17 April 2020

common things in the garden

Gradually getting to grips with things I'd expect to see in the garden although today's much needed rain will slow down finding much more for now. Caught up with a few more Bumble Bees.
This is a queen of the Buff-tailed Bumble Bee Bombus terrestris which shows the buff tail, warming itself on the wall. The workers have a white tip to the tail and are essentially indistinguishable from the group of species now making up what was the White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum.

Much smaller is the Early Bumble Bee Bombus pratorum which by virtue of starting early and being small can have 2 generations per year, at least in the south of the UK. Males can appear as early as April.
Lastly is the Common Carder Bee Bombus pascuorum a late starter and recognised, in normal suburban gardens, by having a brown topped thorax and no white tip to the tail. This is one of a group of bees called pocket makers because they make a pocket alongside the larvae into which they place a mix of pollen and nectar. The other bumblebee type places this mix in pots away from the larvae and the workers carry it to them. The name carder is used because they comb material to make a soft insulation for the nest. There are also a group of parasitic bumblebees who invade the nests and kill the queen and make the workers rear their young, they tend to be less common and fly later in the year as they need an active nest to parasitise.
On our Rosemary plant I came across an Early Bumblebee fallen victim to a crab spider Misumena vatia
From this pose it is easy to see why it is called a Crab Spider.
The colour can vary from white to yellow and even pink.
This male (because of the large palps in front of the face) Wolf Spider, Lycosidae, I identified as Pardosa amentara by examining the underside of the palps.
I had decided before that this was the female of the same species based on her appearance, not a very reliable way of identification. There are large numbers of these running around in my lawns, not bald green bowling green lawns!
In the bushes are small webs with this green spider which I can only put down as 1 or the other of Araniella opistographa or cucurbitina without trying to key out a specimen.
Lurking in my coal shed is the long legged spider Pholcus phalangioides
many of whom will come indoors at the end of the year. A much more attractive spider can be found lurking in the dark, often under tightly stuck stones or in cracks. This animal is nocturnal and is called the Woodlouse Spider Dysdera crocata.
Not surprisingly, given its english name, it feeds on woodlice of which there are a vast number in my garden. To penetrate the hard carapace of the woodlice the spider has very sharp and strong chelicerae meaning it is one of the few spiders in this country that can give you a nasty bite.The main woodlouse in my garden is Porcellio scaber identified to genus by the 2 segments to the flagellum of the antenna. The flagellum is the final most flexible part of the antenna and is shown in more detail in the small vignette included.
The adult woodlouse is mainly grey but younger animals exhibit varying amounts of reddish or orange areas, as seen here.
Bugs, Hemiptera, are represented most commonly and easily identified by the shield bugs. This is the Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina sitting on bushes everywhere and doing what comes naturally as you see here. Hemipterans have a sucking proboscis like a hypodermic needle for sucking plants, animals and occasionally both.They are not specialist feeders and suck from a wide variety of bushes and trees including fruit, unfortunately. This next is the Sloe Bug  Dolycoris baccarum which does feed on Sloe bushes but also a wide variety of other trees and bushes.
If you have trees in or around your garden you will also probably find this species, the Hawthorn Shieldbug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale which, again, does feed on Hawthorn but also a wide variety of other species.
Since I have no books on the subject I have relied on the excellent britishbugs.org.uk to try and identify 2 further species which I present as tentative identifications. First is a Lygaeid, Drymus sylvaticus
and, secondly, a mirid Stenodema laevigata

Maybe.....if anyone has a view please let me know. Lastly are a group of hoverflies, syrphidae, not quite so problematic in the identification but there exist some which are.
Firstly is probably our commonest and well known hoverfly the Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus.

This female (eyes not touching) has quite the normal amount of orange, but they can be found with much darker colours and even silver bands if the temperature at which they developed is lower. They are wasp mimics and due to the larval diet of aphids are a help in keeping our crops aphid free.
This female is another aphid feeder, this time of fruit and other trees Epistrophe eligans.

Very common in grassy areas is Melanostoma mellinum (a male this time) whose larvae are also aphid feeders but now in the grasses or down in leaf litter. As adults this species often visits supposedly wind pollinated plants like Plantains and contributes to their pollination as well as feeding on the pollen. Lastly is one of the archetypal hover flies found hovering a lot in many habitats. Known as Drone Flies because of a resemblance to male honeybees this genus is Eristalis and is found throughout the spring and summer but may be most apparent in autumn busy at the flowers of Ivy.

This is Eristalis pertinax, a male because the eyes meet at the top of the head and the species because of the yellowish tarsi and the narrow black stripe on the front of the face defined by 'dusting' either side of it. The larvae in this case are the rat tailed maggots found in nutrient rich waters or farmyard drains.
Lastly for this post is a female (by the relatively straight 'pincers' at the rear tip) earwig Forficula auricularia which feeds on plant and animal matter. A nuisance to my Dahlia growing neighbour when I was a kid, a plant pot placed upside down on the supporting post somehow helped.
Unusually for insects the female lays a relatively small number of eggs, licks then to keep them clear of infections and guards the young until independence.

15 April 2020

further garden insects

This amazing weather continues to draw me out of doors into my garden and so the posting of pictures falls behind as usual.
Wherever colonies of solitary bees exist there are normally Bee Flies, in this case the Dark-Edged Bee Fly Bombylius major at work flicking eggs onto the soil in the vicinity of nests. The larvae crawl into the next and live as parasitoids. These bees often indicate the presence of a bee colony before the bees themselves are seen

These flies are refilling with energy at flowers, hence the unfeasibly long proboscis. Here are a few more species of hymenoptera landing within photographic range. This is a male Hairy-Footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes  and is named for the long hairs you can see here arising from the legs. In spite of being as big as small bumble bees this is still a solitary bee i.e. without a worker caste. The word solitary, used with solitary bees and wasps, does not apply to the numbers or density of nests, hundreds or even thousands may be found together or even inside a single communal entrance, e.g. a rabbit burrow, many separate nests may be found.
This is the female Hairy-Footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes which as you can see is all black but with red haired hind legs. It has a relatively long proboscis designed for probing long necked flowers like these of Blueberries.

On the other hand this bee is tiny, almost certainly The Green Furrow Bee Lasioglossum morio.  The females fly from March to October, only being joined by males from June onwards. In spite of being tiny (4mm or so long) this species is not a solitary bee, having a worker caste in small numbers. As is usual in nature habits do not necessarily follow our attempts at taxonomic organisation. 
Another mining bee, The Grey Patched Mining Bee Andrena nitida  is easy to identify in the female case. The orange thorax and shiny black abdomen are also found in the Cliff Mining Bee Andrena thoracica but the white hairs, particularly on the underside and legs show this is nitida. 
A truly social bee now. The Red-tailed Bumble Bee Bombus lapidarius is a common spring species when the queens are on the wing looking for suitable nest sites. The queen rears the first young herself by going out foraging but then stays in the nest after enough smaller workers are produced. Once the colony has got going well new queens and males will be produced. Only the new queens will survive the next winter.
A social wasp, the queen Common Wasp Vespula vulgaris, of great benefit, until the colonies break up, because it is carnivorous. Like the Bumble Bees, only the queens survive the winter.
If you look at the mandibles in the photo below you can see there is no space, the malar space, between them and the eyes. In the third photo, when enlarged, you can see long pale hairs on the first segment of the gaster (the back part after the waist) and the yellow band running just behind the eyes is broadly interrupted by black.
More interestingly, this third photo shows the insect collecting something exuded by the glands of Cherry Laurel leaves, be it wax, water or sugar... I seem to remember posting something about this a long time ago and have seen many hymenoptera  visiting for this benefit whatever it might be.
Among our loveliest beetles are the ladybirds and 3 species have emerged in the garden so far. The Seven Spot  Coccinella septempuctata is probably the most popular, a very useful insect in the garden being an aphid predator.
Likewise with this Fourteen Spot Propylea quattuordecimpunctata, a help to the farmer if left to mop up the aphids but like all predators the population is controlled by the food numbers and so there is a lag in their numbers behind that of the prey.
The Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis is a recent arrival (2003) which has spread very rapidly across the UK. It is a large, beautiful and very variable species. This is the commonest form succinea.  Because of its size and habit of feeding on other insects as well as aphids it was thought to be a threat to other ladybirds. As a common and widespread newcomer it is likely to cause a shift in numbers of other species, including ladybirds, but only time will tell how it settles down into the UK fauna. 
I am not normally an inveterate turner of stones and logs but this is a good thing to do if the shelter is replaced exactly as it was and can reveal a whole suite of things not seen otherwise. This is a nocturnal predatory Ground Beetle, The Black Clock Pterostichus madidus which, as you can see, sometimes has red on the legs as well as rounded rear tips to the carapace and paler tips to the antennae and palps. I have seen it gathered in 10s under logs in some situations. 
Also common in my garden are centipedes and millipedes (Myriapoda). Centipedes have one pair of legs per segment and millipedes 2. This is a standard centipede of the genus Lithobius which will not key key correctly in my guide so may well be an immature, time will tell.
This is a more fantastical beast called Stigmatogaster subterranea common in the southwest but found up as far north as Scotland. Hard to tell but the head is to the right!
Centipedes are carnivorous but millipedes are not. This is what I think of as the archetypal millipede, which I cannot identify as I have no guide as yet.
This is what my centipede guide calls a 'flat backed millipede'. As you can see it has 2 legs per segment and my centipede guide says 'flat backed millipedes such as Polydesmus spp. More work to be done there then when I get a guide...

10 April 2020

first reward from the garden work

A number of insects have landed in front of me during the last few days causing a fair bit of eyebrow raising. The first of these was very interesting as the next group I wanted to work on when I had time was the Sawflies: Symphyta, waistless members of the Hymenoptera whose larvae are plant feeders. A shiny bronze metallic member of this group appeared atop the Cherry Laurel hedge allowing one photograph from a poor angle but enough to stimulate interest. I realised it was probably a member of the Cimbicidae because of its size and clubbed antennae. Fortunately I already had enough keys to get it to Genus Abia and a search of the interenet produced a set of online keys which showed me it was lonicerae named because the larvae feed on Honeysuckle Lonicera. A search of my Honeysuckle over the next couple of days revealed a couple of individuals who permitted better photos to be obtained. I felt relieved that, after strenuous efforts last year to remove Honesuckle which was spreading all over my garden and lawn, some survives in one corner which will now not be removed.
It may well be under recorded but a search of NBN gateway revealed a few scattered dots over much of the british isles. My experience of thinking I've found something new and interesting is often followed by revelations that it is simply under recorded or not yet mapped. I suggest, if you are interested and have some, you check out any Honeysuckle you can currently get at. There is another species of honeysuckle which may be rarer but is black and white....
As you can see here it looks as if this was a female trying to penetrate the leaves with her ovipositor unless I've got a lot more to learn than I think.

Another surprise this week turned up on my house wall. This is The Slender Groundhopper (Tetrix subulata) and lives in waterside areas. Interestingly I have only ever seen it's relative Cepero's Groundhoppr (Tetrix ceperoi) in the Swansea and Gower area and I have no idea why it should turn up on the side of a house in Tycoch.

On the wall inside the house was a Twenty Plume Moth (Alucita hexadactyla), 

slightly less surprising and equal in number to an effort at moth trapping on a warm but clear night with winds coming from spain. The only reward in this case was a Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica).

A type of Blood Bee (Sphecodes sp.) also turned up on the wall but this will not be identifiable from a photograph as identification relies on microscopic features and is quite challenging.

These are cleptoparasites of solitary bees and there are currently 2 species flying in the garden told by size checking out Andrena and Lasioglossum nests in bare soil areas.
The final wall dwellers are common small spiders without english names I can find. The first is a 'Jumping Spider' Salticus scenicus, this is a male with big black chelicerae.

The second is also a male, Xysticus cristatus a type of 'Crab Spider'
The female was found in the rear lawn in bare areas
Please feel to comment if you disagree with my spider identifications as I am no expertise in this area and am happy to learn.