Friday, 27 July 2018

Of ladybirds and other things

I recall an occasion, a couple of years back when, as I was talking to a friend in Byfield, a ladybird landed on her arm. Some where in the ensuing conversation I said something about ladybirds being useful beetles. She looked a little surprised and said, 'I didn't know they were beetles.' I suspect the ladybird was the Seven-spot, by far the commonest coccinellid. 
Seven-spot Ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata, on cherry laurel.
  Daventry. 30 July, 2018

This tiny incident came back to me yesterday when I was updating my spreadsheet for Foxhill Farm and realised that I had recorded seven ladybird species there this year. For the record they are: Eyed, Larch, 7-spot, Harlequin, Cream-spot, 16-spot and the 18-spot.
But not a 2-spot yet, even though this is normally a common species. All, when looked at, are fairly obviously ladybirds except, perhaps the Larch Ladybird, Aphidecta obliterata, which is rather small and all brown with no distinct markings.

I also caught (and released) this larva of an Eyed Ladybird. On pine,
Foxhill Farm, Badby. 26.vii.2018

Four of these ladybirds - the Pine, the Larch, the Eyed and the Cream-spot - all came from pine. This stand of trees is situated at the top of a precipitous slope and as I left them I found I had to zig-zig my way down in order to cope. Edging my way down I realised I was humming to myself one of the movements from Kodaly's lovely Peacock Variations. (I mention it because I find I am still humming it 24 hours later; it has become what the Germans apparently call an 'ear worm' - a little tune, sometimes trite, which keeps irritatingly going through your head). I was watching my footing carefully but half way down I realised that I was carrying a walking stick, used for giving branches a sharp tap in order to dislodge insects. 'I don't need a walking stick,' I muttered to myself, but soon found myself employing it on the more treacherous parts as I crabbed my way down.

A few dock plants, their upper parts crisped and brown, invited a tap with my stick, an open umbrella carefully positioned to catch any insects or spiders. It was then that I had a surprise: an odd, spindly insect, was among the meagre catch, but what was it? My first instinct told me that it was a bug and, given its general shape, it surely had to be one of the Stilt Bugs, Berytidae. Once home, I examined the creature under a microscope and tried to key it out, using Southwood and Leston (ref below). Nope, it just didn't match. It wasn't a Stilt Bug. After following the keys up a couple of blind alleys I realised that I was looking at an Assassin Bug of the Reduviidae family. To be more precise it was Empicoris vagabundus, a new species for me and certainly one of the strangest. Unsurprisingly my haul also included a Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus, surely one of the most familiar of all bugs to the general public.

This Dock Bug was on a dock plant but it also occurs on the related sorrel.
Foxhill Farm, 26.vii.2018 

By now my damp shirt was sticking to my body and salty sweat was making my eyes sting. Time to begin the slog back uphill, this time zag-zigging of course. I paused only to photograph an elder leaf, mined by the fly Liriomyza amoena.

Elder leaves are commonly mined by Liriomyza amoena. Little harm is done.
Foxhill farm, 26 July, 2018
And that was about it really. I had a millipede and a couple of spiders to check out when back home and despite baking conditions it had been quite a successful day. (Later, the millipede turned out  to be a 'Blunt-tailed Snake Millipede'; common, but new to the farm and pushing the total up to 322 species.)


Southwood, T.R.E. and Leston, D. (1959) Land and Water Bugs of the British Isles. Warne and Co.

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