Tuesday, September 27, 2016

House circuit (18): wasp, fly and two plants

Note: House Circuit posts are drawn from the many 50 metre walks I make every day around our house.

On August 10th 2016 I saw a solitary wasp attacking a solitary bee as big as itself in a flower of Geranium ‘Claridge Druce’.  I grabbed both plus flower; one stung me in the palm, but later I managed to identify the wasp as Cerceris rybyensis, the ornate tailed digger wasp.  This makes a burrow in the ground which it stocks with paralyzed solitary bees to feed its young.

The wasp was named by Linnaeus after a place called Ryby near Stockholm in Sweden which the great taxonomist visited with his friends.

The above is an Anthomyiid fly, Anthomyia ? procellaris I think, though there are a number of lookalikes.  I once bred several from an old cormorants nest that was kindly donated to me from the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and contained many invertebrates.  For a full account see here:


Wild marjoram and carder bee


Monday, September 26, 2016

Mysterious 'bluebottle'

I recently found a rather strange and distinctive fly in our garden that turned out  to be Stomorhina lunata a member of the Calliphoridae, the bluebottle family, though it does not look anything like a bluebottle and has been compared to some of the hoverflies.

(There are many better pictures on line).

Widespread in England, especially the south, it is said to be scarce, though Steven Falk has found it in many locations on the South Downs in recent years.  Most accounts say that it is probably a migrant from mainland Europe or even further afield.

In Africa the species is known to breed in the egg cases of locusts and some suggest that it turns up in Britain when large swarms of locusts are on the march in Africa.  This hypothesis has metamorphosed into the idea that since the early stages have only ever been found in locust egg cases, the adults must be migrants in the cooler parts of Europe - a good example of the absence of evidence being taken as the evidence of absence (in this case of the fly breeding in Europe).

In this Internet age, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations monitors locust swarms and there does not appear to have been anything exceptional, or close to Europe, in 2015 or 2016 (http://www.fao.org/ag/locusts/en/info/info/index.html).  I therefore suggest that Stomorhina lunata can breed in places other than locust egg cases, though maybe in mainland Europe rather than the UK, so our records could still be of migrants.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The spotted-winged fruit fly, Drosophila suzukii

A small fruit fly (Diptera: Drosophilidae), Drosophila suzukii, was found by the author of this blog in his garden in Sedlescombe, East Sussex (OS grid ref. TQ782188) on 10 September 2016.  It was the first Sussex record submitted to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre of this species which is spreading globally from its original home in the Far East.  It was first recorded in the UK in 2012.

In general appearance it closely resembles the Drosophila species associated with overripe fruit, vinegar and wine bottles but is distinctive on account of the dark area at the tip of the wings in the male (hence its English name -.  this name is often abbreviated to SWD).

The female lays her eggs within a wide range of ripening fruit and the larvae then develop inside the fruit.  Because of this it is regarded as a major pest, or potential pest, of soft and stone fruit both on a commercial scale and in gardens.  It can also attack blackberries and other wild fruits so it may have an effect on the wider countryside.

Much research into this newly arrived species is being done by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and East Malling Research (EMR). Details of the fly and its habits are summarised here: http://horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/swd-identifying-pest  One of the problems of identification is that it is not featured in any of the European pre-2012 literature dealing with the Drosophilidae.  The females in particular are likely to be overlooked or misidentified because they do not have spotted wings.
Scott Raffle of AHDB currently works as the industry co-ordinator for much of the SWD work that AHDB fund and says (September 2016) “the pest has been present in the South of England since 2012. It can be found everywhere in the South irrespective of whether the location is near to commercial fruit growing farms.”   Accounts of the spread of the species have been published in Dipterists Digest, but few records seem to have got through to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) and other national and regional wildlife recording agencies.

This new species may not be very tolerant of winter cold, so its survival here could be of limited duration.  Records are however important in showing how far north it might have reached thus indicating areas that are (so far) free of the pest.


AHDB Horticulture (n.d.)  SWD: Identifying the pest.  http://horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/swd-identifying-pest

CABI (2016) Drosophila suzukii on the invasive species compendium. http://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/109283#20107000720

Clemons, L. (2013) Kent Diptera 2012.  Bulletin of the Kent Field Club 58, 117-135

Defra (2012) Consultation on policy against Drosophila suzukiihttp://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/consultations/index.cfm

Martin Drake, C. & Stubbs, A.E. (2014) First record of Drosophila suzukii (Matsumura) (Diptera, Drosophilidae) in Great Britain.  Dipterists Digest 21 (2) 189-192.  Note, pages 192 to 195 contain notes from various authors on the species in London, Suffolk, Kent, Essex, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Middlesex.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

House Circuit running diary

20 August 2016.  Very windy and showery after the warm summer spell.  I did see one butterfly – a holly blue - from the sitting room window.  Despite the cool, hoverflies and bees seemed to remain active.  I noted Bombus pascuorum on orpine flowers – I have a growing list of insects visiting the plant.  Among the hoverflies the snout-faced, Rhingia campestris and the long-tailed, Baccha elongata, seemed to enjoy the cooler weather.

On a hazel leaf I found a long, narrow mine characteristic of the tiny moth, the least nut-tree pigmy, Stigmella microtheriella.  According to A. Maitland Emmet in his book on the scientific names of British Lepidoptera the specific name derives from Ancient Greek micros (small) and therion (a small creature) – splendid example of a tautology.  When the name was given to the insect by Stainton in 1854, it was thought to be the smallest moth.

There is a rather fine honeysuckle flowering outside the back door.  It looks like Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’, with its dark green leaves and late flowering habit.  It seems to agree with many of the pictures on the Internet.  It is certainly a cultivar, probably one that Sammy bought in a pot that has somehow managed to survive in the dark recesses on the north of the house.

19 August 2016.  Rain showers for much of the day bring some needed refreshment to the countryside.  Because of my leg ache from yesterday, I went out rather little.

18 August 2016.  The blue pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis ssp. foemina was flowering in the Old Woodyard and later, at home, I found the rather fine plume moth Amblyptilia acanthadactyla, the beautiful plume, on the lighted kitchen window pane.

17 August 2016.  Two moths late last night on the kitchen window the common grass veneer Agriphila tristella, and the red twin-spot carpet, Xanthorhoe spadicearia.  The identity of the latter had to be checked via an examination of the genitalia.

Butterflies remain rather scarce, though a brimstone put in an appearance on the buddleia and I saw a small white briefly visiting the orpine flowers (which are still regularly patronised by bumble bees).

There were several holly blues in our large buckthorn bush.  They were flying from one place to another and constantly settling as though laying eggs.  Alder buckthorn is an alternative foodplant and in France the butterfly is called the 'buckthorn blue' (azurĂ© des nerpruns).

16 August 2016. Butterflies rather scarce again, though I watched a holly blue laying eggs on ivy in the northern hedge.  A migrant hawker hung itself up here and I found a very dark worker middle wasp very sluggish on buckthorn flowers.  I found a figwort beetle, Cionus scrophulariae, on flowers of Buddleja x weyerana ‘Sungold’.  Usually found on figwort, it also occurs on yellow and orange buddlejas, and these plants formerly belonged to the Scrophulariaceae.  Perhaps the beetles know something the taxonomists don’t.  A brimstone moth, Opisthograptis luteolata, on the lighted kitchen window.

The single flower on the globe thistle, Echinops ? bannaticus, in the northern border (it has been there for about 25 years) is very attractive to bumble bees, with often three on it at any one time, but the flowers are over quickly.

I have a bit of mint found in the Old Woodyard in Brede High Woods yesterday.  It looks a bit like pennyroyal, but I shall have to try and grow some on to get a conclusion.  It isn’t anything I am familiar with.

15 August 2016.  The vanessid have returned in small numbers with small tortoiseshell and red admiral around the buddleia.  I also saw a meadow brown and there was a gatekeeper visiting the orpine plants.

14 August 2016.  It remains very warm but, strangely, most of the vanessid butterflies so abundant yesterday seem to have disappeared and I only saw two rather sluggish red admirals resting on buddleia leaves.  Non-vanessid species seemed to be at about their normal level.  There was the hoverfly Rhingia campestris visiting flowers of orpine and Syritta pipiens on the mint I moved yesterday.  I caught a light brown apple-moth, the tortrix Epiphyas postvittana, on vegetation outside my study window.  Originally an Australian insect it has spread widely through England and Wales since it arrived in Cornwall in 1936.

On a dusk expedition around the house I netted a mother of pearl moth, Pleuroptya ruralis.

13 August 2016.  I moved the strawberry mint Mentha x piperata ‘Strawberry’ to the area opposite the kitchen window as it is in bloom and attracts some interesting insects.  I bought the plant last year at the Blackbrooks Garden Centre but there does not seem to be much strawberry in its smell.  Looking at pictures on the Internet there seem to be many shapes and sizes of mint called 'Strawberry'.  I caught a small hoverfly attracted to it later.  I also found a large number of very active pollen beetles and took a good set of photos of the butterflies on the buddleia.  Also a neat picture of Episyrphus balteatus, the marmalade fly, attracted to a flower head of orpine.

Queen bumble bees are quite abundant just now – feeding up for hibernation I suppose.

12 August 2016. Warmer, 25C at midday.  Many butterflies on the buddleia including small tortoiseshell, comma, peacock, red admiral.  Elsewhere holly blue, meadow brown, large and small whites.

There was a meadow brown nectaring on the orpine flowers, the plant from Hurst lane.  It was there for around 2 hours and, I suspect, only departed when disturbed by a bumble bee.

For the first time since last year I went out with the sweep net and, among other things, caught a reduviid bug, the wandering thread-legged bug, Empicoris vagabundus in the hedge by the lane, a new species for me that feeds upon other small insects.  Another tiny (under 3mm) lace bug was Physatocheila dumetorum.  It seems to like lichen covered trees, especially Rosaceae, though where I found it is not noticeably lichenised.  I have found it in the garden before.

11 August 2016.  Muggy after a rather cool night.  The first flower has opened on the orpine (Hylotelephium telephium) from Horns Wood.  I also noted some jasmine flowers, white convolvulus (Calystegia) rapidly smothering the back of the house and the first ripe blackberries in the hedge by the lane.

Yesterday I saw a solitary wasp attacking a solitary bee in a flower of Geranium ‘Claridge Druce’.  I grabbed both plus flower; one stung me in the palm, but later I managed to identify the wasp as Cerceris rybyensis, the ornate tailed digger wasp.  This makes a burrow in the ground which it stocks with paralyzed solitary bees to feed its young.

A mining bee was discovered burrowing into a blue planter on my houseleek table.  I think it is Megachile versicolor from the orange pollen brushes underneath its abdomen.  I also got some photos of a carder bee on a marjoram flower.  Bombus pascuorum I think, but difficult to separate from B. muscorum with a specimen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

House Circuit (17) 35 years agrowin

Note: House Circuit posts are drawn from the many 50 metre walks I make every day around our house.

The other day I noticed a clump of off-white flowers thrusting itself up, like an aerial cauliflower, from somewhere at the overgrown rear of our old caravan.  I got as close as I could and concluded that it must be an Olearia, a daisy bush, and one of the many New Zealand plants I had acquired over the years.  It looked most like Olearia x haastii, a natural hybrid.  Searching my computer I found a diary entry for the plant and discovered I had bought it from a local nursery in 1981 and planted it at the back of this self-same caravan. Presumably it has been struggling through brambles and nettles for 35 years finally to emerge into the sunshine.

Whilst scrambling about at the rear of the caravan I spotted some clematis flowers high in an old damson tree here.  It turned out to be Clematis viticella 'Huldine'.  This may be a plant I bought as C. flammula at the same time as the Olearia above.  I certainly have no record or recollection of putting C. 'Huldine' anywhere else in the garden.

Monday, August 08, 2016

House Circuit (16) Another fine insect

Note: House Circuit posts are drawn from the many 50 metre walks I make every day around our house.

Garden delights continue.  Today on one of my circuits I met this splendid insect, a fine female hornet hoverfly, Volucella zonaria, sipping the nectar from a hogweed umbel.  A hundred years ago it was a great rarity, but now seems well-established in the southern parts of England and Wales.

These splendid creatures breed in wasps and hornets nest and we have had the females come searching about indoors when their hosts are nesting in the attic, as they often do along with the tree bees..

Saturday, August 06, 2016

House Circuit (15) Two fine insects

Note: House Circuit posts are drawn from the many 50 metre walks I make every day around our house.

Almost at the end of one of my circuits today, there was a papery rattle and a fine migrant hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) land on the hedge beside me.  It stayed there long enough for me to go indoors and get a camera.  Isn't it remarkable how well such large and colourful insects blend into the background against jumbled vegetation?

No sooner had I taken this shot when a large butterfly zoomed over my shoulder and landed on the hedge quite close to the dragonfly.  It was a silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia), a woodland species that occasionally ventures into gardens in Churchland Lane, and is always a very welcome sight.  I tried to photograph it without lining up the camera properly and the below is all I managed before it took off again and sailed away over the hedge.