Friday, 1 June 2018

More Moser meanderings

Rain has fallen in bucketfuls over the last few days bringing serious flooding to parts of Northampton, Birmingham and Walsall. We have been quite fortunate locally but wet or sunless conditions have precluded any meaningful wildlife work. Today was something of an improvement but wellington boots were definitely needed when I visited the area around Newnham windmill in the morning.

Despite the conditions a surprising number of insects were flitting around and I was pleased to flush several specimens of Silver Y, Autographa gamma, moths from the wet grass. I was pleased not because it is rare (it is arguably Britain's most common migratory moth) but I saw few if any last year. I pursued a specimen for some fifty yards before it came to rest and I was able to photograph it; the distinctive 'y' mark on the forewings make the reason for its name very obvious.
Silver Y Moth on sorrel at Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants. 31 May, 2018
Its caterpillars feed on a range of plants such as clovers, peas, cabbages and nettles so it seems surprising that this insect has not become established but, as with a number of other migratory moths, the winters are too cold for the caterpillars to survive.
'Bloodsuckers' were abundant. This is the name we applied as children to certain cantharid beetles and it seems that all across Britain this name was commonly used. It can only be as a result of their coloration for they are perfectly harmless to humans.
Cantharis rustica on a sycamore leaf. Beggars Bank, Foxhill Farm, Badby.
31 May, 2018
I must have noted fifty or so specimens and all were Cantharis rustica. Apparently some fly fishermen will try to produce an imitation to use at times when this beetle is abundant.
Another common beetle was the Swollen-thighed Beetle, Oedemera nobilis. It is a pollen feeder and was frequent on buttercups.
A male Oedemera nobilis on a buttercup flower. Foxhill Farm, Badby.
31 May, 2018
Only the males have the grossly swollen femorae, the females being more, er, svelte. The wing cases on both sexes are usually gaping and it would be difficult to confuse this insect with any other species.

Many familiar insects go through a larval stage in the form of a maggot, grub or caterpillar. However some insects spend their early stages as a nymph, in many cases looking rather like a scaled-down version of the adult but without wings. The true bugs are insects of this type and during their development they pass through a series of instars, with each instar a little closer to the adult form. I was photographing this shieldbug when, just as I was about to net it for a closer examination, it dropped to the ground and was lost in long grass. Nevertheless I am confident that it is a Forest Bug, Pentatoma rufipes.
The nymph of Pentatoma rufipes is not yet as handsome as the adult form.
On an ash leaflet, Foxhill Farm, Badby. 31 May, 2018
When fully adult it will have reddish legs hence, of course, the specific epithet 'rufipes'. Despite lacking bright colours the adult is a rather handsome insect and among one of our larger shieldbugs. It is quite common and I have occasionally found this species in our garden. A Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina, was on the same branch.

Matt Moser, the farmer to whom this land belongs, is keeping livestock off this and associated fields, allowing the grass to grow tall. But Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, is also present and, being a hemi-parasite (see footnote), helps to control the more rampant grasses, allowing the associated meadow flowers to flourish.

Yellow Rattle is a hemi-parasite on grasses, preventing them from
becoming too exuberant.  Foxhill Farm, Badby. 31 May, 2018
Over 95% of Britain wildlife has shown a catastrophic decline during the past fifty years but I was enormously encouraged by the flora and fauna seen today and it demonstrates that, with sympathetic management our wildlife can recover.

Footnote  I could have employed the term 'semi-parasite'. 'Hemi' is Greek and 'Semi' is Latin (and 'Demi' of course, is French): all mean 'half'.


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