Monday, 26 May 2014

Return to Ramsden Corner

On 11 May I, together with a group of friends, visited Ramsden Corner, a local nature reserve of Northants Wildlife Trust (see blog for 13 May). Conditions were far from ideal so today, with the sun shining and having a spare couple of hours, I paid a return visit.

A hornet, Vespula crabro, greeted me just inside the gate. At around 30 mm in length these wasps look alarming, but may be regarded as gentle giants, not often provoked to sting. Nevertheless, I left it undisturbed.

Yellow-barred Longhorn, one of the micro-moths.
Ramsden Corner, 25 May, 2014
In the woodland small moths (generally known as micro-moths) flitted here and there. I netted one for a photograph and it turned out to be the Yellow-barred Longhorn, Nemophora degeerella. It is named after the famous Swedish naturalist Charles De Geer and is a common and widespread moth. Strangely, despite its mundane status, its larval food plant seems yet to be identified.

The bluebells, which had bloomed in beautiful swathes only a fortnight, were now a rather tatty mess, but fat capsules of ripening seeds showed that their future had been assured. Red Campions were still in flower; they have had a wonderful year throughout Northants and I have never seen them looking better.

Epiphragma ocellare at Ramsden Corner.
25 May, 2014

Small groups of craneflies danced beneath overhanging plants. Each group consisted of abot 6-10 individuals and it seems likely that these swarms are a mating ritual. I was able to photograph one and the the curious wing patterning is  (reasonably) clear. The species is Epiphragma ocellare, another widespread and common insect. It is not a true cranefly but belongs to a closely related family, the Limoniidae.

A Cardinal beetle, Pyrochroa serraticornis.
Ramsden Corner, 25 May, 2014

It would be difficult to overlook the brilliant red beetle Pyrochroa serraticornis. Even the head is red, thus distinguishing it from the closely related but much scarcer P. coccinea, which has a black head. This insect, and its close relatives, are called Cardinal Beetles. They are all predators.

I was able to secure very large numbers of insects and their identification will keep me out of mischief for some days.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


We are all familiar with craneflies. Love them or hate them - and many people are frightened by them - they are unmistakable with their excessively long legs which, being like those of a crane, give these insects their name.

Although many people are fearful of them, they are harmless to humans, even though females appear to be armed with a long sting. Plants have more reason to fear them as the larvae of craneflies will feed on roots and may inflict significant damage.

I find them tricky to identify. A book on these insects has been written but lack of funding is holding up printing and publication, so we enthusiasts are making do with keys on increasingly dog-eared and heavily amended worksheets. As a consequence I tend to avoid craneflies and, when out in search of insects, pretend that I haven't noticed them.

One species is however instantly recognisable. Tipula maxima is Britain's biggest and, to my mind, most spectacular cranefly. It is quite common but I last saw one about ten years ago at Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton - until, that is, a few days ago. In a recent blog, "Ramsden Corner", I briefly mentioned how I had seen one but not captured it. Now, today, I have seen another - on a window frame in our living room!

Tipula maxima.  Byfield, 20 May, 2014

The slender pointed "tail" shows that it is a female. This slender structure is insinuated into the soil; eggs pass through it (it is known as an ovipositor) and soon the larvae emerge to seek out plant roots and begin a new life. The adult measures some 60-65 mm from wingtip to wingtip and, with its heavily patterned wings it is, as I say, immediately recognisable.

So, a wait of about ten years and then two in ten days. Perhaps it should be called the Service Bus Cranefly.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A walk to Root Spinney

A wonderful day with wall-to-wall sunshine. "Get off your bum," I sez, "and get out there." So I did. 

Apart from an initial stretch of the busy A361 a walk to Root Spinney is generally enjoyable - so I decided to make it my destination and set out, best foot forward, with the other foot not far behind.

I had barely left the road before I came upon this pair of bugs, Corizus hyoscyami. Sometimes called the Cinnamon Bug (for reasons unclear to me) it was a rarity largely confined to sand dunes until a decade or two ago. In recent years it has spread rapidly to become a regular sighting. I netted this pair, photographed them and let them go.

Pushing on I was getting into my stride when this bee halted me in my tracks. The species is the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) and is both common and easily recognisable. It was busy preening itself but posed for a photograph before continuing. I rarely take pictures of bees, but this one just asked to be given immortality via the blogosphere.

I strode on, keen to make my destination, but was again moved to stop and get out my camera. This time it was a young oak growing beside the track. It was bearing Currant Galls, the work of a tiny cynipid wasp, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, and there were dozens of them. Despite being present in large numbers it is doubtful whether the tree suffers any significant damage.

On the bank beneath the tree a mass of Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, made a pleasant sight. I was having a closer look when I spotted an interesting tephritid fly, Anomoia purmunda, among the tangled stems. Its position meant that I wasn't able to get a photograph, but it prompted me to look for hawthorn bushes, as the larvae of Anomoia feed in the fruits of this shrub. 

Sure enough, there were hawthorn bushes only a couple of metres away, with leaves bearing galls - nothing to do with Anomoia but the work of a mite, Eriophyes crataegi. I checked the map for this species on the National Biological Network "Gateway" site; it showed one dot only. Nonsense of course - it is a widespread and common mite, but few people submit records for it.

A public bridleway passes through Root Spinney and I could have gone further. As it was I spent a pleasant hour at the woodland's edge before retracing my steps with many specimens to examine. I'll be in for a busy couple of days.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Early May in the Pocket Park

My first visit of the month was on the third. the weather was glorious and insects abounded.

Midland Hawthorn in Byfield Pocket Park.
3 May, 2014

Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, was already in bloom. This picture shows the distinctive leaf-shape which helps to distinguish it from Common Hawthorn.

Common Hawthorn in the same location.
3 May, 2014

Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, was, I would judge, a week to ten days later to bloom. Again, note the contrasting leaf-shape. This is abundant in the county. Midland Hawthorn is also common, but a little more thinly distributed and hybrids between the two are frequent.

A male Xylota segnis in a dock leaf. Byfield
Pocket Park, 9 May, 2014

By 9 May flies were abundant including this hoverfly, Xylota segnis. This is the commonest of the Xylota species found in Britain.
Mating Woundwort Shieldbugs. Byfield Pocket Park
14 May, 2014

By 14 May things were really moving. A pair of the very common Woundwort Bugs, Eysarcoris venustissima, were at work on producing the next generation. These charming shieldbugs feed on Hedge Woundwort and White Deadnettle, both of which grow in the pocket park, the latter abundantly.
Mating Dock Bugs in Byfield Pocket Park.
14 May, 2014

A pair of Dock Bugs, Coreus marginatus, were similarly engaged, and I counted nine more of these bugs on the same dock plant. As I stood up from photographing this pair I saw, clinging to my sleeve, what appeared to be a slimmed-down version of Dock Bug. 

In fact it was Coriomeris denticulatus, easy to identify because of a row of white spines on the pronotum (a region behind the head). It is not a rare species but was the first record for the pocket park and may be a new record for Northamptonshire.

Ragged Robin in Byfield Pocket Park.
14 May, 2014

Flowers were doing well too, with Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, hanging on though in danger of being overwhelmed by more vigorous plants such as Rose-bay Willowherb. It is not a scarce plant but drainage of meadow land has led to a significant decline in the species.

Red Campion in Byfield Pocket Park.
14 May, 2014

Less than a metre away was its close relative, Red Campion (Silene dioica). This is generally faring much better and has been a feature of roadsides this spring - perhaps because these verges are not normally sprayed.

As a general rule plant galls make themselves obvious later in the year but already the leaves of this lime bear the bright red "nail galls" of the mite Eriophyes tiliae. A wider range of galls will be apparent over the next 4-5 months.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Ramsden Corner

May 11, 2014, and a group of dipterists met to survey this pretty reserve, mainly looking at two-winged flies. The sky was grey, the wind blustery and chilly and a little drizzle dampened our clothing - but was I downhearted? Yes, a bit. Bright sunshine would have made a lot of difference.

A splash of colour from Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon, greeted us at the site entrance.

This plant, often cited as an indicator of ancient woodlands, is scattered throughout the county but is never common. The subspecies argenteum, with silvery patterning on the leaves, is often grown in gardens, where it can become a nuisance. It then gets thrown out, establishing itself here and there. 

The first part of the reserve is sheep-grazed pasture on acid soil. I spent a little time here, taking a few flies, but soon moved on into fine oak-dominated woodland. The other members of the group - John Showers, Graham Warnes, Kevin Rowley and Jolyon Alderman - are all experienced dipterists; I largely left the flies to them and sought other insects and spiders.
The moth, Adela reamurella, at Ramsden Corner.
11 May, 2014

Quickly catching my attention was an extraordinary moth. A micro-moth in the family Adelidae, this species, Adela reamurella, has antennae 3 times as long as the forewing. Its bronze wings gleamed even in the weak sunshine. My not-very-good photo does enough to allow a glimpse of the antennae.

Bugle, Ajuga reptans, at Ramsden
Corner,  11 May, 2014

The woodland interior was a sea of Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Was it my imagination or were the the flowers a deeper blue than those usually encountered? Greater Stitchwort, Wood Sorrel and Bugle were also present.

Contrary to my expectations insects were present in abundance though some seemed a little torpid in the chilly conditions.

Panorpa communis was common in the woodland.
Ramsden Corner, 11 May, 2014

Several Scorpion Flies were noted and, although I only took one for examination and it proved to be the common Panorpa communis. Also noted was the superb cranefly, Tipula maxima. As the name indicates, it is a very large insect and is Britain's largest cranefly. There was no need to capture one, any more than a birdwatcher would need to capture, for example, a nightjar to prove its presence.

Syrphus ribesii was seen 'loafing' on a leaf. This specimen
is a male. Ramsden Corner, 11 May, 2014

The wasp-like Syrphus ribesii is one of Britain's commonest hoverflies. It was one of several species noted. Its larvae are valuable to gardeners as they feed on aphids, helping to control these virus-spreading pests. 

Blotch-mines on leaves are often seen and can usually be identified with some certainty, but this striking example on a bramble leaf has me stumped. It is a little like those of the moth,Coleophora potentillae but differs in several respects. But it could also be a fungus. Investigations continue...

So, despite unpromising weather, much of interest was seen. I still have a number of specimens to examine but I took around forty species and the group as a whole is likely to have recorded the best part of a hundred. I intend to return later in the year.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Mini-beasts of the Mani Peninsula


Unless you are interested in insects this blog could cause death by boredom. It is even more self-indulgent than usual and consists of little more than an illustrated list of creepy-crawlies.

I originally intended to call this blog "Insects of the Mani Peninsula" but, as many spiders are included, the convenient term "mini-beast" was employed.

Chris and I recently returned from a rambling holiday in southern Greece. It was billed as "Flowers of the Peloponesse" but, being a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad,  I decided to concentrate on insects. In truth the flora was so rich that I constantly found my attention being diverted but I nevertheless tried to stick with my original plan.

The following notes look at the insects I found roughly in the order in which I saw them, so taxonomically they are a bit of a jumble.

I travel right across Europe and what do I find... I am not a lepidopterist but if this isn't the caterpillar of a Lackey Moth (Malacosoma neustria) I'll consume my headgear! It was feeding on an oak which, although I failed to make notes, is Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera) or one of its close relatives.

Although my knowledge of butterflies is limited, this specimen is surely Papilio alexanor, the Southern Swallowtail. Greece is one of its stronghold but nevertheless I was delighted to see it - and even more pleased that it paused to allow the photograph to be taken.

Burrowing deep into the head of this thistle (Carduncellus caeruleus?) is this chafer, Oxythyrea funesta. It is very similar to Oxythyrea cinctella but, on the balance of probabilities, I think it is the former. As I had no intention of bringing specimens back to Britain I must rely on photographic evidence - not 100% reliable of course.

A chafer, Oxythyrea funesta, in a flower head.
Gythio, Greece. 21 April, 2004

A closer look does help to clarify the situation showing that hairs are clearly present on the wing cases.

Tent of the Pine Processionary moth, near Gytheo,
Greece. 21 April, 2014
Here and there the silken tents  of the Pine Processionary, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, were seen. These tents house the larvae of this moth, which is a serious forest pest. I saw one oak tree bearing the tent of its close relative, the Oak Processionary, Thaumetpoea processionea, but didn't take a photograph.

The Tortoise Bug, Eurygaster testudinaria, was common. It is widespread in the region and is even found as far north as Britain. It is common in Surrey for example and records suggest that it is moving northwards. It is close to Eurygaster maura but I think I've got it right. Let's be honest - it is rather a dull little insect of interest only to the enthusiast. Its common name is well deserved. It is about 10 mm long.

Greek Tortoise, aka Spur-thighed Tortoise
 at Mistra gorge. Greece.

This larger specimen was 160 mm long and was photographed in the Mistra gorge. There are reasons to believe that it is not a bug at all but a genuine Greek Tortoise, Testudo graeca

(Tony, You're being silly again!)

Next: a rather nice pair of scarab beetles. There are over 30,000 species of scarab beetle worldwide, but the species shown - on an unidentified flower -  is Eulasia pareyssei.

A scarab beetle, Eulasia pareyssei. Beside road
 above Gythio.

A closer view shows the lovely velvety green thorax. 
A male and female pair? I've no idea

Egyptian Grasshopper on olive tree near

Egyptian Grasshopper, Anacridium aegyptium. It is beautifully camouflaged against the bark of an olive tree, but Irene's sharp eyes found it. Though not clear on this photograph this species has striped eyes, helping to distinguish it from the notorious Migratory Locust, Locusta migratoria. This species causes little damage.

Poecilimon ornatus on roadside near Gythio. 

This creature had me scratching my head for a while until I found that it was quite variable in coloration. It is a species of bush-cricket, Poecilimon ornatus. This specimen has lost a hind leg; this is a frequent occurrence and the insect seems little inconvenienced.

This specimen shows the degree of colour variation displayed.  Also on tarmac, this one was on the road leading up to Monemvasia. Phil drew them to my attention and there were hundreds, including many of the subspecies vehiculo-squashii.

Rhynocoris rubricus on waste ground near Gythio.
23 April, 2014

This brilliantly colored bug (using  'bug' in its proper sense) is one of the Assassin Bugs, Rhynocoris rubricus. About six species of Assassin Bugs occur in Britain but are generally smaller than this one.

Dung Beetles caused great excitement, a fact which would have interested Freud! We paid a visit to the southernmost point of the Mani Peninsula and we came upon several of these as they rolled away balls of fresh dung. Annoyingly, I have not been able to identify these. They proved surprisingly difficult to photograph, moving with great speed.

Rose Chafer, Cetonia aurata. Roadside above Gythio.

Several Cetonia beetles occur around the Mediterranean but this, Cetonia aurata, is probably the most common. Anyone who has read "My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell may remember the author's childhood fascination with a man who wandered around near the Durrells's villa with several of these beetles on fine threads, flying around his head. The elytra (wing cases) are more flattened than in related species. 

A neat little pentatomid bug, Ancyrosoma albolineatum, turned up towards the southern tip of the Mani Peninsula. It was very camera-shy and this was the best I could manage. But was enough to allow a definite identification to be made as the body shape and stripey pattern are distinctive. I had rescued it from a small pool and its wings are partly protruding in an attempt to dry out.

Jumping spiders were very common. This family the Salticidae, is very popular with arachnologists. They are found all over the world and sport a wide range of colours. These colours and distinctive patterns are useful in identification but this specimen, a female, has me stumped. 

This sombre-coloured spider was trundling across the road near Mistras. I had no hesitation in identifying it as a female Eresus - but which one? We have one species in Britain, the very rare Eresus sandaliatus but I suspect this is Eresus kollari. A microscopic examination of the genitalia is essential for certain identification, but I had no intention of harming this specimen; I placed it in undergrowth at the roadside.

Neoscona adianta near Monemvasia.

So, two spiders, neither identified with certainty. With the third one I had more success. Photographed beside a path above Monemvasia, this is Neoscona adianta. For once there is an English name for this species: the Bordered Orbweaver. Not surprising really as it is found in Britain where it is a southern species, with its stronghold in the Thames valley. This is a female.

As I have said, for certain identification it is necessary to examine the genitalia of a spider, but this female has a 99% likelihood of being Menemerus semilimbatus. This is another jumping spider and has a very wide distribution. I photographed this on a wall near Anavyta (sic?) as we awaited a taxi.

True bugs were present in almost bewildering profusion. Here a pair of Red Bugs, Scantius aegyptius are in cop (i.e mating) on waste ground at the edge of Gythio. It has been accidentally transported to the USA and there are fears there that it may attain pest status.

Superficially similar is Trichodes apiarius. In fact it is not a bug at all but is a beetle of the Cleridae family This species is widespread across southern Europe. It is known as the Bee-eating Beetle and there is worry that it may reach Britain and become a problem.

Back to bugs... Although the stripes on the wing cases are not very bold, this is a dead ringer for the Fine-streaked Bugkin, Miris striatus, so I am going to stick my neck out and say that it is this very common and widespread bug - one which I regularly record in Britain. Again near Gythio.

This is one of the Spurge Bugs, and considering how common - and varied - were the spurges seen, this bug was not a surprise - except that it is found as far north as Britain. It is probably Dicranocephalus medius, although D. agilis is very similar.

I admit it took me a long time to track down this ladybird. It is Henosepilachna elaterii. Although many ladybirds feed on other insects - notably aphids - this feeds on the tissues of lemon and cucumber leaves. Significantly it also feeds on Squirting Cucumber, and I took this picture among the ruins of Corinth - where S.Q. is frequent.

... and a final few odds and ends. For those of you who persevered you are to be congratulated for your patience and tenacity!
A weevil literally dropped on to my
 net. It may be Polydrus impressifrons
but these are tricky species to identify

Butterflies are not my 'thing' but this looks
 like a Glanville Fritillary,  Melitaea cinxia

Spider: Oxyopes heteropthalmus
Moth:  Adscita species, possibly
Adscita statices

Beetle: Capnodis tenebrionis

Beetle: Clytra quadripunctata