Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Kentle Wood: mid-June

Prior to setting out today the tally for invertebrates recorded in Kentle Wood stood at 174 species, including 26 spiders, 15 true bugs, 48 beetles and 58 flies. It seems a good total but ultimately this figure should rise to well over 500 species. Certainly the area is very extensive but the habitat range is rather limited, with lack of water in the form of ponds or watercourses being a particular problem, and this restricts both the flora and fauna. Over thirty years in her Leicester garden Jennifer Owen recorded 2673 species of plant and animal, so an area doesn't have to be very large to hold a huge range of organisms (Wildlife of a Garden by Jennifer Owen. R.H.S.Publications).

I was up early but the weekend had been very wet and I decided to wait for a while to allow things to dry out a little. I also decided to travel light. On my previous visit I was carrying a walking-stick, an umbrella, a net, a camera and a rucksack; no surprise then that I'd gone arse over tip when trying to negotiate the entrance stile.

The inflorescence of Ribwort Plantain.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

My walk through the wood had barely started before I saw something very odd. We are all familiar with Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata. It is a very common component of meadows, roadside verges and - given the chance - garden lawns.

Ribwort Plantain with grossly distorted inflorescences.
Kentle Wood, Daventry, 15 June, 2015
But this specimen has grotesquely distorted inflorescences. This is not a very common situation and there is some disagreement over the causative agent. The moth, Aphelia paleana, known as the Timothy Tortrix, may be the culprit but a nematode, Ditylenchus dipsaci, is also in the frame for it certainly attacks plantain leaves. Even a fungus, Fusarium monili, is under suspicion. The truth is little is known about this problem but Timothy Tortrix is in custody pending further investigations.

Another specimen. Several plants were affected.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

A Common Blue Damsel Fly poses on my net.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

A few blue damsel flies were flitting about. After a long struggle to photograph a specimen on a bed of nettles (Why are insects so cussed?) one settled on my sweep net, obviously moved by my plight. It was, unsurprisingly, a Common Blue Damsel Fly, Enallagma cyathigerum. It is not uncommon to find them at some distance from the nearest water.

Speckled Wood. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
15 June, 2015

A Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, also played ball, waiting on a leaf of Greater Plantain, Plantago major, before flitting away in pursuit of - or being pursued by - another specimen.

My surveying was given a boost by the fact that Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, had come into flower in recent days. Its large umbels of cream flowers offer plenty of nectar and therefore attract a wide range of insects.

The umbels of hogweed are frequently visited by
Cheilosia illustrata. Kentle Wood,  15 June, 2015

One insect particularly associated with Hogweed is the hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata. Hoverflies can be tricky but this species, with a broad pale band across its abdomen, is distinctive enough. It also has a dark 'cloud' on each wing, although it is not very obvious in this photograph. Its larvae tunnel in the roots of the plant although (rarely) carrots can be apparently be attacked too.


The fact that I took relatively few photographs is not indicative of a disappointing morning. The fact is I was so busy with my net that I barely had time to bring my camera into play. Now well into the season galls and leaf-mines are appearing everywhere and these will cause much head scratching and muttering into my beard. Some insects will remain unidentified for many days or even weeks yet. Oh the stress of being at the cutting edge of biological research!

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