Thursday, 5 September 2019

The wow factor

There are insects which, for anyone other than the enthusiast, can only be described as dull. Take this leaf mine for instance. It is formed by the larva of Aulagromyza hendeliana, an agromyzid fly of no interest at all except perhaps for a concerned gardener whose honeysuckle plants are suffering an infestation (in fact it does no significant harm).

The mine of Aulagromyza hendelianum often runs parallel to the leaf edge.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 5 September, 2019
It was on the commonest of our wild honeysuckles, Lonicera periclymenum*, and was the first thing I noticed today when entering Stefen Hill Pocket Park. Even I stifled a mild yawn when seeing it.  And to exacerbate things I found when arriving home that I had recorded it from the park before.

Sloes, the fruit of blackthorn, are ripening nicely although at least a couple of months need to elapse before they are even mildly palatable. I was about to take a photograph - don't ask me why - when something unexpected caught my eye. Although I make no claim to be dragonfly expert there is no doubt that this is a female Southern Hawker, Aeshna cyanea.

The Southern Hawker is one of the commonest of our hawker dragonflies.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 5 September, 2019

It is widely distributed in Northamptonshire and is a confirmed breeder in our county. To find it well away from water is not unusual and it crops up in parks, light woodland and even gardens.

In fact it was not too far away from water, for the small pond in the pocket park was only 100 metres away - but it has virtually dried up. The Purple Loosestrife growing at the margins is looking a bit wilted and the Large Elephant Hawkmoth** caterpillar, which I had photographed a week or so ago, was still present but seems to have made little growth.
This Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar has made little growth over the last
week - or is it a different specimen? Stefen Hill Pocket Park,
5 September, 2019

Bugs were plentiful today, but nothing out of the ordinary was found.

The Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina (the word prasina means 'leek-green' and comes from the Greek word for one of the onion species) was on many leaves and not difficult to see despite its colouring.
Green Shieldbug on the foliage of Field Maple. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
5 September, 2019

The Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale, is more strikingly marked but it too is difficult to spot in some circumstances. Apart from hawthorn it can be found on other members of the rose family including rowan, whitebeam, firethorn and cotoneaster.
Hawthorn Shieldbug, strongly marked but often difficult to see.
Stefen Hill Pocket park, 5 September, 2019

The photograph shows clearly the sharply pointed 'shoulders' which give the insect its generic name: acantho = spine, soma = body.

A third shieldbug was present, the Parent Bug, Elasmucha grisea, and was on alder foliage. The adults are often paler than the specimen seen today and I have a suspicion that it is beginning to darken in preparation for hibernation.

Parent Bug, clearly content to be exposed in bright sunlight.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 5 September, 2019
Alder is one of the Parent Bug's favourite trees but I only found one. I attempted a photograph even though the insect was in an awkward spot: a ladder would have come in handy!

So what qualifies as a wow factor? The dragonfly was a surprise and for me was the pick of the day's insects. But beauty is in the eye...

*   Our only other 'wild' honeysuckle is the Fly Honeysuckle, Lonicera xylosteum. Recent investigations suggest that it is in fact a long-established alien.

** There is a Small Elephant Hawkmoth, but is less common than its larger relative.

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