Not Just Any Duck

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are often taken for granted, but I hadn’t seen one for quite sometime. So when I came across several males and females on the local canal they were a pure delight to see as they paddled across the still waters with autumn reflections.

Small Wonder

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Another dedicated mother looking after her eggs. This is the Cream-backed Comb-footed Spider (Neottiura bimaculata), which was a new species for me this year, discovered in the back garden.

Only a small one with a body length of around 3 mm (1/8 in). The female carries her egg-sac attached to her spinnerets.

Say “Hi!” To Pudibunda

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About a month ago my neighbour calls round (he hit 80 this year and is as fit as a fiddle), and in the palm of his hand he had this little critter. He wondered what it was (he really has an interest in wildlife), and he thought it had fell from a bush he had cut back. I identified it as the larva for the moth the Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda).

Later he came around again with another he had found on his apple tree. They feed on a large variety of deciduous trees and shrubs, and I was quite amazed to discover, like paint, they come in a variety colours, from yellow, green, to orange, pink and red. Don’t think they do any shades of blue though.

Below is the familar adult, which I have featured before, which is also quite an odd yet interesting character. Who would have thought that, that would turn into that, eh?

In case you was wondering, the caterpillars where put back safe and sound to continue their feedathon.

Over 250 Moths Over 16 Years

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum
Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) – taken August 2005

It was when I purchased my first digital camera back in 2005, a Sony Cybershot compact camera, that my love for nature and the side of the natural world, that is not always often seen but is always there to be found, became rekindled. My interest in moths – ‘moth mania’ I call it – began from a young age when I used to stay up a little at night with my older brother Steve, looking out for these nocturnal insects. In those days I used to paint and draw them, especially those with vivid patterns and colours like the Garden Tiger, which has sadly declined over the years since, and I have not yet seen one here to photograph.

Red Underwing (Catocala nupta) – taken August 2006
Scorched Wing Plagodis dolabraria
Scorched Wing Plagodis dolabraria – taken June 2007

So since 2005, I have photographed over 250 (and still counting with lots of past images still to go through and positively identify) species of moth and have uploaded them to this site. 250 is small fraction of the 2,500 or more species of moth to be found throughout Britain. Not all are attracted to light. Some are attracted to feromones or sugar. Some are day-fying moths, and some are rare and localised to different areas of the country.

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) – taken September 2008
Common Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma truncata) – taken May 2009

Oddly enough, in the year 2010 I apparently did not take one single moth photo, but a year later moth mania hit me again and I photographed over 150 different species of moth!

Yellow-tail Euproctis similis
Yellow-tail (Euproctis similis) – taken July 2011
Shaded Broad-bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata) – taken October 2012
Scarce Silver-lines Bena bicolorana
Scarce Silver-lines (Bena bicolorana) – taken July 2013

After buying different compact cameras over the years, it was in 2014 I purchased my first DSLR camera the Nikon D3200.

Hebrew Character Orthosia gothica
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) – taken March 2014
Common Yellow Conch Agapeta hamana
Common Yellow Conch (Agapeta hamana) – taken July 2015
Riband Wave (Idaea aversata f. remutata)
Riband Wave (Idaea aversata) – taken July 2016

2016 was the year I upgraded my camera to the Nikon D7200 (which I still use to this day) , and in 2017 it was another year the moth mania got to me. It was a very bountiful year for moths.

Garden Rose Tortrix Acleris variegana
Garden Rose Tortrix (Acleris variegana) – taken September 2017

The thing with moths is that they can be seen all year round, even during the winter months where most other insects are hibernating.

Sycamore Piercer Pammene aurita
Sycamore Piercer (Pammene aurita) – taken June 2018
Elephant Hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor
Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) -taken July 2019
Azalea Leaf Miner Caloptilia azaleella
Azalea Leaf Miner (Caloptilia azaleella) – taken May 2020
Common White Wave (Cabera pusaria) – taken July 2021

Spotlight on The Grey Dagger Acronicta psi

There are two very similar ‘dagger’ species in Britain, the Grey Dagger (Acronicta psi) and the Dark Dagger (Acronicta tridens). The adults cannot be accurately identified visually without genital dissection and microscopic scrutiny – but I don’t like to harm them so this adult would be recorded as an aggregate species Acronicta psi/tridens. The adult is readily attracted to light, and is seen in June and August in most habitats, including woodland, hedgerows and gardens. Sadly its numbers have significantly decreased in recent decades.

The caterpillar is quite an odd thing, and on first discovery I thought it had been parasitised! But the long and prounced ‘hump’ or fleshy projection is one of its defining characteristics and which visually separtes it from the Dark Dagger (Acronicta tridens) which has a shorter ‘hump’. A visually striking moth larva with long hairs and a yellow or white dorsal strip. The orange side patches offer quite a contrast in colouration. It feeds on a large range of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, and overwinters as a pupa amongst bark, in rotten wood or in the ground.

Can’t See The Wood For The Trees? … What About The Leaves?

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Stigmella aurella found on Bramble

It was a fellow blogger Sconzani who runs a wonderful blog with the lovely tiltle Earthstar ~ a celebration of nature who got me looking much more closely at the leaves on not only the trees, but most anything else which has leaves.

Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella larvae leaf-mines
Cameraria ohridella on Horse Chestnut

Leafminers can be from different insect groups. Many species of Lepidoptera (moths), Diptera (trues flies), Coleoptera (beetles) and Symphyta (sawflies), have larvae which mine plants. It is the larvae of these insects which produce these mines within the leaves of plants, feeding on the plants’ tissues as part of their development cycle.

Stigmella microtheriella on Hazel

Mines tend to be restricted to a certain range of host plants and so the identification of a miner is facilitated by correctly identifying these plants. The shape of the mines (gallery or blotch) and the patterns of the droppings (frass), besides characteristics of the larvae and pupae, can be diagnostic. Even the location of where the egg is layed on a leaf can be diagnostic and can help to separate similar species.

Phytomyza ilicis

The Holly Leaf Miner (above image) forms quite a wide gallery on Holly (Ilex), and is only one of two holly leaf miners to be found in the wholes of Europe, and the only one to be found in the UK. The adult female Agromyzid fly Phytomyza ilicis lays its eggs in May or June at the base of the petiole of a young leaf (on the underside). The oviposition scars can be seen on the midrib on the underside of the leaf. The larva initially feeds in the mid-rib, later producing the characteristic irregular upper surface linear-blotch.

Phytoliriomyza melampyga

The fly Phytoliriomyza melampyga mines the leaves of Impatiens species (Balsams). Here it was found on Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), an invasive plant species here.

Lyonetia clerkella on Wild Cherry

The larva of the micro-moth the Apple Leaf-miner (Lyonetia clerkella) feeds on a variety of Rosaceae (rose family) and Betula (birch) trees in small, long and winding leafmines.

Profenusa pygmaea on English Oak

The larva of the sawfly Profenusa pygmaea mine the leaves of various species of oak (Quercus) creating a large blister or blotch mine on the upper surface.

Stigmella microtheriella on Hazel

So next time you are out in the woods … or even in the park or garden … take a closer look at those leaves and see what squiggly patterns or blotches have been created within them.

The Dangers of Courtship For The Male Garden Spider Araneus diadematus

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It’s amazing what you see sometimes as you travel through your own backyard. I spied this female Araneus diadematus some days ago. She is really quite a big individual and had made a large orbweb stretched between a plant pot and some shrubbery. Here she has a good meal ready to go in the shape of a Hawthorn Shieldbug .. in fact, to my crazy mind, she looks like a band member ready to knock out a tune on it.

The next day, on the late afternoon, I spotted the handsome male Araneus diadematus apparenty repairing and tidying her web for her at a distance. But he had also spun a strong silken quick release safety line … more on that later.

In the above image we can see how large the female is compared to the male. She looks rather intimidating … and she is. I watched as the male Araneus diadematus tentatively approached her along the web, getting a little closer, the female closing the gap … and the male backing off from time to time keeping a little distance between them. He was testing the waters, and so he should. Female Araneus diadematus practices sexual cannibalism before and after insemination. One thing in his favour is the large food package she already has nicely wrapped up … but he certainly didn’t want to be seconds.

Eventually they closed the gap but he was still very sheepish and kept darting back … and on a couple of occasions when he must have read the situation as potentially dangerous rather than amorous he used his pre-made quick release safety line to swing back a good distance out of harms way. They must have been playing this cat and mouse courtship game for a couple of hours … and I don’t know what the outcome was in the end for the male. The next day had seen overnight rain which had damaged some of the web, but the female was found sheltering under a leaf. The male was nowhere to be seen. He was either inside her as last nights late supper … or he had gone off in search of another mate with an extra swagger to his gait.

Sexual cannibalism in spiders is a long-standing evolutionary paradox because it persists despite extreme costs for the victim, usually the male. Several adaptive and nonadaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, but empirical studies are still scarce and results are inconclusive.

In Still Waters

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Culex larva

They say when you are out in the wilds and need to drink water from the land you should boil it first … and you can see why. The above image is a mosquito larva from the genus Culex. The larva lives submerged in water and feeds on particles of organic matter, microscopic organisms or plant material. Culicine larvae float with the head low and only the siphon (breathing tube) at the tail held at the surface of the water. After several instars it then develops into a pupa, then eventually into an adult like the one below … a real bloodsucker and potential vector of one or more important diseases of birds, humans, and other animals.

Culex adult
Dasyhelea larva

Often found in ponds or pools, puddles, tree hollows where water collects, and in gardens in birdbaths, tubs, gutters, and other places where standing water collects, members of the family of biting-midges Ceratopogonidae can be found.

Dasyhelea larva

These are most likely Dasyhelea genus, but the adults of these do not actually bite or feed on vertebrate blood or predate on other invertebrates. The adults take nectar only, an unusual feeding behavior within the family Ceratopogonidae, which includes the Highland Midge (Culicoides impunctatus), which do bite humans and feed on blood, often occuring in many numbers. Some species of Dasyhelea are important pollinators of plants such as cocoa trees and rubber plants.

Dasyhelea pupa

The larvae are primarily herbivorous, feeding on green algae, diatoms, fungi and detritus.

Dasyhelea pupa casing

Beautiful Beetle

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This is the Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana) which I found on my Lavender. It looks like it has been crafted from soft metals and has been purposefully engraved with rows of tiny circular indents.

As beautiful as it may look, it is considered a pest of Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Thyme and similar plants, both the adult and the larva feeding on the foliage … although it hasn’t caused me any bother.

The beetle is a native of southern Europe that has become established in Britain since the 1990s especially in the south east of England. It is continuing to extend its range.

A Moth That Mimics A Leaf.

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This is Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa), and its is quite an extraordinary looking moth. Very distinctively shaped and patterned which make it resemble a withered leaf. It rests with its wings folded in an unusual fashion.

It is often seen during the day resting on walls, fences and foliage.

Life In A Dying Tomato Plant

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It is end of season for the tomato plant my neighbour had kindly given me in a hanging basket. It had been bountiful in fruit, but it was it now in its last days as autumn approaches, and I had the thought to look more closely at it before dropping it in the recyling bin.

Cartodere bifasciata

I have never seen a member of this family of beetles before. Latridiidae are known as ‘scavanger’ or ‘mould beetles’. This one is very small at 2 mm (5/64 in) long, and is called Cartodere bifasciata. It feeds on spores and moulds found on rotting plant materials.

Empoasca decipiens
Possible Empoasca decipiens nymph

There were several of these green leafhoppers, adults and possible larvae. Called Empoasca decipiens, one of 3 very similar UK species, they extract sap from the plant on which they feed.

Parasitised Aphid – possibly Aphelinus mummy

Like a scene from the film Alien, I discovered the dead remains of this wingless aphid. You can’t miss the obvious hole in the abdomen where something … probably a braconid wasp … burst out.

Peach-potato Aphid Myzus (Nectarosiphon) persicae

We have a live aphid here … most likely the Peach-potato Aphid (Myzus (Nectarosiphon) persicae). The apterae (lacking wings) are generally yellowish-green but vary from whitish or pale yellowish green to mid-green, rose-pink or red. They are often darker in cold conditions.

Parasitised Aphid

Another parasitised aphid all tethered … which goes to show that nature has a way of keeping the equilibrium.

I also spotted several running-crab spiders and money spiders … but all too quick and unwilling to hang around for a photo shoot. So even within its death throws a plant can still support so much life … and just focusing the mind and the eyes on a different plane can open up so much.

A Good Relationship

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Introducing the Ant Woodlouse Platyarthrus hoffmannseggii. Growing up to a length of 5 mm (1/4 in), it is blind and spends all of its life underground. It is always nearly found in association with ants within their nests where they have a good relationship. The woodlouse is tolerated and is not under any threat, most likely because it acts as a house keeper for the ants, feeding on their ant droppings hence keeping the nest clean.

A fairly slow-moving woodlouse, and the darkish stripe along the back is the contents of the gut showing through the cuticle. It is widespread across southern Britain, less so and becoming much rarer further north.

What Lies Under A Piece of Bark

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Lifting a piece of bark in a garden border, the last thing I expected to find was a delightful Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris).

It remained where it was, frozen to the spot. I hadn’t got my camera, so I gently placed the bark back and went into the house to get my equipment. Thankfully, when I got back and lifted the bark a second time, he was still there.

It is the first time I have seen a Smooth Newt here, in fact, surpisingly, the first time since I was a boy back home in the 1970s., so this was quite an exciting find for me.

I found him at the opposite end of the garden to where my pond is located, but after their spring mating sessions in ponds they live the rest of the year away from water, hiding under rocks and logs in woodland, hedgerows or gardens, venturing out only at night to hunt inveretbrates.

The Smooth Newt is one of three native species to be found in the UK, and it is the commonest and the most frequently encountered of them all.

The 600

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This is the 600th insect species I have uploaded on Nature Journeys, and what a bright and beautiful one it is, too.

It is a fly, a hoverfly called Epistrophe grossulariae. It prefers woodland edges, meadows and wetalnd areas where it will feed on the nectar from flowers. The larvae are aphidophagous – feeding on aphids.

Face On

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At 1 mm (3/64 in) or less in length these small mites called Euzetes globulus are hard enough to focus on and photograph, but you add in that they are always on the move it multiplies the challenge. Thankfully these are slow movers compared to other mites, which give you half a chance at least, but you still have to take many photos until you get one or two which gets close to hitting a sweet spot.

This is a face on shot with its shiny protective ‘crash helmet’, which are what I like to call them with a distinctive front rim. Like all arachnids, these have eight legs in total.

Face Fly

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Species Musca autumnalis. A sexually dimorphic species where the males have bright orange and black patterned abdomens and the females are light grey and black. These are obviously all males.

This species gets its common name from its habit of landing on the faces of cattle or horses where they feed on secretions of the facial orifices, around the eyes, mouth and nostrils. The adult flies will also feed on the hosts blood through wounds such as Horse-fly bites. The larvae develop in animal dung.

I came across these in a local horse pasture sunning on a fence post. There were several of them, all males, and they were quite approachable to photograph.

Not a Moth or Even An Owl

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These are actually called ‘Moth Flies’, or ‘Owl Flies’ or even ‘Drain Flies’. This one is Psychoda surcoufi. This is very small with a wingspan of 2 mm (5/64 in). They belong to a family of flies called Psychodidae.

You can see why they are called ‘Moth Flies’, for they can be easily mistaken to be one of the micro-moths … but not an owl, surely? They have the ‘Drain Fly’ tag because they can congregate in large numbers around drains in swarms. The larvae actually breed in drains, too. They even like the residue at the bottom of toothbrush holders if they aren’t cleaned out often enough, laying eggs and producing larvae which will feed on the bacteria and other matter gathered there. Not a pleasant thought.

Fabulous Fly

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This attractive fly is called the Broad Centurian (Chloromyia formosa). It is a sexually dimorphic species where both male and female have a shiny green thorax but the female has a blue-green abdomen, sometimes with a violet sheen, and the male has a bronze abdomen. This is a female. Look closely and you may notice the eyes are covered in dense black hairs, which helps to distinguish it from the similar Sargus solderflies.

The larvae feed on decaying organic matter.

Under Leaves, Over Leaves

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Birch Catkin Bug Kleidocerys resedae

There are almost 70 species of Hemiptera (True Bugs) on this site, yet there are almost 2,000 species in Great Britain. Turn over a leaf or having a look amongst them will turn up all kinds of true bugs, adult and nymph stages.

Phylus (Phylus) coryli – nymph

They are a very diverse group of insects, and here is but a small selection of some of them which I discovered in my small back garden.

Stenodema (Brachystira) calcarata
Eurhadina loewii
Campyloneura virgula – nymph
Zygina sp.
Common Flower Bug Anthocoris nemorum – feeding on aphid
Athysanus argentarius

For more species and more detailed information please visit below:

No Seashells Here

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Asian Clam Corbicula fluminea

Here are a selection of ‘freshwater’ shells found near the edge of a local canal. The Asian Clam is a rapidly spreading invasive species which was unknown in Britain before October 1998. Originated in China, Korea, south-eastern Russia, and the Ussuri Basin. The first time it has been recorded in this neck of the woods. There are three cardinal teeth in each valve raditaing from the beaks. The latteral teeth are serrated and flattened.

Asian Clam Corbicula fluminea
Painter’s Mussel Unio (Unio) pictorum

The Painter’s Mussel, an elongate shell, was used by artists in the past to hold their paints, hence its name.

Painter’s Mussel Unio (Unio) pictorum
Duck Mussel Anodonta (Anodonta) anatina

The Duck Mussel is one of our largest freshwater bivalves. It also occupies the greatest diversity of habitats of any large mussel, including lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and canals.

Duck Mussel Anodonta (Anodonta) anatina
River Snail Viviparus viviparus

The River Snail requires water with a high oxygen content.

River Snail Viviparus viviparus

Turned to Gold

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I don’t tend to post many slugs on this blog, although I have photographed quite a few, because I realise they are probably not everyones favourite animal. Yet I think this particular one with its gold speckling which are chromatophores (pigment cells) catches the eye and stand out amongst a world of slithering slugs.

It is called the Brown Soil Slug (Arion (Kobeltia) distinctus), and I often come across it in the garden.

The 2nd image down shows a slug mite Riccardoella (Proriccardoella) oudemansi crawling just below the mantle. Called the White Slug Mite, it is a parasite which infest the lungs of slugs and snails feeding on the hosts blood.

Nature Pays A Visit

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This extraordinary insect was discovered in the house, of all places. It is called the Small Snakefly Xanthostigma xanthostigma. This is a female with her long needle-like ovipositor.

There are only 4 species of snakefly in Great Britain under the insect order called Raphidioptera, and in 1 family Raphidiidae. There are 75 species in the whole of Europe, with around 225 worldwide. They are considered ‘living fossils’, as species from the early Jurassic period (140 millions years ago) resemble modern-day species.

The female has a long pointed ovipositor which she uses to lay eggs between cracks in bark. Once hatched, the larvae take around 2 years to become fully grown and are largely predatory on beetle larvae. Adults and larvae feed on other invertebrates like aphids or beetle larvae.

From Digital To Print

Last year Paul D. Brock emailed me via my WordPress contact page to ask if he could use an image of a male wasp I had photographed back in the sumemr of 2019 called Ichneumon xanthorius.

Ichneumon xanthorius male

Of course I agreed, and they sent me a complimentary copy of the book. Note they flipped my original image to suit their page layout.

A Brief Kiss … And We Part Forever …

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These are Collembola (Springtails), and are 1 mm (3/64 in) long or less, and I observed them scurrying about on this plant leaf in the back garden until they came together for this moment. Despite the colour differences, they are both the same species, Deuterosminthurus pallipes, the purple is the nominal form, the yellow forma repandus. The couple lingered, antennae meeting, and then parted, each on a different path …

More Ant Antics

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Small Black Ant Lasius niger & Brown Soft Scale Coccus hesperidum

Here we have the Small Black Ant (Lasius niger) again. But what is he up to this time, you may wonder?

Small Black Ant Lasius niger & Brown Soft Scale Coccus hesperidum

I found him on my Fatsia Japonica with these strange yellow ‘bumps’ which are in fact another species of scale insect called Viburnum Cushion Scale (Lichtensia viburni). And you guessed it, he is eating sweet sugary poop again.

Small Black Ant Lasius niger & Brown Soft Scale Coccus hesperidum

The scale insect has piercing and sucking mouthparts which it uses to feed on sap obtained from the host plant (in this case Fatsia Japonica) which it secretes as waste called honeydew. Ants are attracted to the honeydew and feed on it. Ants will even act as body guards, protecting the scale insects from predatory attacks. This ant spent quite sometime with the scale insect, touching it with its antennae.