Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Season's End ?......Not Quite

While the sun is shining and temperatures are still reaching double figures, the season isn't quite over yet. Whilst some invertebrates are coming to their end, others will continue until their food source runs out or the temperatures drop. For one small spider however, the breeding season is underway.
There are still good numbers of Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers flying on Pevensey Levels at the moment, one or two of which are looking quite fresh for this time of year.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male)
For this year's breeding female Fen Raft Spiders, the season is coming to a close. Juvenile spiders can still be seen regularly on warm sunny days but any adult females will be seeing out their remaining days in the watery autumn sunshine having probably raised two broods during the summer. The photograph (below) shows a typical late season female with one leg missing and shrinkage folds on her abdomen.....perhaps the fly sitting between her feet senses that she has no bite left.
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (female)   

For the Purse-web Spider (Atypus affinis), the breeding season is now underway. They spend most of their lives in their underground web-tubes but autumn is the best time to see males above ground as they leave their web-tubes to search for females. A close look at the huge fangs and tail spinners gives a hint that this species is a distant relative of the tarantulas; just as well that it is no bigger that a thumb-nail!
Purse-web Spider (Atypus affinis) (male)
(these photographs were taken on 25th October 2014 on the East Sussex Downs)


Saturday, 15 October 2016

No Sniggering Please

Earlier this week, during a walk around our wood to plan work targets for the winter, Carol and I came across the unmistakeable form of the Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) on the dank woodland floor. On fresh specimens, the cap is a glossy brown colour with a pungent odour that is irresistible to flies. The filigree pattern on the cap in the photograph (below) indicates that the spores have been dispersed. Much folklore surrounds this species of fungus and I think that the latin name rather says it all.
Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)
Insect activity on Pevensey Levels is inevitably in rapid decline but there are still things to be found. Although most of the Red Admirals have moved south, I did come across a faded female busy laying eggs on stinging nettle. Whirligig Beetles are busy gyrating in their hundreds in many of the ditches and wandering larvae of the Pale Tussock moth are a common sight at this time of year as they search for a place to pupate for the winter.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (ovum on stinging nettle)
Whirligig Beetles (Gyrinus substriatus)
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) (wandering larva)

The best of the bunch in the moth-trap this week has been these two common resident species.
Spruce Carpet (Thera britannica)

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)


Saturday, 8 October 2016

A Wealden Wood in Autumn

The Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is a delightful little butterfly that manages to fit in three broods in most years. I have often found that it can be rather scarce in the spring but by the third brood in September and October it can be quite abundant along sheltered woodland and field edges.
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas
The following photographs are of two different males seen this week. The first image is of form caeruleopunctata which has a row of sub-marginal blue spots on the hind wings.

As insect numbers fall away at this time of year, my attention turns to seeking out other stages in the butterfly life cycle. Insects don't just die off at the season's end without having ensured the continuation of the cycle for the next season. Butterflies pass the winter in any one of their life cycle stages depending on the species. With the exception of the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi), which passes the winter as a chrysalis, all other British Hairstreak species see out the winter in the egg stage. 
The Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus)
The eggs are laid at the base of terminal buds of oak, its only foodplant. No more than a millimetre in diameter, they look like tiny sea urchins. The indentation at the top of the egg is the micropyle through which fertilisation occurs.

The hole on the side of another egg in the next two photographs indicates that it has been predated upon, possibly by a small bug or spider but probably by the tiny Trichogramma parasitic wasp.

A potential culprit for such egg predation is this tiny Crab Spider hunting amongst the foliage of the oak tree. When at rest, it bears a close resemblance to an oak bud and it can be difficult to spot amongst a terminal cluster. I think that this species is Xysticus lanio.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Marvel of the Day

The moth catch on Friday morning reflected the season with autumnal species becoming more prevalent. The best of the bunch was the stunning and aptly named Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina), one of the most attractive of the Noctuid moths.

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)

Rosy Rustic (Hydraecia micacea)

The butterfly of the moment is certainly the Red Admiral which is currently appearing in good numbers on Pevensey Levels as they start to head south.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

On Wednesday, Bob and I headed to Rye Levels to see whether we could find any interesting Odonata such as Red-veined Darters and Willow Emerald Damselflies, both recent colonists to Southern England from the continental mainland...no such luck. I found a late season female Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) and a little later an egg sac for this species, secreted in the undergrowth. I also took some photographs of what I thought were two different species of spider but on later checking my books I realised that they were different colour forms of the same species; Araneus quadratus.

Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) (female)
Wasp Spider (A. bruennichi) (egg sac)

Araneus quadratus (red form)

Araneus quadratus (green form)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An Autumnal Feel

The weekend before last, Carol and I spent an enjoyable time with friends in Lymington, Hampshire and then last week we met up with our son and his friend for a short camping trip to Cumbria. With a schedule of walking planned for both trips, there were plenty of opportunities to scan the hedgerows and fells for wildlife. On our return to Sussex I was keen to check up on my regular haunts and in the last week or so, the air has definitely taken on an autumnal feel.
Before our trips away, we went to Bodiam for a walk along the banks of the Rother. Red Admirals and Small Whites were numerous but my attention was drawn to a small moth flying about in the long grass and eventually settling in a nettle patch. The Vestal (Rhodometra sacraria) is a regular migrant to Britain but is unable to survive our winters.
The Vestal (Rhodometra sacraria)

Whilst walking along the Solent shoreline at Lepe, Hampshire, this Red Admiral posed nicely for the camera.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

During the trip to Cumbria, I was keen to see the Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea), a species of dragonfly that does not occur in the south-east. I did see one male but the only species of dragonfly that settled for a photograph was a Black Darter on a rather dingy day at Meathop Moss.
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) (male)

The only insect of note in the moth-trap yesterday morning was this handsome Hornet.

Hornet (Vespa crabro)

Although rather overcast and breezy, a midday walk on Pevensey Levels produced good numbers of Red Admirals, gathering to feed up mainly on blackberry juice before moving south, although a small number may well see out the winter in the UK.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

In evolutionary terms, Caddis Flies are closely related to moths and butterflies but unlike that group, they do not have scaled wings. Their similarity to a small moth is clear to see. 
Caddis Fly sp. (Limnephilus flavicornis)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Agony and Ecstasy

I have been moth trapping for twenty years and I have a mental list of various species I dream of finding at the light in the morning.
As I walked out of my back door at 1030hrs on 13th September, a huge moth took off right in front of me from my shed door and flew over my garage, across the road and over the roof of the house opposite. Its large size, pale grey appearance and hint of blue on the hindwings left no doubt as to its identity; a Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini). Early in the morning my eyes and brain take a while to get going and when I checked the moth-trap at 0630hrs, I just didn't notice it.
Whilst it was undoubtedly a WOW! moment, it was also most definitely one of those frustrating AAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!! moments.
Here is a selection of the more usual fair that has arrived at the light over the last week or so. The first three are regular migrant species and the last two are common resident species.
Udea ferrugalis

Nomophila noctuella

White-point (Mythimna albipuncta)

Lime-speck Pug (Eupithecia centaureata)
Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata)

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Seeing The Light & Another Clouded Yellow

Whenever I put the moth-trap out overnight it is always with the anticipation of attracting moths that I have not seen before. At this time of year the hope is for unusual migrants arriving from the near continent. However, other insect groups are also attracted to light and I often find caddis flies, bugs, beetles and other species represented amongst the mornings catch. Often, the only time you see some species of beetle is when they come to light.

The other day I put the trap out in its usual place, completely forgetting about a wasp nest that was under the nearby hedge; the following morning there were about 200 wasps in the bin!
Arhopalus rusticus
(a large Longhorn species that I have never seen before)

Nicrophorus interruptus
(a species of Sexton or Burying Beetle)

Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)

Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon)
(a regular migrant species)

During the last couple of weeks I have noticed an increase in Painted Lady numbers, feeding on the buddleia in my garden and also at fleabane on Pevensey Levels.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

A friend of mine has recently holidayed in Cornwall and brought back a selection of local beers. My eye was immediately drawn to this bottle label and I very much enjoyed the contents within, courtesy of St. Austell Brewery.