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

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