Friday, 27 September 2013

Garden Cross Spider - Araneus diadematus

I watched this garden garden spider wrap up this honey bee for a number of minutes the other day in the garden. Another bee got caught in the web, but was able to escape just before the spider reached it. Then after a short pause it returned it it's original catch and continued to wrap it up a bit more.
The word 'spider' derives from the Old English word 'spithra' and is related to the German 'spinne', both of which mean 'spinner'. This is never more true of the garden orb web spiders, and in high summer and autumn the beautiful orb webs of the Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus, can be found strung across paths, between shrubs and even in front of doors. The web is spun overnight ready for the next day, and is often remade each day. The old web is consumed to retain important proteins necessary for the re-spinning process. The webs can be up to 40cm across, and are usually about 1-1.5m above ground.

The garden spider spends most their time on or near the hub of the web, feeling for vibrations given off when prey lands on the web and struggle to escape. The prey is then wrapped up in silk, whihc may be stored for a while before being eaten.

The garden spider is one of our largest British spiders and a very common resident of gardens. The distinctive white cross mark on the abdomen has given rise to the alternative names of 'Cross spider' and 'Diadem spider'. The cross pattern is reflected in the scientific name. It is a very variable in colour, and can vary in shades, which can include sandy brown, fox-red and almost black.
Adult female grow to 15mm (body length), and males to 9mm. They are commonly seen between June and November when the first frosts kill them off. 

Their distribution is wide and can be found in Europe and much of Asia across to Japan. They are now also found in parts of North America. Besides gardens it can be found in a variety of habitat. In fact anywhere where it can spin its web, from woodland, scrub, hedgerows, building and cliffs.
Both sexes mature in late summer and autumn. In Britain it can take two years to reach maturity. When ready to mate the male approaches the female carefully to avoid being eaten. After mating the mae leaves the female, who then lays her eggs protected in a cocoon. After a few days she dies. The eggs remain in the cocoon until hatching in spring.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Common Green Shield Bug - Palomena prasina

I came across another shield bug today when I found this common green shield bug sitting on the the leaves of a phlox plant in the garden this afternoon. This is a large shield bug that is common throughout Britain, but less so in Scotland.

There is one generation a year, with eggs laid in June and the larvae going through a series of instars, all slightly different in appearance. The barrel-shaped eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves. Both nymphs and adults feed on plant sap. The photograph below is of a 5th instar that I found in the garden in mid August, very near to the place I found the adult today. This developmental process from egg to adult through the series on instars is known as hemimetabolous development (1). Each of the instars resemble the adults but are wingless.

Each instar stage has different colouration, and the final adult stage is reached in September. The adults then hibernate over winter and reemerge to breed in the late spring. The anatomy of the shield bug mean that mating has to take place back to back as stiff body prevent mating in any other way.

1: Martin, J. Hemiptera...It's a Bug's Life.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Common plume - Emmelina monodactyla

It seems to be my week for finding plume moths. As I was mowing the lawn this weekend, this chap kept on flying ahead of the mower. It turned out to be a Common plume. Although "Common" I still think that it is a beautiful moth. No necessarily marked with any major contrasting features, but the subtly of the markings are still intriguing in their own right.

Emmelina monodactyla LINNAEUS, 1758

It has a couple of alternative common names along with Common Plume, it is also known as the T Moth and Morning Glory Plume Moth. The habit of rolling up its wings at rest in the T shape is reflected in it's latin name which describes the wing shape very clearly when the moth is at rest as its appears to only have one (mono) finger (dactyl) although this is because the lightly coloured brown wing is highly rolled up and there are actually more fingers with thin feathery hairs which look much like the wings of a bird.
It has a worldwide distribution: Europe : Africa : Asia : North America : Mexico.

Like most of the Pterophoridae, the wings are cleft or divided but this can be difficult to see as the moth often rests with the wings rolled up tightly (1). The wing colour is usually pale brownish, but can be darker. Each pair of spurs on the hind legs has one spur longer than the other. The abdomen has a pale buff dorsal longitudinal band with brown streaks along the midline.

It occurs in any suitable habitat where the larval foodplants occur, which Fred on bind weed and convolvulus. Larvae have also been reported occasionally on Morning Glory and Oraches. They feed in two overlapping generations on leaves and flowers from late May to September.

The adults occur in all months of the year, and occur in overlapping generations, which can hibernate as adults over winter. It is one of the commonest of the 'Plume' moths all over Britain. In the Butterfly Conservation’s Microlepidoptera Report 2011 this species was classified as common.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Beautiful plume moth - Amblyptilia acanthadactyla

I was called into the daughter's bedroom last night to rescue a Beautiful plume moth. Though I'm still not sure who I was rescuing from whom! I've always been fascinated by these moths, which when at rest furl up their wings like sails on a ship. It was a fast flying and unpredicatable beast, and difficult to photograph clearly.

The Beautiful plume moth, Amblyptilia acanthadactyla, is one of the commonest plume moths, usually recognisable by the warm rusty brown patches in the dark brown wing tip. I have to admit to have a little difficulty in identifying this for certain. A. acanthadactyla looks very similar to A. punctidactyla, the Brindled plume moth. However, with the help of the expert on iSpot it has been confirmed as A. acanthadactyla.

It has two generations each year in July and later in September-April (1). The second generation over winters as an adult. Larval food plants have been listed as hedge woundwort, restharrows, mints, gooseberries, crane's bills and heathers (1,2). All of which are growing in the garden or very nearby. According to UKMoths (2) A. acanthadactyl has become more common in gardens since the 1990s.

1: Parsons, M. & Sterling,P. (2012) Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Hawthorn Shieldbug

My first post on my new blog. This is a simple blog that I hope to use to record the wildlife of a medium sized urban garden in Caerffili, South Wales. There are three main sections to the garden comprising of a small east facing front garden, and west facing back garden split between a lawn and flower garden and the vegetable garden at the bottom. The back garden is surrounded by a fence, shrubs and 40m of privet, with 3 rowan trees and a hazel tree. There is also a small pond which is home to at least 7 palmate newts at the last count in July.

I have been inspired to record the wildlife by reading about bioblitzs' published by local wildlife organisations. Although this cannot be described in any way as a bioblotz, it is more like a plodding marathon. In no way can I be described as an expert in anything, let alone nature. However, I do have a questioning mind, and hope to learn through this project. If anyone does read this blog, and has any advice and guidance, it would be gratefully appreciated.

Which finally brings me to my first real post. As I was having a look at the plumb tree in hope of eating a few before the wife caught me I notice this Hawthorn shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale) wandering around the leaves and plums. There are a few hawthorns in the area around the garden, so it may have been visiting. It mainly feeds on Hawthorn berries, but has also been associated with oak, hazel and birch. All of which are in surrounding gardens. It is common across Britain and Ireland, but is scare in Scotland (1).

Eggs are laid in spring and, over the summer, the nymphs feed on ripening red berries, particularly Hawthorn, but also feed Rowan, Whitebeam and Cotoneaster (2). The adults appear from late August, and hibernate from late Autumn and breed in the Spring.

The Birch Shield Bug and Juniper Shield Bug are both similar in shape to the Hawthorn Shield Bug, but are much smaller and have a different red and green pattern.

I found the website a fantastic site to help me to identify bugs that I've found in the garden in past.