Sunday, 2 June 2019

Rearing an Eyed Hawk-moth family

Every year I declare that I won't rear anymore larvae as it takes a lot of time and through the peak Moth-ing season, the trapping (home and away), ID'ing, recording and dissecting could almost be a full-time job, albeit an unpaid one. That declaration soon gets amended shortly afterwards to "I'm not going to rear AS much this year" and it was this time last year that I was having that very same conversation with myself.
Almost to the day now, a female Eyed Hawkmoth I'd trapped in the garden had laid eggs overnight, in the pot she was in and it was this that tempted me back into keeping the nursery open, to raise yet another family!
In the early stages, providing fresh foodplant for the little ones is pretty easy and maybe a once/twice weekly job to replace with new. As soon as they get growing however, it's a different ballgame and before you know it, you're out chopping branches off trees as a daily ritual to feed the hungry mouths and their unrelenting appetite. I released some of the young to fend for themselves and to, quite frankly, ease some of the work from me. The other 20 or so, I kept to rear through myself. That number of larvae meant that in the later stages, when they were chunky little blighters, I was needing to replenish food twice a day to keep up!
Eating all that food means lots of frass - caterpillar poop, and minus the risk of parasitic wasps, birds and other predators that they were being sheltered from in the nursery, the main thing they're at risk of is infection, which can spread in no time and wipe out the entire lot. So cleaning out the frass is also a daily chore, often twice a day in those later stages. As you can tell, it can be rather time consuming when you have all sorts of species you've chosen to rear!

So anyhow, I lost a few along the way. Some don't pupate properly and I don't honestly know the reasons behind them all. Natural circumstances, I guess?

As a doting 'father' I'm allowed to bore you with family photo albums, so here you go:

early days

going out alone for the first time

too big for hand-me-downs stage now

the getting-to-fat-to-move time of life

time to slow down a peg and get this metamorphosis lark done

made it safely to adulthood!

It is a rewarding thing to do and also educational, but this year - I'm not going to rear as much...

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Been Buggin'

It felt like it'd been an age since I did it last, but I took advantage of the freakishly hot day on Monday and made the 5min walk to Litcham Common, armed with pots, net, sieves, trays, pooters and camera for some serious Buggin'!
Dad came with me and in no time at all we'd found our first invert of the session, oddly enough it was a Chestnut Moth running across the woodland path in front of us. A few Brown Lacewings were on the wing and flitting around the Gorse too. There were a good number of Gorse Shieldbugs (Piezodorus lituratus) as well and it always makes me laugh just how sensitive they are to your movement - get too close and they're off!

Gorse Shieldbug

Hawthorn Shieldbug was the only other one we saw on the day:

Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale)
Another interesting find (if you're into that kinda thing) were these Gorse Spider Mites - Tetranychus lintearius. Their web 'lair' gets wrecked in rain so after a couple of warm days is the best time to find their rebuilds:

Gorse Spider Mites

We had a few Ladybirds as well: Pine, 10-spot, 14-spot and LOADS of 7-spots. 

14-Spot Ladybird

Pine Ladybird

Quite a nice selection of Spiders from various methods of searching, lots of tiny Linyphiids sieved from the leaf litter and beaten from Gorse. I really would love to ID more of the Linyphiids but I didn't collect anything that I don't think I'll have the time (or abilty!) to ID properly. I've not got a compound microscope yet and it's something that is essential for the real titchy's of the family. Maybe one year, I'll have a real good go at them..
I did come away with one postive Linyphiid ID though, thanks to Matt Prince, and that was Microneta viaria:

Microneta viaria

Microneta viaria

A bit bigger than viara and beaten from Gorse, were Anelosimus vittatus, a few Araniella species, what is likely to be Metellina mengei (although Metellina segmentata can't be ruled out) and one of my personal faves, Diaea dorsata.

Anelosimus vittatus

Araniella sp.

Araniella sp.

Metellina sp.

Diaea dorsata - what's not to like?! :)

Sunning itself on a Gorse flower was this Bibio species of Fly (one of the smaller brothers of the St.Marks fly). I didn't catch enough of the details in photos to ID to species but it's one of maybe 3-4 different species. Nice little thing though:

Bibio sp.

Bibio sp.

As part of my must-try-harder-with-Bees-aim this year, I was chuffed to key out these two little ones and no surprise to find, they are both new to me.

Andrena dorsata - Short-fringed Mining Bee:

Andrena dorsata
Halictus tumulorum - Bronze Furrow-bee:

Halictus tumulorum

There was a nice Beetle beaten from Gorse as well, but again, I didn't keep this one. It looks quite distinctive but I've not looked into it yet and doubt very much that photos will be enough to nail it. Smart though:


Unfortunately, we didn't see any Orange Underwing Moths around the Birch trees like last year. Hopefully they're still there somewhere. 

A good afternoons Buggin' and will get back over there again soon!

Friday, 5 April 2019

The Virgin Bagworm

This Mothing lark is a funny ol' game isn't it?!..

I've found myself straying towards some of the more unconventional methods of searching for Moths of late, be it inspecting Pine Cones for the emergence holes of Cydia conicolana (see previous blog post), or having my hands imitate a pin cushion while looking amongst Gorse bushes for the case-bearing larvae of Coleophora albicosta - the hunt for the latter of which, is still underway!

This week however, I've probably topped the 'unconventional method chart', for now at least, finding my newest lifer - Luffia lapidella, the 'Virgin Bagworm' by staring at brick walls. Yep, putting dignity to one side while passing cars and pedestrians gawp at the bloke stood with his face inches from a wall, looking like someone who was released just a tad premature but missing that long sleeved white jacket he's been wearing for years. was worth it! lapidella feeds on Lichen and having checked various walls and the odd lichen-covered headstone, it was to be found somewhere closer to home. 30secs from my front door, in actual fact, on a wall which we pass almost daily. Me and Ralph (my trusty canine sidekick) were on our way back home and I slowed down as usual to check 'the' wall - using the whole my-dog's-having-a-sniff-so-I-better-wait-here-and-stare-at-this-wall routine and what do ya know! An amazing feat of camouflage by the tiny Bagworm but the shape and size finally caught my eye - found ya!

THE wall!

They're a little unusual in that the wingless, grub-like females are parthenogenetic (self-fertile).
I took her home for a closer look under the microscope and returned her shortly after, with camera, for some pics in her 'natural' brick-made habitat.

Only looking at the interior of the case gives away that it's made of a nice, soft to the touch silk, and not Lichen and Brick dust!..

Showing how they have such good grip for maneuvering around vertical walls:

Just check out that camouflage:

So there we have it. If you want to see your own - go stare at walls! :)

Friday, 29 March 2019

Pine-cone Mothing!

Exciting day yesterday..
Exciting if you're the kind of person who gets satisfaction from searching 8 billion Pine-cones before eventually finding the target you were after - a 2mm hole in one of the seeds!

It's better than it sounds, honestly. These emergence holes belong to the 'Nationally Scarce B' Moth: Cydia conicolana, an unassuming Micro that spends its time around the tops of various Pine trees. Subtle in appearance but like most of these smaller Moths, a thing of beauty in their own right when viewed up close.

Inspired by fellow nature-nerd Antony Wren, who has found 3 new sites for this species in neighbouring Suffolk, I've been looking to put my own dot on the map for a couple of weeks now. It's funny how things happen though - I was out with my Dad, Mick and was telling him about the species and the up-until-now fruitless searches. I pointed out a few trees that I'd already checked and suggested we might as well have a look at the last one, as we were there..
Blind as a bat, without his glasses, he picks up the first cone he sees, passes it to me with a wry smile and says "I can't see it properly but is that one?" ....Yes Dad. It is. You b*****d. We went on to find another half a dozen emergence holes in different cones from the same tree, so definitely signs of a decent population, definitely a new record for the 10kmsq and in fact the only record for the surrounding 30km squares - result!

Ridiculously easy to overlook but once you get searching, it's almost a habit to look at as many as possible until you find one. Or four, or five:

A couple of close-ups:

I delved a bit deeper and cut into one of the cones and found a load of frass (caterpillar poo) and more surprisingly, the remains of a long-dead larva! Getting the tiny speck under the microscope shows what's left of it:

I'm sure, like a hell of a lot of the Micros, this species is under-recorded due to size. It really is easy to look for though and I'd urge you to just inspect a few Pine-cones when you pass them next. Antony told me that all the new sites he's found are from individual Pine trees in the open and not actually part of a big, covered forest. That certainly seems to fit the bill, as we found these ones on this tree here:

So get checking those cones, good luck!

Monday, 18 March 2019

Mini-Tullgren Funnel for mini-beasts!

Firstly, what is a Tullgren funnel?! The Tullgren Funnel (or Berlese funnel/trap) method is what's used to extract insects from soil, leaf litter and moss etc. In a nutshell, it's a sample of any of those substrates with a lamp above it and a collecting pot underneath.
The lamp creates heat and light which the mini arthropods then go deeper down to avoid until they end up in the pot below, for you to look at.

I made a mini-Tullgren funnel a little while ago and was blown away by how many different things live within a handful of leaf litter etc. You really should give it a go.

Here it is:

Glamorous, huh?! Ok, maybe not, but I've got a bit of a thing about making things out of stuff I've got laying around and this is made from:

- Plant pot holder/stand
- small funnel
- small sieve (handle hacksawed off)
- one of those ghastly fatball feeders that I didn't use because it's the kind that birds get stuck in (bottom cut out).
- Clip on light fitting
- 60w light bulb.
- 2 lengths of thin wood (I split a piece of Bamboo).

It really doesn't require a manual, you can see from the pics that the sieve goes into the funnel (held by wire) and the that sits on the fatball feeder. It's a bit springy but no biggie, it was more that it's the perfect height to get the samples close enough to the light while also leaving room to put a pot or tub under the funnel.

The light fitting is clipped to one piece of wood and the second piece is there keep the light level and not pointing down at an angle. You want the light focussed down onto your sample to maximise heat/light.

The collecting pot underneath would usually have alcohol or a liquid solvent in, to kill whatever is collected for investigating but I've always just used water - a small amount so that you can see how much is being collected and prevent anything walking or jumping out of your pot. The minibeasts you'll be finding in these samples are nowhere near bigh enough to break the waters surface tension and so tend to collect up with any loose dirt or debris that's fallen through, creating little islands on the surface.
I then have a good look under the microscope to see what's what, ID what I can and take some photographs before emptying the contents back into whatever soil/moss/leaf litter I got it from.
Job Done. No harm done.

It's not the most productive time of year, insect wise, to show an example of what can be found and in the handful of (pretty dry) moss I found nearby, there wasn't anything come out of it BUT don't be put off! In a month or so, this little 'raft' of debris can easily have 5,6,7,8 different species on it so well worth having a go!

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Bee 'ghost-hotel!'

The small, shop-bought Bee Hotel we got for the garden served its purpose but rooms were booked quickly and in no time at all, it was a full house..or hotel. The usual unnecessary additions of sawdust and a couple of Pine Cones came to no use (as usual) but as the bamboo sections attracted an impressive number of Bees, we left it be.
This was a couple of years ago now and I will admit right now, that I was a bit naive about the upkeep and maintenance required to run a hotel, which I've recently learnt, can end up being detrimental to the very occupants you're trying to attract - the Bees!

So this dilapidated hotel fell apart during the winter and has definitely had its day. I kept the remains out the way to sift through and investigate to see what insects I could find - normal behaviour, right?!..of course it is ;)
As all the cells were sealed shut with mud last year, there were no new occupants so I deemed it safe to open up and have a look without destroying any developing Bees. What I found was plenty of larvae of what must be the Fly, Cacoxenus indagator, a cleptoparasite of Osmia bicornis - the Red Mason Bee:

On the side of one of the Bamboo lengths, I also noticed a small hole which COULD be an emergence hole from a Monodontomerus species of Wasp? Not sure and haven't split that cane open yet so there may be clues inside. To the right of that hole, on the seem of the Bamboo joint, you can see a group of small white things which I'm fairly sure are Pollen Mites - probably a Chaetodactylus species and as the Red Mason Bees are in good numbers here, one could hedge ones bet at them being Chaetodactylus osmiae but I couldn't confirm that one I'm afraid!

I found a few Bee cocoons trapped in between rotten debris, mouldy pollen stores and fly larvae, so they've all been placed in a tub in the off chance that something may emerge with the warmth of Spring. I've also kept the fly larvae in a pot with the contents of the tubes in which they were feeding on - cleptoparasite or not, that's nature and that's their life. Would be good to see an adult to confirm the species too, but I might just release these a way away from the new hotel!

All but one of the tubes had the chamber partitions and 'door' sealed with mud, but I did split one open to find the work of a Leafcutter, one of the Megachile species, I believe? Correct me if not, Bees are my kriptonite and I really MUST put more time into learning more about them!

What a learning curve that was this afternoon. Although the emphasis is on creating and looking after a healthy environment for the Bees, it's been another reminder as to just how many different things thrive in different conditions. Amongst the Dipteran squatters and Acarid intruders were also spiders, Bugs, Woodlice, Slugs and Fungi making a home out of what we deem fit for the bin.

With the Bees in mind however, what have a since learnt??

- before Winter hits, I'll move the new hotel to a covered area, to keep from the rain and therefore delay moisture and mould.

- The Baboo canes should be replaced annually, at a suitable time to not turn it into a parasite hotel.

- I need to spend more time ID'ing the Bees I see!

The new Hotel is up and open for business. It's been crudely knocked up and looks far from a 5* place but it will work:

Let's see what visitors I get this year...