Saturday, 29 October 2016

Autumn's Bounty

I love the seasonal changes that are a signature of natural Britain and Autumn has a beauty all of it's own. However, walking across Pevensey Levels yesterday in temperatures of 17 degrees under a clear blue sky and with just a gentle breeze, it felt like summer was trying to hold on for a while longer. We saw four freshly emerged Clouded Yellows on the wing.
Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) (male)

Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus)

The weather this week has been good for moth trapping with still, overcast nights and temperatures staying in double figures. The species attracted to the light in our wealden garden indicate that Autumn is well and truly with us.
Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae)
November Moth (Epirrita dilutata)

Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) (male)

Cypress Carpet (Thera cupressata)

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 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)