Monday, 22 April 2013

Hunting green tigers

Don't panic, there are no tigers of any colour roaming the Suffolk countryside, or UK for that matter. No, the green tiger I was after was the Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris. It all started at the start of April, whilst I was looking round my local patch, Purdis Heath. In the sandier parts of the heath, I kept coming across these little mounds of soil with a hole in the middle.

The 50p is for scale purposes only, otherwise I'd be rich if there was a 50p next to every hole!

I took the above photo and shared it out amongst the twitteratti asking if anyone could give me an idea as to what made the little hole. I must admit, my first thoughts was a solitary miner bee, and others too had the same idea. Several others came up with bumblebee hibernacula which was also possible. But then someone (Graham from Diss) mentioned a digger wasp (another likely) or Tiger beetle! This grabbed my attention and soon I was searching to find any records for Tiger beetles at this site. It wasn't long before I came across a random webpage that had a list of invertebrates of Purdis Heath and there it was, halfway down, Green Tiger Beetle. Joy! There's a reason for this joy, a couple of years ago, me and the wifey were holidaying in the beautiful countryside of west Scotland. One particular day we went off in search of fossils and on the way we came across one of these beetles and I've never forgotten it. So to find out that they are here on my own doorstep was great and a tiger hunt was planned.
I know these creatures are sun worshippers, so the weather had to be good for me to find one and this weekend was looking great. I was planning to go out on the Saturday, but jobs at home got the better of me and I put the 'expedition' off till Sunday. So armed with all my kit, off I went in search of tigers.
I arrived at the heath with a clear blue sky above me and a warming sun doing its best to beat through a slightly chilly wind, with temperatures getting up to only about 14ºC.
I made my way to the sandy area of the heath admiring all the work done by the volunteer work parties in creating dead hedges and habitat piles and removing the encroaching deciduous trees in the process. I know these beetles like to hunt their prey by running after them, in fact the Green Tiger Beetle is one of the fastest runners in the insect world so some books say, so this habitat, with little vegetation to get in the way, would be perfect for a Tiger beetle. 

The habitat favoured by the Green Tiger beetle.

It wasn’t long before I noticed, that as I crept along slowly keeping an eye out for my prey, they had already spotted me by miles (insect miles that is) off. Every now and then, 10 -15 foot in front of me I would see what at first I thought was a fly, take off and fly a short distance further away. I then noticed as I watched one fly off, and hint of bright green as the sun reflected off of its elytra, TIGER BEETLE! 
So I now knew I was in the right area, now I just had to catch one. It seemed now, that with every step I took, just ahead of me half a dozen would launch skyward to avoid the swish of my insect net. A different approach was needed, so I thought about running into the area to swipe at anything that launched in the exodus to avoid my size 10’s bearing down on them. This failed as the evacuation was even more faster than I could run, maybe because I caused an insect earthquake with my running, that they literally heard me before they saw me. So back to the drawing board and my next plan was to crouch down to minimize my 6 foot frame and walk as slowly and as gently as possible, not easy in that position. This seemed to have a improved my chances as they took off a bit later than before, although they were still very quick. Then I got lucky, a beetle took off straight into the branch of some vegetation and fell to the floor below. As quick as I could without a second's hesitation I brought the net down above the branch to trap the beetle below. Mistake. In my eagerness I failed to notice that the branch of vegetation was a very prickly branch of a bramble bush which very readily snagged my insect net allowing the beetle to casually walk off (I’m sure I heard it snigger). This left me having to walk back the 200yds to my bag to collect my knife, a very dangerous move in my books. For whenever I usually get my knife out, it is usually accompanied by Wifey running into the kitchen to return with the first aid kit, as it is usually pretty common for me to lacerate myself, often quite deeply, with any sharp object I choose to wield. However, in this instance Wifey was not around and the first aid kit was quite some distance away in the car. I made some quick back of the envelope calculations as to how far I could get before blood loss caused me to pass out and thought the risk was negligible. So chopping of the bramble and freeing my net, without incident, I started again and it wasn’t long before I got my prized beetle in the bag (well, pot actually).
As you can see and I’m sure you’ll agree, it was well worth the effort.

Green Tiger Beetle, Cicindela campestris
Here’s what makes this lovely looking beetle such an effective and formidable hunter. Look at those powerful, black tipped jaws, the long legs, which gives it its speed and those large raised eyes, which gives it its excellent all round vision, the main reason it saw me before I saw it.

C campestris looking like some thing from a 50's B movie. Note the huge black tipped mandibles and large eyes.
The iridescent colours around its head and thorax are quite beautiful and I’m so glad I got to see this little creature again to grab a photo.
Of course, this wasn’t the only thing I came across that day. I found this little fellow wandering across the path in front of me.

Xantholinus linearis
It’s what’s known as a Rove beetle and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a Devil’s Coach Horse, which is also a Rove beetle. However, this one was much smaller and a little harder to ID, but thanks to the good people of twitter ( esp @bigbugtel), an ID was made as Xantholinus linearis. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a common name.

I did make a few other finds that day, such as a Jay Garrulus glandarius a small solitary miner bee, which I have yet to get an ID on (I'm working on it). I also came across a bird that was flushed by a dog. I followed to where I saw it land and although I couldn't see the bird, I could hear it. Now unfortunately, I can't post audio to this blog (or I haven't worked out how to do it yet) and even more ironically, I can't share my recording by Twitter. So until I see some of my bird orientated friends to play my recording to, the ID will have to wait. I saw some other little birds here and there around the heath, but as you know, birds ain't my bag dude!!!
I also clocked 3 tortoiseshell butterflies and 2 comma's, yes it was a glorious day that Sunday and I discovered so much in just a couple of hours including one last item, a spider! It was a tiny weeny little spider, but it does have a sinister look about it, so those of a nervous disposition look away now!

Zelotes latreillei Again, no common name.
That's it for now, next time I hope to be off hunting adders and I'm not talking about good mathematicians.
Till next time.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A weekend of firsts

Well, I think it might be safe to say that spring is sweeping in with a woosh of wind and rising temperatures and moths! Yes, at last, after Friday's warming temperatures, despite the lashings of rain we had during the day, I thought the moth trap needed to go out. I'm glad I did, after last weeks 1 moth, a Common Quaker Orthosia cerasi, Friday's trapping saw 51 moths with 6 species coming to the trap! Oh joy!!!! And not just that, but after I put the trap out on Friday night I went straight out to my local wood with bat detector in hand. The temperature was holding around 7ºC and I was slightly confident of getting something, and something I got indeed, a pipistrelle! At first, in my excitement of hearing my first bat of the year, I thought it was and convinced myself that it was a Nathusius pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii. I say I convinced myself because even though the detector recorded the passing at 41kHz and the sound analyses program I have showed it the same, in checking the book on sound analyses, I misread the scale and thus told myself it was a Nathusius. However, a friend pointed out my error that a Nathusius echolocates around 38kHz and what I had was in fact a Common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus. So lesson learnt, although I'm still happy with my first bat this year.

The moths

So yes, here's the list of what I caught this weekend and some photos too.

Common Quaker  Orthosia cerasi - 40
Hebrew Character Orthosia gothica - 7
Small Quaker Orthosia cruda -1
Twin-spotted Quaker Orthosia munda -1
Clouded Drab Orthosia incerta -1
Early Grey Xylocampa areola -1

Very pleased am I let me tell you.

So on with the photos. I'm not going to bother showing you the Common Quaker's as you saw that last time, no. First up will be a favourite of mine the Hebrew Character. Why is it a favourite? Because it's so easily identifiable when you open the trap and also it has such a lovely pattern to its wings. Judge for yourself.

O gothica Hebrew Charcter, easily identifiable.

O gothica face on showing the feathery antennae. 

Then we have another moth from the same family, the Small Quaker. It's very much like the Common Quaker, just smaller. So I'm not going to show the patterning but I did manage to catch this photo which clearly shows the eyes and coiled up tongue of the moth which it unfurls to drink the nectar from  the flowers it visits during the hours of darkness.

Coiled tongue just below the eye. 
Another favourite moth of mine (you'll soon notice I have a lot of favourites) is the Early Grey.

Early Grey Xylocampa areola

Twin-spotted quaker Orthosia munda

And the same moth getting revved up ready for take off.

Last but not least on this weeks moths is always a difficult one to ID, but I think I got it right, is the Clouded Drab Orthosia incerta.

O incerta. As you can see, the subtle markings are good for camouflage, but troublesome for ID'ing.

A bumbling bumblebee

Yes, also got my first bumbler on the list, a Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum. Alas, I didn't get any photos of it as it was a little annoyed I caught it in a pot to ID and being the rough start to the year they've already had, I thought it best to let him on his merry little way as soon as I'd ID'd it. 

Now, if you or your kids are scared of bees, then fear not, this blog will give you the low down on what bees are likely or unlikely to sting you. Very interesting.


Movement of the people, so Bob Marley sung. But the exodus I speak of is more of the amphibian type. The rising temperatures bring out the toads, frogs and newts as they feel the urge to head back to their place of birth to procreate and further their species onward. 
Bobbits Lane in Ipswich saw the migration getting into swing with helpers from Suffolk Amphibian and Reptile Group assisting 538 toads, 23 frogs and 1 smooth newt cross the road to get to their spawning ponds safely. Over the coming weeks this is set to continue and if you want to help out I'm sure they'll be glad you came along. 
It's not just there of course, garden ponds too have there part to play and this week saw this fellow arriving at my pond.

Male Common toad Bufo bufo looking for a lady. How can any female resist such a good looking fellow???
That's it for now, I'm off to get ready for some bat hunting.
Till next time.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

All is not well in the garden!

Well at last, a little bit of warmth, just a little. Amazing what it can do, feels like spring might be springing at last, lets hope so.
As the weather starts to change for the better, many of us will head out to the garden to prepare for the year ahead. This is usually coupled with a trip to the local garden centre for bedding plants, garden tools and bee killing pesticides. Yes, that's right, bee killing pesticides. Even though our lovely little buzzing bees who go around struggling to find nectar rich flowers and help with pollenating in the process, we are unwittingly killing them by spraying our much loved plants with these bug killing pesticides. Many of these pesticides contain chemicals known as neonicotinoids and have been linked to CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), where for reasons unknown, whole colonies of honeybees have just died. Now you may have just heard/read about this in the news, but it's been something that's been going on for sometime now.
The damage these neonicotinoids could do goes back a long way, back to the 90's in fact. In the U.S. a chemical called imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) was used on oilseed rape. Shortly afterwards local beekeepers reported the loss of a third of their bees in one of the first instances now known as CCD.
In Germany, when a farmer sprayed his field of sweetcorn seeds with a chemical called clothianidin (a neonicotinoid). The local beekeepers reported shortly afterwards that two thirds of their bees had died. When tests were carried out on the dead bees, 99% of them were found to have clothianidin in them. In 2008 Germany banned the use of neonicotinoids (I wish they had called it a much simpler name), as well as France, Italy and Slovenia.
So what do the chemicals do? They are basically nerve agents, they attack the nervous system of the unfortunate insect that comes into contact with it. Even though the chemical is sprayed onto the seeds, it is absorbed through the plant and is evident even in the pollen and nectar of the flowers.
But only farmers use it, right? Wrong. The majority of domestic bug killing sprays out there are likely to contain one, some or all of these evil chemicals: Acetamiprid, imidacloprid, thiacloprid or thiamethoxam, all neonicotinoids.
So who produces such evil stuff? Mainly a company called Bayer. They (along with DEFRA) believe the evidence is flawed and are reluctant to pull the stuff off the shelves. Yet DEFRA openly admit that neonicotinoids will kill bees. They just argue about the numbers of bees it will kill.
I'm a little confused about this statement when you consider how bees work. A bee finds some lovely source of food that, unknown to him, is laced with a neonicotinoid. He buzzes back to the hive and does his little waggle dance telling all the other worker bees "Hey guys, there's some food to be had this way" and points them in the direction of the garden that's been sprayed with some pesticide or the oilseed rape farm down the road. Then all the bees go buzzing off to fill up with neonicotinoids. So DEFRA, surely if it will kill bees, then the numbers of bees it will kill is likely to be high judging by the way the bees hive feed? Am I missing something here???
In fact DEFRA are calling on the EC for a new study to be done so as to   

"... allow informed decision-making, rather than rushing into a knee-jerk ban based on inconclusive studies," 
Shame they didn't have that thinking when it came to the badger cull!

And as for Bayer, they've got another take on it and have produced this little promotion:
Entice the bees in then KILL THEM!!!

BBC news claim that B&Q, Wickes and Homebase have withdrawn any non-professional pesticides that contain neonicotinoids from their shelves, yet when I searched online, some of these products were still being offered for sale by them.
So what can you do? I suggest you just don't buy them, simples. Check the ingredients, if they contain any of the following: Acetamiprid, imidacloprid, thiacloprid or thiamethoxam DON'T BUY IT!
Write to your MP that's what they're paid for or sign a petition by just typing 'neonicotinoids petition' into a google search engine you'll get a choice of petitions to sign. Choose one or choose them all, just make sure you do it. You could also visit The Soil Association for more information on this and some other links. Let 2013 not be another year of disaster for our lovely bees, they need all the help they can get and we can do so much to give that help, lets do it.

A moth! A moth! I've got a moth!!!!

Yes, it's finally happened. Friday's lovely weather during the day tempted me to put the moth trap out in the evening. I knew that the overnight temperature was going to be chilly, but I was optimistic and put it out anyway. come the morning after removing all the egg cartons, there sitting quietly at the bottom of the trap was a wonderful Common Quacker Orthosia cerasi. I was so happy I took some photos. He wasn't the most perfect of specimens, but I wasn't arguing.

Common Quaker Orthosia cerasi (a little battered unfortunately).
O cerasi from the side view (less battered this side).
For the record, this time last year I had trapped over 400 moths! This is my first one this year. 

Well the sun is shining and as I look down at my weather station beside me the temperature is already a warming 14.1ºC and rising. So I'm off out to see what I can find. Happy days.

Till next time, take care.