Friday, 31 July 2015

A present from the in-laws

What is the most bizarre gift that have been given by your in-laws? I suspect that you have not been given a fly, particularly a large horsefly. However, this was my gift from my mother-in-law this afternoon. Jennifer had seen the fly on her patio window and rushed to get a pot, duly caught it and gave it to Jo to pass on. Whilst many people may not know quite how to take their mother-in-law presenting them with a horseefly, I was of course absolutely delighted. Especially as it is a species I have not identified before.

This is a Large Marsh Horsefly Tabanus autumnalis, a large species of biting horsefly (making it quite a specialist gift for someone). As well as the large size, this species shows three pale triangle markings on each of the abdominal segments. A quick look on the NBN shows that this would be a new record for the tetrad where Jennifers house is. If you think you can do better, Jo was once given a pot containing Japanese Knotweed for her garden from her last mother-in-law, which I suspect will take some beating.

Large Marsh Horsefly Tabanus autumnalis

Large Marsh Horsefly Tabanus autumnalis

Following the horsefly-related excitement of lunchtime, I had a more relaxed walk around the garden this evening. One of my targets was to find some wasps to look at and identify. The most familiar social wasps (the large yellow and black ones) are in fact quite an identification challenge. Whilst most people will think there is only one species of wasp in the UK, there are of course several different species. The two main families of what people would think of as a wasp are the Dolichovespula and Vespula, both of which contain four species of yellow and black wasps, which are best identified by reference to the fine details of the face pattern, with the size of the cheeks helping to seperate the two families. I managed to find a wasp settled on a Buddleia leaf, and after checking with my reference book, was happy to identify it as a Tree Wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris. The main features are the long cheeks (to place it in the Dolichovespula family), the yellow face with a small black spot and yellow base to the antennae.

Tree Wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris

Tree Wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Shouting Larva, Larva, Larva

I read somewhere recently how several moth larvae feed inside the seedpods of Red Campion Silene dioica, and since then I have been looking for evidence of this on the Red Campions in the garden. I met with some success this evening, when I found this fat caterpillar whilst I was collecting Red Campion seed for my mother.

The Lychnis Hadena bicruris larva

This is the larva of The Lychnis Hadena bicruris, which is one of species that feeds inside the seedpods. This looks to be a pretty tight fit, so I expect it will not be there for too much longer.

Red Campion Silene dioica

The were two other larva in the garden today, both of which are yet to be identifed. The first was this attractive sawfly larva, which looks to be one of the Nematis species. Whilst there are plenty of photographs of similar larvae being confidently identified on the internet, I think there needs to be a bit of caution with these. So I will not take this further at this stage.

Nematis sawfly sp.

Finally, this juicy beetle larva was dug up from the soil in the garden by Jo whilst was doing some planting. I am not sure what this is, or whether it can be identifed, but I will investigate further.

Beetle larva sp.

Birch Shieldbug

I was in the Churnet Valley this morning, meeting the National Trust and Butterfly Conservation at the fantastic Hawksmoor Reserve. This is a fantastic site for woodland wildlife, and I quite liked this Birch Shieldbug Elasmostethus interstinctus sitting on a sunny Birch (Betula) leaf. This site is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Birch Shieldbug Elasmostethus interstinctus

Monday, 27 July 2015

Office visitor

There was a vistor in the office this afternoon. I found this micromoth Mompha propinquella on the wall under my office window. It is quite a common species, and one I recorded a couple of years ago in the garden moth trap. The larvae feed on willowherb (Epilobium), several species of which grow around Batch Valley.

Mompha propinquella

I had an early start this morning, so managed to finish work a little early and had a wander around the garden to do a bit of entomologising, and there were quite a few interesting insects to be found. This Pied Hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri was perched quite contently and allowed a close appraoch. This is an amazing hoverfly, as every year this species migrates from mainland Europe to the UK. It is likely that few manage to survive the winter, so this annual influx maintains the breeding population.

Pied Hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri

The Golden Marjoram Origanum vulgare 'Aureum' is now coming into flower, and this is a fabulous plant for pollinators, one of the best in late summer in the garden. On it this afternoon was this lovely Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas, a beautiful little butterfly that is quite common in our garden. This is possibly because of the large amount of Sheep's Sorrel Rumex acetosella, the larval foodplant, which grows abundantly in our garden and on the Long Mynd.

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas

What is certainly a new species for the garden is this small bee, which I first saw on Saturday afternoon. It has been using the cultivated knapweed (Centaurea), and was on these plants again today.

Epeolus cruciger

On closer examination in my spi-pot (an essential piece of entomological equipment made out of plastic pipe and cling-film), this appears to be Epeolus cruciger. A cleptoparasite of a couple of Colletes bee species, this is typically found on heathland and grassland, but is very scarce in Shropshire and only known from a few localities. This is a male, which is more difficult than the female to seperate from its close relative E. variegatus. The reddish pygidium, as opposed to blackish, is one of the key features.

Epeolus cruciger

There was also a bit of a mystery, with this bug nymph found on the wall of my house. I am not certain of the species, but it may be Corizus hyoscyami, a beautiful red and black bug. I will be on the lookout in the next few weeks to see if I am (hopefully) right!

Possible Corizus hyoscyami nymph

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Big Fat Black Flies

I spend this morning helping the Strettons Area Community Wildlife Group with their event at Rectory Wood and Field in Church Stretton. One the highlights for one young family were two species of Tachinid flies, Tachina fera and T. grossa. In the absence of a vernacular name, the two young boys decided on calling these Big Fat Black Flies. It was great to see genuine interest in flies, just goes to show how wildlife can spark an interest in children.

When I got home I wondered if these species were out in my garden, and a quick look on the trusty Achillea found both of them in evidence. First up, T. fera, a parasite of caterpillars and other small insects.

Tachina fera

Next up T. grossa, the B-52 of the Diptera world.

Tachina grossa

Friday, 24 July 2015

From the Flames

Compared to Mothageddon a week ago, going through last nights moth trap was quite leisurely experience. There were still good numbers - 224 moths of 69 species - but I had enough pots and knew what most of the moths were. I also had two new species for garden, not quite up to last weeks additions, but a couple of keenly anticipated species.

Garden Tiger Arctia caja has only featured in the blog this year as the woolly bear caterpillar. I have been catching ones and twos of this species, and this one posed nicely as i released it from its egg box.

Garden Tiger Arctia caja

My first new moth of the morning was this slightly worn Grey Arches Polia nebulosa. I have previosuly seen this species on a Strettons Moth Survey, and possibly had one in the garden a couple of years ago but overlooked it as a pale Dark Arches Apamea monoglypha in my inexperience. I know a lot more know, and this moth really stood out.

Grey Arches Apamea monoglypha

This moth is quite a regular feature in the moth trap. If you were to look at the caterpillars of Grey Dagger Acronicta psi and Dark Dagger A. tridens you would be able to identify them easily. Whilst they look similar, they are different enough to be distinctive from each other. If you look at the adult moths like this one, they are identical and have to be recorded as one of the two species with reference to the genetalia. I have previously found a Grey Dagger caterpillar in the garden, with the distinctive yellow stripe and red spots, so I know this species can occur, though both would be likely visitors to Batch Valley.

Grey/Dark Dagger Acronicta psi/tridens

Rising from the flames of the moth trap was this Phoenix Eulithis prunata, a long-awaited new species for the garden. This moth was a lots more obvious than I imagined, with it being much larger than the confusion species Small Phoenix Ecliptopera silaceata.

The Phoenix Eulithis prunata

There were a couple of particularly nice micro moth species amongst the catch. One was my first two Agriphila inquinatella of the year. This is quite an irregular species for me.

Agriphila inquinatella

The other was a much more familiar species, this Cydia splendana, and particularly interesting as this is the dark form of this species. In this area this species larva is probably using acorn from Oak (Quercus).

Cydia Splendana

Also quite a small moth, but one of the 'macro' moth species, was this lovely Marbled Beauty Bryophila domestica. The scientific name of this species is quite telling. It feeds on lichens, and is often found in suburban habitats where lichens grow on walls.

Marbled Beauty Bryophila domestica

The final moth for this blog was this Plain Golden Y Autographa jota, my first one of this species so far this year.

Plain Golden Y Autographa jota

Monday, 20 July 2015


I had a busy weekend ahead and was working from home on Friday, so decided to set the moth trap on Thursday night. Whilst it was a warm and cloudy forecast, there was a fair breeze, so I thought I would have plenty of time to go through the trap before starting work.

As usual, I got out of bed at 5am to turn off and cover the trap, planning to get straight back into bed and then go through the trap after breakfast. As soon as I got outside, however, these plans were quickly shelved. There were moths all over the lawn, on the garden furniture, the wall of the house and the sheet I use to screen the trap from the road. One of the first moths I saw was this fabulous Scarce Silver-lines Bena bicolorana, brand new for the garden and a sign of what was in store. This is described on the UK moths website as possibly our most immaculate-looking moth, and I find it difficult to disagree.

Scare Silver-lines Bena bicolorana

The moths were not alone, with many other insects, in particular the numbers of Orange Ladybird and lacewing species were well into double figures. After an couple of hours picking up moths from the area around the trap and either potting the interesting species for later identification or photographs, I checked to see what the totals were. It was 180 moths, and I had not even looked inside the trap!

Sticking with the green theme, this mint-green coloured moth on the outside of the trap was my first Small Emerald Hemistola chrysoprasaria. This seemed an unusual species for me to find, as it is usually found around chalk downland and limestone with the larva feeding on Clematis vitalba. Not what I would expect on the sandstone of the Long Mynd.

Small Emerald Hemistola chrysoprasaria

If I thought that the Small Emerald was a good record, once I started opening the trap I found something even better. I potted this moth and had a look later on in the day, I did not recognise it and with the books it appeared to be a Silky Wainscot Chilodes maritima. However, this species is a reed (Phragmites) feeder, and though it is quite dispersive, there are no significant reedbed within tens of miles. I posted this on twitter to get confirmation that I was right, and this duly arrived quickly. It was a Silky Wainscot, and a first for Shropshire!

Silky Wainscot Chilodes maritima

Going through the trap was quite an experience. There were Chrysoteuchia culmella flying out whenever I tried to grab a new egg tray, I recorded at least 113 of these. Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba were exploding off the trays, there were 30 of these. There were 32 each of Common Footman Eilema lurideola and Dark Arches Apamea monoglypha, along with 30 Heart & Dart Agrotis exclamationis. Most of the species were in ones and twos however, with only a dozen or other species breaking double figures.

In total there were 17 new moths for the garden. One of the species that is actually pretty common and I would have expected to have recorded before is Light Arches Apamea lithoxylaea. This species feeds on several grasses, which makes it quite widespread, but is more often attracted to sugar than to light.

Light Arches Apamea lithoxylaea

Though not a new species for the garden, one of the highlights was this wonderfully fresh Gold Spot Plusia festucae. This species prefers damp habitats, such as fens, river banks and wet meadows. It is a beautiful species.

Gold Spot Plusia festucae

I also had my first two Confused Apamea flava of the year. This is one of the specialities of my garden, as I record this each year in moderate numbers. It is not a common species and is accocated with coastlines and hills inland.

The Confused Apamea flava

Most of my new species were micromoths, some of which took quite a bit of effort to identify. In fact it was not until today (the following Monday) that I identifed the last couple of species. Quite a few of the moths were quite straightforward, such as this male Large Fruit-tree Tortrix Archips podana. As the name suggests, this is assocaited with fruit trees particularly Malus and Prunus species.

Large Fruit-tree Tortrix Archips podana

This distinctive species proved to be Blastodacna hellerella, found on hawthorn (Crataegus), where the larvae burrow into the berries.

Blastodacna hellerella

I also recorded this Notocelia species, one of three very similar species. I have caught these moths before, but they have been quite worn and I have not been happy enough to identify down to the correct species. This lovely, fresh example allowed me to determine this as Notocelia trimaculana, another species associated with hawthorn.

Notocelia trimaculana

Another new tortrix species was this Epagoge grotiana, a distinctive speces associated with broad-leaved woodland. This was probably my favourite micromoth of the morning, and an easy one to identify.

Epagoge grotiana

The final two species to identify proved a lot more challenging. This rather worn tortrix appears to be Epinotia abbreviana, a highly variable species that is tricky enough when it is fresh. This species requires elm (Ulmus sp.), as with the White-letter Hairstreak I blogged about yesterday. I will need to confirm this one with the county recorder.

Epinotia abbreviana

Last were a couple of the Gelechids, which defeated me. I sent the pictures to Stephen Palmer at the Gelechid Recording Scheme, who was happy to identify these as Exoteleia dodecella. The larvae of this species feeds internally on the needles of pine (Pinus sylvestris), which is a bit of a mystery as this is not a tree I have noticed in the vicinity of the garden.

Exoteleia dodecella

My totals for the session would end up as a straggering 600 moths of 128 species! All in all it was a remarkable experience. I spend at least ten hours going through the trap and identifying species after the event, the sheer number of unfamiliar moths made it a real challenge. I would be quite happt with a few less next time, or I am going to need ot order a lot more pots!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

White Letter Day

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in Batch Valley. I had spent the morning sorting through my last few moth identifications from Friday (more to come soon), when Jo came inside asking to see a butterfly identification book. After a quick check she told me there was  Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja on the Scabious in the garden! I rushed outside, and indeed there was, though it escaped my camera.

A short while later Heather and John, who live three houses aways, walked past on their regular afternoon walk. They stopped to let me know that Heather had seen a White-letter Hairstreak Satyrium w-album in their garden, and had the pictures to prove it! I was left feeling very envious as they headed off on their walk, as this is butterfly I have never seen. I then walked round the corner of the house, and there was a White-letter Hairstreak on one of our Achileas! I managed to get a couple of quick pictures before it headed off. This is not a common butterfly, partly because it depend on Elms (Ulmus sp.), which are not as common as they once were. Fortunately there are Elms in some of the local hedgerows, where they are kept short and less susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease.

White-letter Hairstreak Satyrium w-album

It was in fact a wonderful day for butterflies, with twelve species in the garden. This included the first Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus of the year, with several in and around the front hedge.

Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus

Trying to relocate the White-letter Hairstreak, I noticed that our Scabious was covered with a selection of bees and flies. This included a large number of hoverflies, including the bumblebee mimic Volucella bombylans. This was the white-tailed variety plumata.

Volucella bombylans

There were also a couple of very interesting Diptera species, ones that did not look much like typical flies. The first of these was Sicus ferrugineus, one of the thick-headed flies Canopidae. This is a bumblebee parasitoid, though the adults are nectar feeders (like this one). They have a characteristic pose, holding their abdomen curved underneath the body.

Sicus ferrugineus

The other species was Physocephala rufipes, another of the thick-headed flies. As with the species above, this is another bumblebee parasitoid, with the adults visiting flowers. The thin waist, yellow and black face pattern and bulbous ending to the abdomen makes this a distinctive species.

Physocephala rufipes

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A Spring in the tail

I spent today at FSC Preston Montford on an excellent cranefly course. Our tutor for the day, Pete Boardman, set a challenge for us when we got home - to find a particular springtail (Colembolla) in our gardens.

The instructions were simple. Get a tray, a stick and a handlens, beat a few bits of vegetation and look out for a purple or yellow springtail in the tray. When I got home I went outside to give this a quick try, and bingo!

Deuterosminthurus pallipes (purple form)

This is Deuterosminthurus pallipes, a common and widespread species. Looking at the NBN you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a major rarity, as they have been recorded in no more than about 30 10km squares. Similar to yesterdays barkfly, this is a symptom of chronic under recording.

This species shows two colour forms, the purple one above, and the yellow one below. On my fairly unscientific garden sample, the two forms appear to be equally abundant. The photographs do not really give this species justice, but under a handlens they are quite an attractive species.

Deuterosminthurus pallipes (yellow form)

Another treat this evening was this Grayling Hipparchia semele, basking on the sunbaked wall by the back door. This is species I regularly see in my garden at this time of year, and appears to be fairly common on the Long Mynd.

Grayling Hipparchia semele

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A Bark worse than it's bite

I put out my actinic heath moth trap last night, and had a nice selection of moths, with several new for the year. Amongst the catch was a small insect, with it's wings held in a tent-like fashion, rather like a small lacewing. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I recognised as was a one of the Psocoptera, commonly refered to as barkflies and booklice. My insect was one of the barkflies.

After some searching on the web, I found the National Barkfly Recording Scheme website. This is an excellent website, with on online key to all of the species, a gallery with excellent pictures and lots of good information about this group.

Using the information on the website, I have been able to identify my specimen as Trichadenotecnum sexpunctatum (easy for you to say!). One of the useful features are the large dots on the cells around the distal end of the wing.

Trichadenotecnum sexpunctatum

This species is associated with tree trunks and the branches of a range of deciduous and coniferous trees and bushes. A look on the NBN website also suggests that this is the first record of this species for Shropshire, though I am sure that this says more about recording effort than genuine rarity.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Another day out with SIG

I had another very enjoyable day out with the Shropshire Invertebrate Group today. We first headed up to Mason's Bank, a Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve west of Bishop's Castle. Here, the upland heathland habitats are recovering nicely since the clearance of a conifer plantation in 2008.

Perhaps due to the young age of the heathland, and the stiff breeze at this exposed site, we did not find that many invertebrates. I am sure that this will improve as the site develops, and there were still a few interesting species to see.

One of these was a very large aphid that several of us found in our sweep nets. This was an impressive black aphid, with bright orange legs with black bands, and black markings in the wings. This caused a bit of head-scratching in the field, and it was not until we had returned home that an identification was secured. This is the Greater Black Spruce Bark Aphid Cinara piceae. This species forms large colonies on the undersides of branches and trunks on Spruce (Picea sp.). Their presence at Mason's Bank is presumably related to the previous history of coniferous plantation, and there are other foresty plantations within a few hundred metres of the site.

Greater Black Spruce Bark Aphid Cinara piceae

I was also pleased to find a species of Dagger Fly (Empidae) that I had not seen before. This is Empis livida, which can be identified by the brownish abdomen and the pattern of venations in the wing (though this is difficult to see in the pictures below). It is found around hedgerows, and the larvae are also carnivorous in the damp soil and leaf litter.

Empis livida

Empis livida

After lunch we moved on to Lower Shortditch, a kilometre or so down the road. This is a more established heathland site, with areas of scrub and young woodland, offering a different range of habitats and some comfort from the wind. It actually took us a little while to get onto site, as the brambles by the cars held many species of interest. One of them for me was this pretty micromoth Pammene aurana, a very distinctive tortrix with large orange spots on a chocolate brown forewing. This species is usually found around Hogweed Heraclium sphondylium, and the larvae spin the seeds of the plant together.

Pammene aurana

We eventually got away from the brambles, and as the sum came out there was plenty being found in sweep nets and beating trays. There were several of the bumblee mimic Volucella bombylans found around the site. There are a couple of different forms of this hoverfly, one with an orange-red tail (var. bombylans), and this one with a white tail (var. plumata).

Volucella bombylans var. plumata

Sweeping around a small pool discovered this Brown China-mark Elophila nymphaeata, an impressive micromoth. This moth has a remarkable life cycle, with their larvae being entirely aquatic. These larvae feed on water plants (eg Potamogeton sp.), mining the leaves before they cut circles out of the leaf and fuse these together to form a case. They then live in this case, presumably using this for protection as they feed and continue to develop.

Brown China-mark Elophila nymphaeta

Moving on to bugs, there was a plentiful supply of Gorse Shieldbugs Piezodorous lituratus, though rather than being found on gorse, these were seen to be plentiful on Common Broom Cytisus scoparius. We found them in various stages of their life cycle, from the tiny first instar nymphs through to adults. The sharp-eyed among us also found some eggs on the underside of a seed pod.

Gorse Shieldbug Piezodorous lituratus

Gorse Shieldbug Piezodorous lituratus eggs

My personal highlight of the day was a small day-flying moth found on the heath itself. It is quite rare that I see a new macromoth species, and finding several of these Small Argent & Sable Epirrhoe tristata was a real treat. These smart little moths can be quite common on open upland habitats, particularly where their foodplant Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile is found. I saw quite a large number of these moths across the site.

Small Argent & Sable Epirhoe tristata

In addition to the species photographed we found a huge range of other interesting species. The most notable of which was a small mining bee Andrena tarsata, which had last been recorded in Shropshire back in 2005. This species uses Tormentil Potentilla erecta,which grows in profusion on the Long Mynd, so perhaps a species for me to look out for around Batch Valley.

So another excellent day out with the group - great company, lots learnt and a friendly and patient welcome for a complete novice such as myself!