Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mealybug destroyer at large

Today I spotted a weird looking little creature powering around the rim of  a flowerpot containing a plant bought yesterday from the Staplecross Shrub Centre.  After Googling about I tracked its identity down to the larva of a mealybug destroyer, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, a small Australian ladybird which, as its name suggests, is predatory on mealybugs.


This species now seems to be quite widely used to control mealybugs in the horticultural industry and this was no doubt how it arrived in Staplecross, perhaps brought with the many plants imported from Holland.  It is not winter hardy in this country.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Late May highlights 2018

Our granddaughter brought home a spray from a tree with which I was unfamiliar.  It was trained against a wall of a house in Ellenwhorne Lane a kilometre of so north of here.  It turned out to be kiwifruit, Actinidia deliciosa.  We found a caterpillar of Svensson's copper underwing, Amphipyra berbera, on it.

The caterpillar is very similar to the common copper underwing, Amphipyra pyramidea, but can be distinguished by the continuous lateral white line behind the head (it fades out for a couple of segments in A. pyramidea), the black speckled forelegs and the red-tipped spine at the end of the body.  It feeds on various trees and shrubs and seems quite happy munching away at the kiwifruit leaves.  The species is widespread here in East Sussex, but less common than A. pyramidea.

Another interesting moth was the appearance of a rather battered pale tussock, Calliteara pudibunda, on our lighted kitchen window.  This is a male with pectinated orange antennae. Sixty years ago when we worked in the Rother Valley hop gardens we often came across the beautiful golden haired caterpillars that were known as 'hop dogs'.


Halfway down the garden a very attractive combination of plants has occurred of its own free will: a mixture of wild yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) and a garden cranesbill, Geranium macrorrhizum I think.  I am sure it would be difficult to create deliberately.


I was also struck by a white-flowered plant of herb-robert (Geranium robertianum) that has splayed itself out on the back wall of the house unchallenged by any other vegetation.






Friday, May 11, 2018

Rabbits return

Rabbits have returned to the garden.  Yesterday there was one young one and today there were three and it was a pleasure to watch them gamboling about enjoying life.  They are welcome here.

A week or so after posting this the three rabbits had gone and a black and white cat (not ours) was seen sneaking across the lawn with a dead one hanging limply from its mouth.


There were some interesting insects in Churchland Wood a couple of days ago.  An early  broad-bodied chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa) perched on a bluebell.  I wondered where it had come from as there are no water bodies nearby in which it might have bred.


In the same area I noted this mating pair of craneflies, Tipula varipennis.  Usually found in lush woodland, there are also records from highland and island areas without tree cover.  One of the distinctive features of this species is the thickened front and mid femorae of the female.


Our large bird cherry tree has flowered spectacularly this year (as it usually does) and has been shedding petals like snow for several days.  Some have settled on a water butt and the photo below not only shows this but a reflection of myself - a rare guest appearance - holding the camera.







Thursday, May 03, 2018

Madder and madder

An unusual-looking weed I have been nursing along in a seed tray wher it sowed itself has now flowered and turns out to be field madder (Sherardia arvensis).  Although common in Britain and across the temperate world, this is the first time I have come across it.



Like its related species common madder (Rubia tinctorum) and wild madder (Rubia peregrina), field madder has been used to make a red or pink dye.  The generic name Sherardia is in honour of the 17th/18th century English botanist William Sherard.

In the welcome spring sunshine witches' brooms show up well among the pale green leaves and the blue sky.  They are probably caused by the fungus Taphrina betulina, but sometimes by other organisms.



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bluebells, orchids, goldilocks & ferns

With warmer weather spring is at its best, so here is an almost mandatory picture of bluebells (with a badger track running through them)


The early purple orchid colony I found in the clay pit in Killingan Wood is flowering now.


The flower spikes do not stand out well against the dead leaves and greenery of the woodland floor, but they are attractive close to.


Another first for the clay pit was the discovery of a solitary plant of goldilocks (Ranunculus auricomus), an ancient woodland indicator.  The flowers nearly always lack a full complement of petals, though I have not seen an explanation.  Maybe their need to attract pollinating insects is not great.


There are many species of fern in the clay pit and this is the best season of the year to separate them as the unfurling fronds are often more distinctive than they are later in the year.  Below are pictures of the narrow-leaved buckler fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) and soft shield-fern (Polystichum setiferum) with its characteristic crozier-like frond tips.







Monday, April 16, 2018

April lepidoptera

Butterflies and moths are becoming more frequent again as the weather gets warmer.  So far in the garden I have seen brimstones, peacocks and the comma (Polygonia c-album) below sunning itself on a flagstone.  I sometimes wonder quite how the aerodynamics work with the ragged-edged wings of this very capable flier.


On the moth front we were surprised to see on 11th April a small magpie (Anania hortulata) on our sitting room ceiling.  This normally emerges from June to August and such an early record possibly indicates that the caterpillar had found somewhere to pupate undisturbed indoors.  

The generic name Anania is a figure of speech known as a litotes (e.g. 'not bad') which, in this instance, could translated as 'not unattractive'.  However, the moth was originally placed in the genus Eurrhypara which means 'well greasy'.  The wings were said to have a greasy appearance, a feature which escapes me.


A very pretty Geometrid moth (see below) that normally flies in April and which I haven't seen for some time is the streamer (Anticlea derivata) appeared the other night on our lighted kitchen window.


This has caterpillars that feed on the leaves and flowers of wild roses, reminding of William Blake's poem The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

The scientific name is interesting.  Anticlea was the mother of Ulysses and she is said to have died of grief because her son was away too long at the Trojan War, though I fail to see why this relates to the moth. The specific name derivata means 'a diverted stream' and presumably refers to the fine black lines (the streamers) crossing the outer part of the forewings. 


Friday, April 06, 2018

Spring arrives

The weather has now turned warmer - up to 15 degrees C today.  Over the past week a wood mouse has been sharing some barley flakes put out for the birds.  Here it looks a bit on the wet side and seems to have the tip of its tail missing, but having survived the worst of the winter it might now have a chance.


In contrast to the damp mouse, today a comma butterfly sunned itself on the concrete path.  Almost the first butterfly of the year.


The early dog violets (Viola reichenbachiana) are starting to come out in various places in the garden and woods.  They flower earlier than common dog violets (V. riviniana) and are a somewhat redder shade of mauve which is distinctive when one is familiar with both species.  The flowers also have a dark spur at the rear rather than the paler one of the common dog violet.


The clay pit in Killingan Wood is very attractive just now with many patches of wood anemones but very few bluebells.  The hornbeams, which are the dominant trees in most of the wood and the oaks, maples and other species tend to grow on the clay sides of the pit whereas the central sections have mainly been colonised by ash.


In one out of the way corner I found a colony of about 25 early purple orchids (Orchis mascula), a species that seems to do particularly well in this wood.  I shall return when the flowers are out.