A focus on the small side | 30 Days Wild

download (1)It was the World of invertebrates that caught my attention for today’s #30DaysWild. After a busy few days helping out with seabird ringing and census work, a small mound of niggling jobs has slowly crept upon me. The blessing of spring and summer, though, is that you have to but step out of the door and be immersed in a bustling activity of wildlife: from the incessant roaming of worker ants on stone walls, to bumblebees buzzing past, flies and hoverflies swarming around blooming plants, the more sedentary spiders hanging motionless in webs, nocturnal moths hiding away beneath leaves…it’s pretty hard not to find anything to watch at this time of year!

So for today’s blog, I thought I’d post a handful of images of  my favourite insects from the day – just a fraction of those making use of the warm and calmer conditions prevailing from late-morning to late-afternoon

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Ruby-tailed Wasp – the family term ‘Chrysis’ is derived from the Greek chrysis for a “gold vessel or gold-embroidered dress”. I love latin and greek names! 

There weren’t many contenders for the ‘top’ insect of the day: I have an affinity for these amazing hymenopterans, the Ruby-tailed Wasps (family: Chrysididae). Not only do they look incredible, with a shining armoury of dazzling metallic blues, scarlets and greens; but they also have fascinating life histories…

Ruby-tailed Wasps are members of a rather large family of some 3000 described species worldwide, and are collectively known as ‘Cuckoo Wasps’. The more scientific term describing their sneaky nature is kleptoparasitism, just the same as their feathered cousins.

A female wasp seeks out the active nest of an unlucky host – usually mason or solitary bees – and tentatively explores the entrance to assess the situation, with antenna constantly quivering away to detect the host’s scent via chemoreception. She’ll then enter the nest and lay her eggs amongst those of the host, relying on her highly strengthened cuticle as protection should an angry bee return and try stinging her.

Once the wasp’s eggs hatch out into larvae, they’ll devour the host’s eggs or larva, before exiting their adopted home. Whilst it is a little unfortunate for the host, it’s all part of the complex inter-relations and interactions that have developed and enable such diversity of life forms to exist.

Keep an out for these other two British cuckoo wasp species too: Hedychrum niemelai and Trichrysis cyanea 

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Peach Blossom close-up

I’ve had the moth trap out for the last few nights, but have been catching a disappointingly low number of moths and species. Some consolation last night was discovering this stunning Peach Blossom beneath one of the egg boxes – a common species feeding on Bramble leaves in larval form, but one which was only first seen on Bardsey in 2009. They really do possess a remarkable patterning which looks even closer up-close with the macro lens!

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Peach Blossom

Another star of today’s invert fest was a very under-appreciated organism that you may be familiar with if you take a close look at any stone wall or sun-bathed rock at this time of year…

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Velvet Mite Trombidium sp.

These curious creatures are members of the Acari subclass (mites), within the larger class of Arachnids (which includes the more familiar spiders). Growing to an gastronomic adult size of a few mm, the Velvet Mites are essentially blind and lack antenna: instead they use their front legs as feelers as they wander aimlessly about. Their primary fodder includes a range of (very!) small invertebrates and their eggs, and so don’t fret – they aren’t red because they feed on blood! Interestingly they also hibernate overwinter.

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The infamous Cleg-fly

My next species isn’t one that most would consider worthy of featuring. Needless to say, I find the pesky Cleg-flies (family Haematopota) remarkable insects! When you take a close look at their eyes, it’s amazing what you see: rainbow-coloured lenses patterned with dark zig-zag lines. It was worth sacrificing a bit of blood to capture the above image this afternoon!

And a couple of day-flying moths to end today’s blog: both species are specialists of Nettle beds, although you can find hundreds more insect species making use of this plant otherwise considered as a ‘weed’.

If you’re struggling for ideas for the #30DaysWild challenge, you could do a lot worse than keeping a few rough patches of nettles and brambles in your manicured gardens for a diversity of wildlife to make use of!

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