Monday, 21 January 2019

Blood Moon

With the prospect of clear overnight skies across south-east England, I set my alarm for 0500hrs in order to see the total lunar eclipse.
This photograph of the moon was taken at 2330hrs on 20th January 2019
These photographs were taken at about 0515hrs on 21st January 2019 with the eclipse virtually at totality.


Saturday, 19 January 2019

Chequered Skipper

Expecting to see all of the British butterfly species on your local patch is a forlorn hope, wherever you happen to live in the UK. Many of our species are habitat specific in their breeding requirements and when those habitats are rare, this can mean that some of those species are restricted to particular regions. In order to see such species, you need to travel to where they occur.
One such species is the Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon). This attractive Skipper used to occur at a few sites in the English Midlands but those populations became extinct during the 1970's. Since then, enthusiasts have had to make the journey to its Scottish breeding sites.

A project is currently underway to return the species to its former English sites.
I took the following photographs in 2013. 

Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon
Mating pair




Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Out with the Old, In with the New

The overnight temperature on 30th December was forecast to be no lower than 9 degrees and so I decided to run my last moth-trap of 2018. When I checked the contents on the morning of the 31st December, there was just one moth present. It was not the expected Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) or Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria) but a fresh emergent for the new season.
The Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) is one of our earliest moths to emerge and is generally on the wing from January to March. For a grey moth, it is quite attractively marked and the abdomen has a pinkish hue. The females are flightless. 
Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) (male)


Sunday, 16 December 2018

More from the Cutting Room Floor

This is the time of year when I look back at some of the photographs that I didn't get around to posting. Once the new breeding season gets underway then the life of the amateur naturalist can become rather busy as one tries to keep up with the varying emergence times of different species.
Puss Moth (Cerura vinula)
The larva of the Puss Moth is a fascinating creature and when I found four early-instar specimens feeding on a small sallow bush beside a hedgerow on Pevensey Levels in early June, my intention was to observe them through to maturity. Sadly this was not to be and a week later they had all vanished, probably predated upon by a bird.
Apart from the curious postures that the larva adopts, its most obvious feature is the modification of its tail claspers into flagella. When at rest, what you see is the flagella sheath but when the larva is threatened, the whip-like structures emerge from the sheath and are waved over its back to deter predators such as parasitic flies.
Larva feeding on sallow.
Larva in resting posture.

Larva in defensive posture with flagella being waved over its back.

Three ova on a sallow leaf, two of which are showing emergence holes.

Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris)
Whilst checking out a local Wealden pond for any interesting damselflies back in early September, I noticed that several Wasps were walking about on the lily pads. On closer inspection they were feasting on tiny aphid-like creatures that were emerging from the water in abundance and leaving their shed skins floating on the water surface.

Rhododendron Leafhopper (Graphocephala fennahi)
This non-native species of bug has been established in southern England since the early 20th century. A native of North America, I spotted this mating pair on a rhododendron leaf in a National Trust garden in August. Once I had got my eye in, there were thousands of them! 


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Life Cycle of the Comma

The Comma (Polygonia c-album) is an attractive member of the Nymphalidae family. It has a rich orange ground colour with dark markings which can be quite variable in their detail and it has strikingly jagged wing edges. The underside is cryptically marked in browns and greys and there is a prominent white 'c' mark on the hind wing that gives this species its name. The sexes are very similar but the female generally has slightly less jagged wings.
 It is a double-brooded species and hibernates as an adult butterfly, emerging in early spring to breed. The summer brood, resulting from eggs laid in spring, produces a paler orange butterfly with slightly reduced dark markings. This is form hutchinsoni which accounts for about a third of the summer brood. A second brood is produced in late summer and early autumn which goes into hibernation for the winter.
Comma (Polygonia c-album) (male)
Comma (P. c-album) (female) (form hutchinsoni)

Comma (P. c-album) (male)
This specimen has just come out of hibernation and is enjoying some early March sunshine. It is displaying quite pale wing borders. 

Comma (P. c-album) (male) (ab. obscura)
In this aberration, the wing borders are blurred and indistinct and the hind wing markings have become fused and blotched.

Comma (P. c-album) (roosting male)

Comma (P. c-album) (ovum on nettle)

Comma (P. c-album) (final instar larva on nettle)
The Comma larva is a classic bird-dropping mimic.

Comma (P. c-album) (pupation)
The following sequence shows the emergence of a fresh pupa as the larva sheds its final skin.

Comma (P. c-album) (pupa)
After a couple of days, the pupal membrane has fully hardened and has adopted its usual brown colour with reflective mirrors.


Saturday, 1 December 2018

December Moth

There are several species of moths that specialise in flying through the winter months and one of those is the rather attractive December Moth (Poecilocampa populi). This species, like other members of the Lasiocampidae family, have no feeding mouthparts and they have enough body fat reserves to see them through their breeding season. One presumes that the main advantage to breeding during the winter is to avoid predators such as bats, which will be hibernating.
As with other members of this family, the males have impressive feathered antennae with which to scent-track the slightly larger females.
December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) (male) 

December Moth (P.populi) (female)

Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria) (male)
This is another winter flying species, the females of which are flightless.
The wing markings on the males are extremely variable.

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) (male)
An autumnal species.

Udea ferrugalis
A migrant species.

Grey Shoulder-knot (Lithophane ornitopus lactipennis)
This species hibernates as an adult and will re-appear in early spring. 

Monday, 12 November 2018

Late Autumn Sunshine

All the time the sun continues to shine and the air temperature hovers around 10 degrees, there is still a chance of seeing some late season insects but a recent change in the weather to more blustery conditions has largely put paid to any lingering butterfly and dragonfly populations on Pevensey Levels.
My last sightings of the Wall (Lasiommata megera) were of two males flying together on 2nd November. This is the latest date that I have ever seen them on the wing.
Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male)
Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum) (basking in the sunshine)

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (nectaring on ivy)

My garden moth-trap is still attracting some seasonal species.
Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria)

Autumnal Moth (Epirrita autumnata)

Rye Harbour, East Sussex.