trick, and one that kept us amused for some time.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


Another minute insect, about 3mm long.  My eye seems to be drawn to them at the moment.  This is a female Ditropis pteridis, a planthopper from the Delphacidae family.  Its wings seem ridiculously small to me, approximately 1/4 the length of the abdomen in females (as below) and 1/2 the length in the male.  I'm not sure if they can fly, but they can hop like grasshoppers for quick transportation.  Generally, though, they walk slowly to avoid detection.
This is the only Delphacid to specialize on bracken, which is where I found it.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Parasitoid Wasp (Perilampidae)

This tiny wasp, about 3mm long, has been making itself at home in our back garden.  The first time I saw it, it was hanging on to a garlic mustard leaf during the high winds of last week.  As the wind blew, the leaf flung the wasp about, flashing the brilliant red/gold of it's thorax.
My thanks to an expert at iSpot who says this is likely to be a parasitic wasp, Perilampidae.
In this species, the larva rather than the egg-laying female gains access to a host; once there, it continues to burrow into a secondary host - another parasite fly or wasp larva.  It makes me think of those wooden Russian dolls, that when taken apart reveal another smaller one, which when taken apart reveals another one, and so on.
As far as I can work out, these incredible looking wasps are not common in the UK.  It's rather special, and each time I see it I have to run for my camera.
If anyone knows more about these little wasps, I'd love to hear about it.