From the kingdom of Animalia, the phylum of Arthropoda, the class Insecta, the order Coleoptera, the family Oedemeridae and the genus Oedemera, may I present my first beetle sighting of 2017 – and a new beetle for me to boot – a stunning example of the species Oedemera (Oncomera) femoralis. There are only 4 species of Oedemera in Britain (here’s another) and only 1 – this one – in the subgenera Oncomera. In layman’s words, she is one of the thick-legged (some people say swollen-thighed) flower beetles and I know it’s a female precisely because she does not have those swollen thighs.
I was lucky to find her as her species is nocturnal, feeding at night on the pollen and nectar of ivy and willow. During the day, they lurk under twigs and branches, which is how I found her, by picking up twigs and branches looking at lichen and searching for slime moulds. These insects grow to between 13 and 20mm long, and can be found in the more southerly counties of England and Wales, though they are not often recorded – there are just 278 recorded sightings in the NBN database (see map above), of which 65 are in Wales. I count myself amongst those fortunate to have seen such a beautiful little creature!
If you’re an insect geek (and I do not use that word disparagingly), you can see the full details of this species on the website of the Watford Coleoptera Group.
Happy St Patrick’s Day! It seemed appropriate to honour St Paddy and those from the Emerald Isle with a blast of green today. I think Goethe got the feel of green exactly right in his Theory of Colours:
The eye experiences a distinctly grateful impression from this colour. If the two elementary colours [blue and yellow] are mixed in perfect equality so that neither predominates, the eye and the mind repose on the result of this junction as upon a simple colour. The beholder has neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it. Hence for rooms to live in constantly, the green colour is most generally selected.
And this is why walking in a forest of green trees, sitting on a grassy lawn, or strolling in a garden all make us feel happy. Now, where did I put that paintbrush?
According to the numerous websites that list the various events, holidays and celebrations that happen around the world each day, today is both ‘Learn about butterflies Day’ and ‘Moth-er Day’. I do sometimes think these days are inventions to fill out their websites, as I’ve found no organisations celebrating either of these days in Britain and, though moths are around almost all year and butterflies are just starting to make their Spring appearance, this doesn’t seem to be the optimum time to celebrate either of these wing-ed species. Still, any excuse to share photos of some of my favourite creatures!
I had my first wander around Grangemoor Park yesterday and I’ll definitely be going back, though perhaps when it’s a little drier underfoot. With an extensive area of grass and scrub that rises up to two central mounds (from which you get quite good 360-degree views over Cardiff), this land wasn’t always a park. You have only to look at old maps to see that, once upon a time, the River Ely meandered through Penarth Moors here but, once the river was realigned, the hollows thus created were used as one of Cardiff’s rubbish tips. When the tip was full, Cardiff Council had a load of underground drains built, as well as ventilation pipes to allow the methane to escape, covered the lot with tons of clay – hence the very soggy ground, edged it all around with a solid stone wall, and changed its designation to a park in 2000.
That may sound like a sad history but, according to locals, the park now hosts quite a broad range of flora and fauna, and I certainly saw many of the stirrings of Spring. There were bumblebees and flies, a butterfly and a ladybird, masses of primroses almost hidden under bushes, golden coltsfoot and dandelions in bloom all around and horsetail pushing through everywhere, as well as incredibly vibrant lichens and a healthy growth of Oak curtain crust fungi. I will be going back!
This afternoon I realised I was not living alone in my new flat – this tiny creature very stupidly decided to climb one of the walls, thus bringing upon itself a level of attention that would ultimately lead to its demise. It’s the larva of one of the Case-bearing moths (possibly Tinea pellionella or Tineola bisselliella, or maybe something else entirely) that likes to chew your carpets threadbare or devour the fibres in your favourite woollen jumper.
As you can see it’s constructed itself a cosy little home which it can very easily move around. The case is open-ended so, as I discovered when waiting for it to poke its head out one end, it can actually turn around inside and poke its head out the other end if danger (or a gigantic human with a camera lens) threatens.
I actually had the carpet professionally cleaned before I moved in here so this little fellow must’ve been hiding somewhere, or it came along for the ride from my old abode. Sweet as that may sound, I do not want to be its friend, and it has now left the building!
As today is the winter solstice I thought it would be nice to celebrate world wildlife Wednesday in sunnier warmer climes. So, let’s head to Cambodia where, although this is the cool dry season – their equivalent of winter – temperatures are still averaging in the very pleasant mid-20-degree-Celsius range. And let’s pay a visit to the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, about 25 kilometres north of Siem Reap.
Not only does it have a large netted garden full of tropical flowers with hundreds of butterflies fluttering around, it also has a butterfly breeding programme. Egg-covered leaves are collected from the garden each day and stored in plastic tubs in a small propagation area. Once hatched the caterpillars, ranging in colour from the camouflaging pale greens to the bright red and black stripes of warning, are fed on their favourite plants until its time for their pupation. The butterflies, when they emerge, are equally varied, some vibrant reds and oranges, others plain black and white but intricately patterned, some large, others small and delicate. All are native to Cambodia.
The friendly centre guides provide a short guided tour, sharing their knowledge of the different species and explaining the life cycle and peculiarities of each species. By training Cambodian people who reside near forested areas to farm butterflies, and employing locals as staff, the butterfly centre benefits local impoverished communities, encourages the preservation of native forests, and helps to conserve the native butterflies – a win, win situation!
Following on from yesterday’s post where I (hopefully) sent you all on a quest to find the Holly parachute fungus, I thought I’d kill two biological records with one outing, and also get you to look for another species related specifically to holly.
This is the Holly leaf-miner (Phytomyza ilicis), a small fly that lays its eggs inside the leaves of holly. ‘Inside’ may sound strange, but holly leaves are relatively thick and leathery so, once the eggs hatch, they make the perfect home for the fly’s larvae, which live out their lives feeding on the flesh of the leaves and making a little home for themselves in the process. Their feeding creates multi-coloured blotches on the leaves so, although you’ll probably never see the fly and probably not even the larvae (unless you slice open a leaf at the right time of year), you can always tell where they’ve been. Once they’ve eaten their fill, the larvae pupate inside their leafy homes, then open a small escape hole once their transformation is complete and fly away to start the process all over again.
Co-incidentally, the Holly leaf-miner is species of the month (really, two months – November and December) with SEWBReC, the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre. Like yesterday’s Holly parachute fungus, there are few biological records of the leaf-miner but it is almost certainly just under-recorded because, once you start looking for those tell-tale blotches, you quickly discover it’s almost everywhere. So, get looking and recording!
As I’m sure you all know by now, I spend a couple of days each week volunteering at the Mary Gillham Archive Project, part of which involves extracting wildlife records from a huge number of folders absolutely stuffed full of the long lists of species Mary saw every time she stepped outside her house (and some inside her house as well). From attending lectures, watching television programmes, talking to people, reading journal articles, Mary also amassed a wealth of information about the flora and fauna of Britain so we learn a lot of fascinating details just from reading through all the paperwork.
Today I was reading about the Common earwig (Forficula auricularia) and was struck by this incredible detail: ‘The earwig mother cares for her young. She licks them – very necessary to keep them free of fungal infection.’ Apparently, the female earwig, who can be recognised by her straight rear pincers (the male’s are curved), spends the wintertime in a tunnel in the soil looking after her eggs, restacking them, sometimes moving them to a different part of the tunnel, and cleaning them to keep them fungi free. From the time they are born until they reach the second instar stage and leave the nest, she brings them plant and animal matter to eat and also regurgitates food for them. Perhaps the gardeners among you will now look more kindly on the earwigs that are chewing your dahlias – they might just have babies to feed.
When the Dock bug found out that his cousin the Green shield bug had received a blog post all to himself, he was not amused. Was he not as lovely? Was he not as worthy of attention? Well, yes, angry little Dock bug, you most certainly are, so here is your moment in the spotlight!
Coreus marginatus is the Dock bug’s scientific name, and he’s a largish (13-15mm), broadish, reddish-brownish sap-sucker. Luckily, his sap-sucking is restricted to the leaves of docks and sorrels so he’s not the pest that some other members of the squashbug (bugs on squash plants) family can be.
Mr and Mrs Dock bug seek each other out in the springtime to create the new generation, then, once hatched, their offspring, like most True bugs, go through five nymph stages before emerging as adults from about August. I’ve only ever seen the adults, in the shrubs, bushes and hedgerows alongside many of my walking trails, but there are plenty around – three sitting close together on one sunny leaf just last week. As well as inhabiting much of southern Britain, the Dock bug can also be found throughout Europe, in many Asian countries and in parts of North Africa.