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.
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.
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.
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!
After buying different compact cameras over the years, it was in 2014 I purchased my first DSLR camera the Nikon D3200.
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.
The thing with moths is that they can be seen all year round, even during the winter months where most other insects are hibernating.
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.
It was a fellow blogger Sconzani who runs a wonderful blog with the lovely tiltleEarthstar ~ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The larvae are primarily herbivorous, feeding on green algae, diatoms, fungi and detritus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another one of the Hemiptera – true bugs – but a small but delicately beautiful member of the Tingidae family commonly known as lace bugs. this one is called the Hawthorn Lacebug (Physatocheila dumetorum). A small bug at around 3 mm (1/8th inch) long.
Lacewing larva wearing its debris overcoat. They often cover themselves in all kinds of natural debris, even the bodies of victims, to help disguise itself. These will eat up the aphids in most gardens.
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.
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.
For more species and more detailed information please visit below:
This year seems to have been a good year for the emergence of the Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) from the garden pond. I observed quite a few in the garden, and this one was resting on my garage wall.
This is one of the fine and delicate green lacewings Chrysoperla sp. I watched it flutter lazily through the air and alight on a rose. A combination of the angle of natural light and flash gave it rainbow wings.
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.
This tiny Cicadellidae (Leafhoppers) nymph was found on willow. There are several similar species and identification can be difficult, especially at this early stage. With some help I manged to get it down to Kybos sp.
Here we have the Small Black Ant (Lasius niger) again. But what is he up to this time, you may wonder?
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.
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.
I have a Hawthorn bush growing in the back garden, and I discovered these strange things stuck to the branches. They are around 5-7 mm (1/4 inch) long.
As you can see they are brown and wrinkly with what looks like a cotton wool ball tucked at the back of them. They were something I had never come across before.
I had my suspisions they were some kind of scale insect. Scale insects belong to the order of insects called Hemiptera – the true bugs, which include the shieldbugs and the likes. I discovered these belong to a family called Coccidae – the soft scales.
These strange insects are called the Woolly Vine Scale Insect (Pulvinaria vitis). They have a a soft shell of protection attached to the body which helps prevents them from dying out and gives them protection from potential predators like parasites. A cottony wax coating is produced that is used to conceal the eggs. Once these insects are attached to a tree they become immobile, feeding on the sap of the host plant. The images show females with cottony ovisacs. The smaller males (1.5 mm long), which possess wings, are rarely seen.
No it’s not my new pet, and it is not a new rug, either … it is a moth which looks like it has a bull’s head. It is called the Pale Tussock Calliteara pudibunda, and they are very much attracted to light sources. The adults are sexually dimorphic, with the females being generally larger and plainer than the males.
Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina) showing its autumn colours. It will go darker, turning to a deep bronze as winter takes hold and then will hibernate during the coldest period. In spring it will gradually turn back to full green.
Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis forma spectabilis) – As the land prepares for the winter slumber with October bedding in, the milder weather is keeping some indviduals away from their hibernation. It almost appears like spring has come early, with some spring flowering plants bursting into bloom. The world is so confused in more ways than one.
I have now recorded 999 species on this website, from plants to animals, fungi and even a cyanobacterium. I have stopped short of making this post ‘1000’ as the 999th species convinced me to use it as a marker milestone. Not surprising it happens to be an invertebrate, an arthropod, and an insect at that.
Attactagenus plumbeus is a member of the Curculionidae family which make up the weevils. What is so special about this species apart from its own uniqueness is is scarcity. Data gleamed from the NBN Atlas shows only 96 records between 1990 and 2020, and 151 records in total from 1890. The British nature conservation status is Nationally Notable B (species found in between 31 and 100 hectads – 10 km x 10 km square), making it nationally scarce. There are only 4 records for 2020, and 1 of these is mine. Native to Britain, not surprisingly it is very localised with a few scattered records across England and Wales, except the south-east of England, and is absent from Scotland and Ireland. It feeds on plants from the Fabaceae family, including species of vetch and broom, and is found in fields and meadows where the host plants can be found.
This attractive beetle is from a family called Chrysomelidae the leaf beetles. It is a fairly recent newomer to Britain, introduced in the 1990s and now established in most of England and Wales, and still expanding its range. It is considered a pest of Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Thyme and similar plants, both the adult and the larva feeding on the foliage. It is the first time I have seen it here, and will have to see if it is a ‘pest’ as such. It is 6.7-8 mm long. The adults can be seen throughout the year, even during winter.
Common Earwig (Forficula auricularia) – The title is not a misspelling, but it is from Old English meaning ‘one that wiggles in your ear’. These slender insects do love to crawl into small dark crevices, so somebody sleeping on the ground may indeed have the unpleasant occasion to have one wiggle in one’s ear, but it is surely a myth that they burrow through the ear drum to lay their eggs in your brain! Those pincers at the rear look rather nasty, but they are mainly used in courtship and defence. Earwigs appear to be virtually wingless, but the hind wings are partly concealed beneath the outer, modified forewings. They in fact rarely fly. They feed on almost anything, from various plant material to aphids and other small insects, and scavenge from dead matter. Best keep your ears plugged when lying on the ground, if you happen to do so.
Rhyzobius chrysomeloides – Yes, believe it or not, not al ladybirds are brightly coloured and have spots, some can be quite inconspicuous like this one. It is small, very small, at 2.5-3.5 mm (about 1/8 in) long. It is a fairly recent discovery, first found in Britain as recently as 1996, on a pine tree on a motorway embankment in Surrey. It has been steadily spreading northwards ever since.
If you check your roses now you might find these gregariously chomping away on the leaves. It is possibly one of 2 species of sawfly Arge pagana or Arge ochropus, and it is hard to tell which in the early instar stage. But if you can find the original egg scar on the stem you will know what species it is for sure. If it has a double row of cells it is Arge pagana, and a single row determines Arge ochropus. From my own past experience, unless you get a whole army of these chomping larvae they won’t seriously damage your rose. Sometimes the birds will grab them for protein.
Wood-carving Leafcutter Bee (Megachile ligniseca) – I adapted an old bird box into a bee hotel about a year ago, and I am quite pleased we are now taking in guests. And I am very pleased to see this species, which is fairly uncommon, with only 2 sightings recorded in South Staffordshire. It typically nests in dead wood, including old fence posts, and sometimes in cavities of man-made items including bee hotels. In the last 2 images one of them shows the final finished stopping of the cavity, where one egg has been planted towards the back, stocked with pollen and nectar for the larva to feed on when it hatches. It will spend winter in there all snug with a full larder. The last image shows crabapple leaves where the female bee has been harvesting the leaves. Look how perfectly she cuts them. Today she was working on a 3rd tube. How busy and industrious is she? And all in 30 degree+ heat!
I have now photographed and uploaded 500 different species of insect to this site. Try to take in these facts about insects, they are quite astounding to comprehend:
There are more than 200 million insects for every human being living on the planet.
There are between 1 and 10 quintillion (can you imagine that number? I can’t) insects which are surrounding us in almost every environment on Earth.
Insects account for well over half of all of all multicellular species.
Insects come in around a million different variants.
Around 479 million years ago insects appeared on the planet, long before the dinosaurs, and long before us.
Insects developed flight 400 million years ago, which means they had total air dominance for more than 150 million years.
Insects have survived 5 mass extinction events.
So there we have it: The Earth belongs to the insects. And they will be around long after we have gone on our way. So enough text … and now for some photos I have taken of these amazing and most fascinating six-legged creatures:
For those that may be interested you can visit my Insects page ‘here’.