Saturday, 27 April 2013

Red Ant nest

We found this Red Ant, Myrmica sp., nest under a stone. The chamber in the middle of the photo had many workers tending larvae, and what appeared to be a queen, a bit larger with darker head on the top left corner. With the ants, there were a few Cyphoderus albinus, a species of white springtail which is often found inside ants nests. There were also many millipedes, thread-like, blind, with red spots, Blaniulus guttulatus.
Blaniulus guttulatus millipede
White springtails, millipedes, red ands and a slug

Friday, 26 April 2013

Black Lace Weaver

If I had a spider top list, Amaurobius ferox, would be definitely in the top ten. So, meeting it for the first time, a male crossing my path on my way to work following its ghostly shadow cast by the morning sun, made my day. This is a large, powerful looking spider, much darker than its more common relative Amaurobius similis, which I often encounter inside the house. The large, complex structures, looking a bit like boxing gloves, are the palps, used by males to inseminate females. Female spiders have thin, simple, palps that look like small legs. Note the rounded structure visible on its left palp on the top photo, this is the palpal organ, which is characteristically white in this species.
  I took some photos and directed the spider to the wooded area at the side of the path, before it was squished (inadvertently or not), by students walking to their lectures. These spiders are typically nocturnal in their activities, but males are now wandering in search of mature females

The Black Lace Spider, according to W.S. Bristowe: 
"has an almost black abdomen bearing what vaguely reminds me of a skull and crossbones marking. This gives her a sinister appearance and she certainly is a formidable monster in its own territory. Indeed, the webs [of this] are singularly adhesive when fresh and the spider venom takes effect on an insect quite quickly"

Monday, 22 April 2013

A bee fly in the garden

I have always wanted to see a Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Yesterday I had a glimpse of one in the garden, but being unable to get a photo I later thought that I had mistaken a bee for one of them. Today, early in the morning, probably the same one came to bask on the wall, flying amongst two Anthophora plumipes males, and I had my camera with me. The bright white background wasn't ideal, but I was happy enough to get a few shots. Bee flies are bee mimics, with furry brown bodies of about 12 mm long and their proboscis is almost as long as their bodies and they carry it sticking out forward while they fly or at rest. They are very good flyers and feed while hovering. Males and females feed on nectar, but females also need to feed on pollen to produce eggs. Their long proboscis, which is also adapted for sucking and it is quite movable, allows them to exploit flowers with deep corolla tubes, such as primroses, Aquileguia, lungwort, grape hyacinths and wallflowers, and they are important pollinators of them. I wonder if the abundance of these flowers in my garden, which I grow to attract A. plumipes, has been a factor in attracting the Bee Fly to the garden.
 Bee Fly larva are ectoparasites of ground-nesting bees, (the genus Andrena, Halictus, Lasioglossum and Colletes have been reported). Bee Fly females lay their eggs dropping them in or nearby the tunnels of bees, even on flowers if the female can't find suitable nests. When the larvae hatch they either find the nest and go into an open cell, or latch themselves to a passing bee when they hatch on flowers.
The Bee Fly about to land

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Brown centipede

This is a common centipede in my garden, often found when moving pots or under stones. It is Lithobius forficatus, and can be identified by its 15 pairs of legs and fast escape behaviour. There are no less than 17 sp UK species in the genus. L. forficatus, can be recognised by the projections on tergites 9, 11 and 13, its size (less than 30 mm, this one was about 19 mm) and the number of segments in their antennae (35-42, this one 37). I held this one in a plastic bug pot while keying it out. Lots of photos, in particular at the angle above, allowed to see the projections in the tergites (the plates on the back) clearly from the side. It had another short photographic session in the white bowl. White it didn't settle at all, as centipedes try and get under cover as soon as possible, good light conditions and a flash allowed me to take some sharp photos before returning it to its home.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Centipede under pot

It has been warm, if very windy today, but it was nice to be able to potter around in the garden after the long winter. While moving some pots I found this centipede, Cryptops hortensis. A thin, relatively small centipede, less than 3 cm in length, scurrying about trying to get back into soil.
Cryptops is the only UK representative of Scolopendromorpha, a order that includes very large species, often able to hunt small mammals, of warmer climates and that is characterized by their 21 pairs of legs. Cryptops is blind, very flexible and quite fast, and always willing to get under things. They are quite flattened and can manage to get into very small crevices, so it was quite an effort to make it crawl into the bug pot for photos. There are three British species, although only C. hortensis, the smallest of the three is widespread.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Courting Small Tortoiseshells

Several common Nymphalid butterflies, like the Comma, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell (but also the Brimstone) overwinter as adults. They were born the previous summer and spent the sunny days of late summer and early autumn feeding and accumulating the fat reserves needed to spend the winter. Then they searched for a suitable dry, sheltered place (often inside outbuildings or roof spaces) and entered a resting period during the colder months of the year, when nectar resources are most scarce. These are often the first butterflies to fly on spring, sometimes awaken during sunny, mild winter days, but most regularly appearing in later March and early April. While before their winter rest, food was the only thing on their minds and they were happy to feed in groups, their interests during spring are clearly shifted to reproduction. Now males are actively defending temporal territories around south-facing nettle beds waiting for passing females, and fighting intruding males in spiral flights. When a female is detected, he will chase her at high speed to court her.
This afternoon, on a sunny clearing full of sprouting nettles, four Small Tortoiseshells danced around each other. A pair, eventually found themselves on their own and landed on the ground. The male approached the female from behind and started to court her tapping her with his antennae (above). She will normally fly away again and the settling and tapping will continue until she accepts his advances and they mate on a sheltered spot on the ground. The pair of courting tortoiseshells flew away quickly before I could see where they settled. You can watch a video of the courtship of the Small Tortoiseshell here.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Spring at last!

The last couple of days have seen the temperatures finally rising over the freezing conditions we've had during March and early April. The lovely, milder, sunny weather we had today meant  I had many 'firsts' of the year. Until today this year, I had not seen a butterfly and I had only seen the occasional bees and bumblebees. Today Garden Ants, Lasius niger, were active in the garden, a clumsy female Dronefly enjoyed the sun and walked over the daffodil flowers feeding (above). Two male Anthophora plumipes patrolled around flowers, and even the first female of the year payed a short visit too. The males occasionally fed on wallflowers, hyacinths and wild primroses.
I saw my first butterfly of the year today, a Small Tortoiseshell, unfortunately, could get no photos, as my cat found her before me and chased her away.
This queen wasp, Vespula vulgaris, also first of the year, got in the conservatory.
A Tegenaria with its egg sac on a stilt. It is under the lid of the water butt, so I guess the photo is upside down
A male Anthophora plumipes rests for a few seconds on foxglove leaves.
My cat becomes quite the entomologist when flying insects start to appear. She often alerts me of insects in the garden, but also disturbs them when they try to feed, to my annoyance! Later in the year, she becomes disinterested, and I can relax and watch insects at my leisure.