Friday, 31 May 2013

Answers on a postcard!

   Can you see it? 

Getting all excited over a black weevil

Liophloeus tessulatus, left, typical form, right, form maurus
 Although the overall title of my blog is Trent Valley Beetles their has in my honest opinion been a dearth of articles on beetles.  Well here's one to redress the balance.  Went for a walk along the River Trent at Shelford this afternoon after a morning trip up to Sheffield to pick up my son who has just finished his 3rd year reading Ecology at the University of Sheffield.  My son suggested the walk has he has been poring over books and papers since Christmas and has not been out and about much at all.  Took the beating tray and sweep net for this trip but to be honest didn't use them a deal.  Plenty of Wasp beetles around, picture of one on Himalayan Balsam at the bottom of the blog.  However the beetle that got me going was the black job on the right of the photograph, top left. At about 10mm its quite a big beast which was sitting on a hogweed leaf.   Now a black weevil about 10mm is an unusual thing in this neck of the woods, so into the pot it went.  At home a session on the microscope and a determination of species gave me  "Liophloeus tessulatus".  Now I'm pretty familiar with this weevil in its typical form, the beetle on the left of the photograph, which is clothed in scales and tessellated. My black specimen though threw me out, however the Morris's keyto Broad nosed Weevils gave the following description of a form of L. tessulatus "dark weevils lacking most of the clothing of scales and in which the black derm shows clearly are f. maurus.  A nice find and now part of my reference collection. 

Clytus arietis - The wasp beetle, Shelford Notts, 31.May 2013

Monday, 27 May 2013

Another Jumping Spider "Evarcha falcata" plus a couple of nice beetles, Oiceoptoma thoracicum and Rhagium bifasciatum

Evarcha falcata Sherwood Forest 26th May 2013
Two sunny days on the trot, whatever next!  I wanted to avoid bank holiday traffic so a quick trip to Sherwood Forest and Budby Heath seemed the best bet.  Once you're away from the Major Oak and visitor centre it's still quite quiet whatever time of year. Indeed even today we had the heath to oursleves. Heard a couple of cuckoo calling which was quite pleasing as my last visit to Sherwood was noticable by their absence.  However first creature of interest was the beautiful little jumping spider Evarcha falcata. Pretty common in open woodland and perfectly camouflaged on last years dried bracken. Also a little pain to photograph as it did not want to stay still.  However shot shown shows side profile, and posterior eyes rather then those big anterior eyes so noticeable on jumping spiders.   

Rhagium bifasciatum 26th May 2013
In my opinion one of the commonest longhorn beetles of Sherwood is the impressive Rhagium bifasciatum.  This beast is pretty common in spring wherever there is dead or dying Scots Pine.  This specimen was found by peeling a little bit of bark away from a well rotten and fallen pine on which another specimen was resting. Looks like this one was ready to emerge at any moment.   

Oiceoptoma thoracicum - Wellow wood Notts. 26th 2013

Also found the very distinctive Silphid carrion beetle Oiceoptoma thoracicum, unlikely to be confused with any other UK beetle. This was a single chap attracted to a pile of Dog faeces at Wellow wood to the east of Sherwood.  I once found about 30-40 of these beetles on a dead crow at Lathkill Dale Derbyshire (there is a picture on my flickr site of a pair copulating on the bird) and have also encountered them on stinkhorn fungus. Wellow wood is well worth a visit. I went to look at a rather large patch of Early Purple Orchid. These were nicely in flower but the site has already become a little to shady to allow for a good photograph.   

I also attach a photograph of a group of English Longhorn cattle on the Heath.  These lot were all particularly young and the middle one was doing a good bit of foot-stomping.  Now I'm not usually phased by these beasts but this group of young lads seemed to be behaving with a little more belligerence than normal.  So, I chickened out and hopped over the fence to avoid confrontation. Finally I see that BBC springwatch is back on the television, if ever a program brings out the cynic in me its got to be this one.  I'm not sure if I can take another owl eating its brother or sister or infra-red badgers doing very little apart from scratching their nether regions. Any rutting stags being filmed? Or am I confusing this with the similar fayre shown in the autumn. 

posse, gang, angry herd, these youngsters were a little too inquisitive for my liking. 

Red Mason Bee Cleptoparasite - Sapyga quinquepunctata

Sapyga quinquepunctata - Carlton Notts 27th May 2013
One of the joys of providing a home for Red Mason Bees is not just the Bees themselves but the way they attract several species of parasite.  One such is the Solitary wasp Sapyga quinquepunctata, the quinquepunctata probably referring to the spotting on the tergites. This fine looking wasp lay their eggs in the in the nest cell of the mason bee.  The larvae then feed, not on the bee larvae but on the stored pollen and nectar. It isn't a true parasite but a Cleptoparasite  as the wasp larvae steals the bee larvaes food resource rather than attack the bee larvae directly. At present I have about three of these chaps hanging around my Mason Bees.  Having observed them for a couple of years now its quite clear that they don't come out for very long each day.  They often take up position in an unoccupied hole with just their head and antennae sticking out.  Then usually about mid afternoon they go looking for bee nests under construction.  The attached photograph show a female leaving a mason bee's hole.  I'm presuming it has just done the deed and deposited an egg in the cell before the bee seals it up.  

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Green Winged Orchid, Sawflies and yet another Salticus.

It's not very often that I can say "I'd rather have been at work than out and about" but Friday was that sort of day.  How things can change in the UK. Today Saturday, not too hot but plenty warm enough for a bit of arthropod action.  However main quest of the day, off to Woolsthorpe in the Vale of Belvoir to take a look at the Green Winged Orchids (Anacamptis morio). Not a lot to say really, a herb rich meadow with lots of nice flowers of which the orchids are probably the star attraction. However as usual the flowers had to wait, one of the old wooden  gates leading into the field held a very healthy population of my Favourites "jumping spiders".  It's the eyes that do it for me, it makes them look rather intelligent and the fact that their other six eyes gives them 360 degree vision means they pretty much know your getting close and want to photograph them. However hope you like the pics, one eating a small hoverfly and one hiding in the mark left by a hammered nail. Also photographed is a not too common Sawfly, I think it's Tenthredo temula, but again as with all my sawfly determinations if someone knows better please let me know.  Found the Sawfly feeding on Cow Parsley "Anthicus sylvestris" but I observed it successfully ambush and devour a dipteran fly. On a non natural history not I also attach a "macro" photograph of Phantom of the Ruhr", or sometimes named "City of Lincoln" our last airworthy Avro Lancaster.

Salticus with Hoverfly meal, Woolsthorpe Leicestershire 25 May 2013 
Salticus at Home. 
Tenthredo temula, Woolsthorpe Leicestershire 25th May 2013
Lancaster and fighter escort Vale of Belvoir 25th May 2013 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Honeysuckle Sawfly - Zaraea lonicerae

Honeysuckle Sawfly Carlton, Notts 21st May 2013
 I've had these absolute beauties in the garden for two years now.  They hang around near to my two honeysuckle but as yet I've not seen one on the plant.  However A flick through the AIDGAP key to the genera of British Sawflies quickly sent me to the family Cimbicidae and the genera of either Abia or Zaraea, the brown yellow streak on the wings gives the genus away.  However the key only runs through to genus and I have no further keys to take me to species. However, a description of Abia suggests rare species feeding on Scabious, a plant not in my patch whilst our two species of Zaraea both feed on Honeysuckle.  A quick internet trawl and I'm settling on Zaraea lonicerae.  NBN gateway only shows a few squares marked in down south for current distribution.  Perhaps its new to Nottinghamshire.  Whatever the reason for it being here I'll make sure I find the larvae on my honeysuckle later in the season.  Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoy the fly (I should really say primitive wasp). 
Honeysuckle sawfly - Carlton Notts 21st May 2013

PS - I'm no expert on sawflies so if I've made a howler in i.d. then please let me know. And finally, pictures were taken early evening it was also a little dull, I don't use flash so had to increase ISO to 500 to get working light, hence not tip top sharp image. Still you get the picture it's a beautiful thing.
Sawfly Carlton Notts Garden 21st May 2013 - resting on Flag Iris. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Couple of Fresh-uns

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas May 19th 2013 
A couple of nice freshly emerged butterflies in the garden in the last couple of days.  Small Copper and tonight on my return from work a lovely chocolate brown Speckled wood.  Small Copper is a bit unusual in my suburban garden but Speckled wood makes a daily appearance with several noted on some days.  Not bad to say that the garden is about 35ft in length by 20ft width. It is however one of the few gardens locally with plenty of native flower species in. I have even sacrificed the lawn for Dog Daisies, Self heal, Violets, red campion and Buttercups.  Still it was buzzing with fly life this Sunday.  The following butterflies have also made an appearnace so far this spring, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Small and Large White, Green Veined White, Comma, Peacock as well as Holly Blue. Alas no Small Tortoiseshell.
Speckled Wood Parage aegeria Carlton Notts 20th May 2013 

Trent Valley Reed Beetles - Donacia simplex, vulgaris and clavipes.

Donacia simplex on Burr Reed Holme Pierrepont Notts 19th May 2013. 

 Twenty one species of reed beetle are known to occur in the UK, of which 15 occur in the genera Donacia. Of these I have found three species during my ramblings along the Trent Valley, namely Donacia simplex, D. vulgaris and D. clavipes. They are medium sized metallic coloured beetles, usually found near water and all associated with  water plants.  The most common in Nottinghamshire and along the River Trent is D. simplex.  From mid-May through to end of June they can readily be seen feeding mating and just hanging around on Burr Reed.  Good spots to find them are the Gravel pits around Holme Pierrepont, along the Banks of the River itself above Stoke Lock whilst good populations exist at Colwick country park where they are pretty common along the old course of the Trent, known locally as Colwick loop.  A similar species D. vulgaris can also be found in the same spots, very similar to simplex it can be most easily distinguished by the violet to blue streak, one on both elytra (the hard modified protective wing case).  This species like simplex uses Burr reed as the larval food plant.  The only other species I have encountered was the nationally scarce reed beetle D. clavipes,  I found one of these chaps at Skylarks nature reserve.  This beetle feeds on Phragmites australis, "common reed" plentiful at the skylarks site.  However further searches have so far proved fruitless.

I also found quite a pretty fly whilst out, the Pond Olive, thought I had a nice photo, but the specimen I photographed was damaged it should have two whip like tails projecting form its rear end.  They appear to be missing. Whether it lost these on emergence or lost them to attempted predation I'll never know. Still it's a curious fly and makes a good study. 

Pond Olive "Cloeon dipterum" May 19th Home Pierrpont Notts. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Another Jumping spider on my wall, "Siticus pubescens"

Jumping Spider, Siticus pubescens - Carlton wall 07/05/2013
After returning from work I popped out the back to take in my Mason Bee colony.  The males are still making life a little uncomfortable for the females to the point whre the females have moved on to an overflow set of bamboo tubes I bought from, of all places, Morrisons.  However once the males have died off I expect the females to move back onto my log especially as I will clear the debris from a few of the vacated holes.  It is also noticeable that I have several holes still blocked by mud. I'm not sure whether these are late to emerge are dead due to the harsh winter or contain parasitic wasps. I'll wait and see on this one.
Anyway enough of bees.  When looking at the bees my attention was drawn to the chap in the photograph. He had taken up position behind my bee log in a little gap between the wall and the log.  He seemed quite happy with a small shaft of sunlight illuminating him nicely.  A rush inside for the camera and what you see is the best of some rather average shots, I think that there was not enough natural light, but it still gives a pleasing effect, give the picture a double click and you can see it a little more clearly. 

Siticus pubescens is a rather nice hairy jumping spider, slightly larger than my other wall dweller Salticus scenicus. Described as common and living on walls and fence posts. I have them on both wall and fence in my suburban  garden.  Still haven't got the extension tubes, but have spent a fair bit on 3 books on British spiders, an EBAY bargain!  

Monday, 6 May 2013

Bee's in Flight.

A beautiful day here in Nottinghamshire. My Red Mason bees were active from about 8.00am and built themselves up in to a right mating frenzy by about 10 O'clock.  This gave me a chance to try and photograph a few in flight.  In the past I've found macro-photography of moving insects all but impossible. However camera fully charged, shutter set for multiple shot standing on a chair so that I could get close to the hole they were investigating and then shoot away.  I upped the ISO to give me a bit more shutter speed and stayed focussed on one point hoping that the bees would actually fly into my focus point rather than me chase them around.  Hope you like the end result, I'm rather pleased for once. I've uploaded another couple of images on my flickr account, you can access this by clicking the link in the right hand column of this blog. 

Osmia bicornis Carlton Nottinghamshire 6th May 2013. 

This chap on my finger has got to be my favourite species of Bee, its not rare, it doesn't have anything fancy about other than its stunning colours.  Andrena haemorrhoa

Andrena haemorrhoa - Holme Pierrepont Nottinghamshire 6th May 2013
And finally, more Bees this time a couple of Mason Bees doing what comes naturally, it's either pushing the other one off or it's up to something else, I'll leave that one to you to work out. 

Osmia bicornis, Carlton Notts, 6th May 2013. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Love Darts - Helix aspersa

Garden snails, Helix aspersa, don't need sex they're hermaphrodites, an organism with both male and female reproductive organs.  Although self fertilisation can occur they do, at least in my garden, like a bit of gamete swapping, in the form of sperm exchange. However snail courtship like most snail activities is a slow process taking several hours.  Preliminary to copulation snails shoot darts (scientific name gypsobelum) at each other.  These hard darts are stabbed into the partner prior to mating and are thought to contain hormones that increase the survivability of the sperm that the snail will subsequently pass to its partner. I attach a   photograph that clearly show the dart in the side of the right hand snail whilst it also shows the transfer of sperm between one snail and another.  Not a lot more to say really other than there's a lot of sex going off in the garden at the moment. End result, each snail produces about 80 large whitish eggs.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Dermestid Beetle, Megatoma undata

Megatoma undata - Shelford Notts 1st May 2013 
For those of you that follow this blog the name Trent Valley Beetles may be becoming something of a misnomer, with the majority of my articles talking about anything but beetles.  However a trip to one of my favourite patches along the Trent at Shelford led to me finding the Dermestid beetle Megatoma undata.  The start of the walk consisted of releasing two lambs who had stuck their heads through a wire mesh fence to feed on the longer grass on the other side.  My initial attempts were not helped by the lambs jumping even harder into the fence, it wasn't until they had settled that I could loosen the wire to free them. Anyway back to the beetle Megatoma is a widespread but quite local beetle throughout England. Running to about 10mm, although I've never seen one much bigger than about 5mm they are most commonly found behind peeling bark in the vicinity of spiders webs or old spider nests.  Here the larva are thought to feed on the insect remains left by the feasting spider.  In some publications it is said to be found sitting on old posts, which is where the beast in the photograph was photographed was found. Didn't see a lot else, couple of nice bees, Andrena haemorrhoea, Andrena cineraria and the tawny mining bee Andrena fulva, all three are beautiful in colour and a joy to see. I attach a photograph of A. fulva sunning on the same post as megatoma
Tawny Mining Bee - Shelford 1st May 2013.