Friday, 18 October 2013

I've been cursed!!!

Hello dear follower, hope all is well in your world and you're making the most of this unseasonable weather in what should be a chilly autumn. As the temperature was set for the high teens and sunny, with the prospect of it being a complete washout for  the weekend I thought I'd go for a wander round my local patch, Purdis Heath, and I'm glad I did as I came across several species I really wouldn't expect to see by now. They included a Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) which was hawking for flies around one of the big oaks there. It was then joined by a lovely big Hornet (Vespa crabro). I watched these two for several minutes before they flew off for new hunting grounds. There were plenty of insects buzzing around, yet everything seemed to be in too much of a rush to get a proper ID on them, including what I think was a sawfly, could of been an ichneumon wasp, which landed on my hand whilst I was wandering. But I will never know, as it flew off before I could get a good look at it or even get a photo. It looked nice whatever it was.

I was hoping to chance upon some late season hoverflies, but alas, although there were plenty of flies about, I didn't get to see any, although, that doesn't mean they're not there. I saw another couple of Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillars busy looking for somewhere to spend the winter. 

Furry & Foxy

I also got buzzed by a Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album) which also seemed in a hectic rush to get somewhere fast. Maybe looking for a last chance of mating, who knows. 

One thing that there was in abundance was mushrooms, or fungi to be more precise.

March of the mushrooms.
Again, I'm no fungi expert, so won't even try to identify some of these. But here's one I know for sure and it's such an impressive fungi, I took lots of photos of it. It is of course what must be the most represented mushroom in kids fairytales, it's the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). I will tell you now, there's a reason for its lovely red colour, IT'S POISONOUS! So don't go thinking, ooh, I'll stick that in the frying pan when I get home. Not a good idea.

Looking just splendid amongst the autumnal leaf litter.

It's bright red colouring is a warning, don't eat me.

This is how they are often depicted in kids books. Yet these ones
haven't bloomed fully.
Not a lot of people realise this, but the mushroom is only the flowering part of the fungi. Beneath the leaf litter in the ground, delicate strands of the fungi called mycelium spread. They have been known to spread for very long distances too. In fact, in one case in America, over 3.5 miles, making it the biggest thing to have ever lived and yet it all began from a single microscopic spore.
Getting up close.
Also, it's good to go out with a small mirror if you're intent on looking for mushrooms. By placing it on the ground beneath the mushroom, you get to see the fantastic gill structure underneath.

The gills of a Fly agaric.

This one didn't need a mirror as it stood quite proud.

Get out and go see them now, they won't last for long.
Another mushroom I came across was this little beauty:

It almost looks like it was placed there.
If my niece was with me, I'm sure she would've told me that fairies had placed it there.
So dainty.
Of course, I could just fill this blog up with endless photos of mushrooms, believe me, I took hundreds (photos, not mushrooms). However, I have other things to share with you.

It being such a splendid day and no rain forecast for the night, I thought I'd get the moth trap out. I was unable to do this last week due to the bad weather we were having. Needless to say, moths were caught and I ended up with only 31 moths of 14 different species. Of these 14 species, 5 were new for me this year. They included two new quakers, a Red-line (Agrochola lota) and a Yellow-line (A macilenta) a Streak (Chesias legatella), Barred Sallow (Xanthia aurago) and last but not least, a Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae). These 5 new species took me to 300 species of Lepidoptera on the Garden Moth Challenge, Woohoo!!! There were also to other non-moth species, but I'll save them to the end.

Amateur Entomologist's Society Exhibition and Trade Fair

As you all know, last week I spoke of this exhibition in Kempton. I had never been before, but was advised to go. It didn't start till 11am which meant that I didn't have to get out too early to make it as Kempton Race course is only 2.5hrs away from me. The day was nice and pleasant and although I was expecting a nice relaxed quiet affair with plenty to see and buy, nothing expected me for what I got. My first inkling came as I drove into the car park at 10:55hrs and I noticed a queue at the door. As I drove around the car park it became apparent that this wasn't an ordinary queue, it went on and on and on and on. Needless to say, by the time I had found somewhere to park, get out of the car and join the queue, I must've been 400-500yards back. By the time it started moving, another 200 yds joined behind me.

And it just kept growing.
Wow, this thing was popular and eventually I got to the gate and paid my £4 entrance fee (£1 for under 16's), which is very reasonable considering the outrageous charges events charge nowadays. As I walked inside from the quiet queue I was amazed at the sight that greeted me. People, lots of them, everywhere. It was a sudden crescendo of noise of people talking, chattering, bargaining with stall holders. I really wasn't prepared for this. Looking at the first trader in front of me I could see nothing but pinned insects from all over the world, mainly butterflies and beetles. He was flanked by traders in front and behind hime selling live insects such as tarantulas, stick insects and millipedes. 
Busy, busy, busy.
There were people selling entomological equipment such as the wonderful Henshaw's (pictured above) to people selling pinned insects,
Just a small selection of what was on offer.
to others selling live spiders...
Each container holds a tarantula.
live millipedes...

African Giant Millipedes
and snails.

Giant Land Snails
There really was something for everyone and although I wasn't sure what I wanted, being befuddled by the shear enormity of it all, after all, there was nearly 130 tables showing their wares. I must say, the pinned insects did draw me in, as I'm always fascinated by museum collections of insects from around the world, and non more so than large beetles. I've always had a soft spot for our native and largest beetle the stag beetle, but some of the beetles I saw here made a stag beetle look like a ladybird.

Pinned Rhino Beetles and yes, they are £2.95 each!
To give some idea of scale, the beetles above are 6-7 inches long, so you can imagine what my thoughts were. In case you didn't want to buy pinned insects, you could buy them unpinned, sealed in cellophane wrapped cards for pennies, well a pound or two, but you know what I mean.

Some packets had 10 beetles in for £1, Bargain???
Some of these packets had around 10 beetles in for about £1 - £1.50, these are ideal for people like me who are just getting into pinning insects as it allows you to buy a cheap job lot to practice setting with. But be warned, these are not the best kept of stock and you will find out when you get home that some are missing limbs and feet, etc. I also bumped into Sally-Ann Spence of Minibeast Mayhem (you may remember from the Oxford Natural History Museum trip). Sally-Ann advised me to stick all my purchases in the freezer for a day when I got home. This would help kill off the dreaded museum beetle. A little bug that loves to munch away on museum specimens and you don't realise until you pick up your collection one day and watch all the heads fall off.   

In case you didn't believe me.
It wasn't all just about selling insects, alive or dead. There were artists there including the legend Richard Lewington who's the Lepidopterist artist for some identification guides and he's even done a set of stamps too.
There were entomological/naturalist suppliers as well from Watkins & Doncaster, DJ Henshaw's and others.
GT Vision showing their wonderful microscopes
And if it was more technical equipment you was after, that was on show too. Upstairs was a more sedate affair, with books, wildlife plants and displays by AES members.

One display showed these beautiful Atlas moths emerging

A newly emerged Atlas Moth.
There were also displays from the junior members of the AES, the Bug Club.

The life cycle of the Indian Moon Moth by Layla
and from a school too. There were many other displays which were all of great interest and very well presented with prizes and certificates at the end.
A display by the bug club of a school (every school should have one).
Although the place was packed and the canteen run out of food within a couple of hours, they actually contemplated selling me frozen carrot cake at one point with the manager struggling to put the cake slice in it. He then, with his bare hands squeezed the centre of the cake in the middle before saying, 'yeah it's still a bit frozen'. I declined and bought a Mars bar instead.

All in all, the photos above are only a very small smidging of what happened on the day as it would be impossible to post it all here. But would I go again? Would I recommend it to anyone? Yes and yes again. In fact I can't wait till next year.

Back to the moth trap

The non-moths that were in the trap this morning was one of my favourites, an Ichneumon wasp by the latin name of Ophion obscuratus. In the photo below, you can clearly see the three black eyes on top of the head as well as the two normal eyes on each side. The three eyes on the top of the head are called 'ocelli' and are known as simple eyes. This means that they're not used for vision. So, if they're eyes but they're not being used for vision, then what are they being used for? They're used as a type of navigation by sensing light only, the insect's brain can measure its pitch and roll as it flies through the air by how much light each ocelli is picking up. But what about the other two eyes? The main eyes on the side of the head are not simple eye cells like the ocelli, they're known as compound eyes and are used in a completely different way, i.e. to see objects, landmarks, prey, etc. It is thought that the compound eye cannot react fast enough for the insect's brain to work out how it's flying, compared to the ocelli. So there you go, five eyes are better than two.
Ophion obscuratus. Note the three ocelli on top of the head.
Whilst looking in the moth trap, I looked up to see this wonderful creature walking across my patio.

Ocypus olens
It is a rove beetle known as a Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens). Its elytra, the hard wing coverings that are common on beetles, are shrunk exposing the abdomen. It does have wings, but they are rarely, if ever used for flight because, like the name suggests, it likes to rove. It's main diet consists of woodlice and earthworms and any carrion it comes across to, so always good to wash your hands if you come across one, although saying that, it wouldn't be that good an idea to pick one up as they can give quite a bite. If you ever come across one, they're about 1 inch long, and disturb it, you'll see it open its mandibles and also raise its abdomen, a bit like a scorpion. This is a defence stance and it'll also release a foul smelling odour from the white scent glands at the tip of its abdomen. In days of old, it was considered a bad omen if one of these raised its tail at you, it was considered to be cursing you. I'm not one for old wives tales as this little fellow was not happy with me taking his photo and tried several times to bite me as well as curse me. Although saying that, a couple of hours after, the postie arrived with a parcel and whilst trying to open it, I nigh on lopped the top of my finger off! Cursed or coincidence, who knows!

I curse thee damn naturalist, may the top of your finger fall off!

Till next time friends!

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