Saturday, 17 March 2018

More Spring Awakenings

One of my favourite pursuits during the early days of Spring is to watch for Frogs and Toads returning to their breeding pools. I have a particular fondness for the Common Toad (Bufo bufo) whose antics are a delight to watch as the males battle for females and paired couples venture off into the pond foliage to lay their strings of spawn.
I found this pair in mating clasp and enjoying the afternoon sunshine in a wealden pond this week.
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

On Pevensey Levels this week, I came across a freshly emerged Orange Underwing moth (Archiearis parthenias) on a log, drying its wings. These day flying moths invariably take off from the ground before you spot them and it was nice to see just how beautifully marked their underwings are. 
Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias)

I later found a fresh Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus thyphoeus) scuttling through the leaf litter. The male of this species has three horns projecting from the front of the thorax.
Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus) (male)

Friday, 9 March 2018

Butterflies at Wisley 2018

The "Butterflies in the Glasshouse" exhibition is held annually at RHS Wisley during January & February. I find this event an enjoyable way to spend a cold and dull winter's day trying to improve my basic knowledge of butterflies from around the world.
Here is a selection of images from this year.
Batwing (Atrophaneura semperi)
(The first two images are males, the next two are females)

Ruby-spotted Swallowtail (Papilio anchisiades)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Mocker Swallowtail (Papilio dardanus)
(The first two images are males, the next is female)

Giant Orange Tip (Hebomoia glaucippe)

Glasswing (Greta oto)

Postman (Heliconius melpomene)

White Morpho (Morpho polyphemus)

Tiger Leafwing (Consul fabius)

Autumn Leafwing (Doleschallia bisaltide)

Blue Wave (Myscelia cyaniris)

Blue-frosted Banner (Catonephele numilia)
(male and female)

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia sylvia)

Some species readily breed within the butterfly house environment and their larvae can sometimes be spotted feeding on the tropical foliage.
Pale Owl (Caligo memnon) (early instar larvae on banana leaf)  

Pale Owl (C.memnon) (mature larva)

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) (mature larva)

Friday, 16 February 2018

A Spring Awakening

Yesterday, the sun was shining brightly and the temperature managed to get up to a balmy 10 degrees on Pevensey Levels. I decided to check some sunny corners to see what might be about and spotted a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) basking in the undergrowth near the top of a water ditch.
Looking slightly emaciated, having not eaten since before it went into hibernation in the Autumn, the mud patches on its head and body suggest that this individual has been hunting in the ditch for its first meal of the year.
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix

On Sunday 18th February, I found the same snake basking in the same spot. On closer inspection, what I thought was mud on its head now looks to be an injury. A slight thickening of its body at about one third of its length may be a sign that it has fed in the last day or so. 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

From the Cutting Room Floor

Every year, as the new season gets underway, insect activity moves on apace and the life of the amateur naturalist can become very busy. I take many more photographs than ever appear on my blog posts and the winter months offer a good opportunity for me to look back at some of the images that missed the final cut.
Dark Crimson Underwing (Catocala sponsa)
Back in May 2017, Carol and I were walking in a mature mixed woodland in West Sussex when I spotted a large moth larva at rest on a stem of pendulous sedge. I could hazard a guess as to the family of moths to which it belonged but I didn't arrive at a proper identification until I got home and consulted my books. I was pretty certain that I had found the mature larva of a Dark Crimson Underwing (C.sponsa), a red data species that is now restricted to the New Forest as a breeding species in the UK. Singletons (generally regarded as migrants) are occasionally attracted to moth traps in Sussex but this is the first record of a larva found in the wild in the county since 1857.
(Reference; "A Complete History of the Butterflies and Moths of Sussex" vol. 3, by Colin R. Pratt)

Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum)
Also during May 2017, Bob and I decided to seek out the rare and endangered Spiked Rampion (P.spicatum) which only survives in the UK at just a few sites in East Sussex. It turned out that one of the sites is only about three miles from where I live.

Ctenophora flaveolata (Cranefly sp.)
In May 2017, as in most years, Bob and I headed off to the ancient woodlands of Kent to connect with the Duke of Burgundy (butterfly) but these woods are also rich in other rare insects as well as wild orchids. On this occasion we happened upon an impressive and rare species of Cranefly  (Ctenophora flaveolata) that can only be found in a few scattered ancient woodland sites in southern England. I shall certainly be on the lookout for it in 2018 and to try and get some better photographs.

Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius)
In June 2017, on Pevensey Levels, I took this photograph of a female Fen Raft Spider (D.plantarius) tending her egg sac. It wasn't until I got home later in the day that I noticed that her second leg was deformed, possibly caused during a skin-shed.

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) (female, ab.arete
In July 2017, whilst on holiday in Cumbria, I photographed this ab. arete, (where the normal ringlet eyespots are reduced to white dots). I have always found arete hard to come by in the woods of East Sussex but in this particular Cumbrian colony I found that up to 5% of the population were so affected. 

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (male)
In August 2017, I came across this Brimstone (G.rhamni) oddity in one of my local woods. The strange markings are pathological in origin and are caused by leakage from damaged veins into the wing membrane. I have included a photograph of a normally marked male for comparison. 


Friday, 22 December 2017

Masters of Disguise

Butterflies and moths are near the bottom of the food chain and they have many predators. Different species adopt numerous strategies to protect themselves from being eaten. Some species are extremely distasteful to predators and advertise the fact by displaying warning colours that are generally recognised by predators. Other species use startle tactics, suddenly displaying eyespots and other markings designed to confuse a predator long enough for the target to make its escape.
Butterflies and moths are probably most vulnerable when they are at rest or during their immature stages and in the vast majority of cases, cryptic markings are used to make them blend into the background. Again, different strategies are adopted, ranging from straight-forward camouflage markings to mimicking broken twigs or bird droppings. 
Nearly all butterflies roost with their wings closed and it is usually their underwings that are cryptically marked. On the other hand, moths nearly always roost with wings spread and the upperside of their wings are often unobtrusively marked.
The Grayling (Hipparchia semele)
This butterfly virtually disappears into the background when at rest. If it feels threatened it will usually flash its eyespots before then taking off. The first photograph shows a female and the next two are of a male.

The Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)
This species of moth is a classic bird dropping mimic.

The following photographs are of several Geometrid moths that are among many species that use their markings to blend into the background.
Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)

Green Pug (Pasiphila rectangulata)

Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata)

Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)

Waved Umber (Menophra abruptaria)

Engrailed (Ectropis bistortata)

Grey Birch (Aethalura punctulata)

Even larger species such as the hawkmoths can be easily overlooked from just a short distance away.
Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae)

Eyed Hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocellata)
The diagonal body stripes make sense when you see the larva resting on the foodplant.

Lobster Moth (Stauropus fagi)

Buff-tip (Phalera bucephala)
This species is a broken twig mimic and bears an uncanny resemblance to a piece of birch.

Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)
Another stick mimic.

Pale Pinion (Lithophane hepatica)
A stick or bud mimic.

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta)