Monday, 3 August 2015

Stretch spider identity revealed

There is a population of Stretch spiders Tetragnatha sp., on the wildlife garden. On Saturday I popped in with my youngest daughter and there was an adult female by the pond, sitting in the centre of her web, which was almost horizontal, about 20 cm from the surface of the water. She noticed the disturbance and retreated to one end of her web. Fortunately still exposing her underside so I could photograph the areas that make it possible to identify the species: the sternum with a paler centre and the epigyne or genital opening. Matt Prince and Dr Richard Pearce on Twitter confirmed her ID as Tetragnatha extensa, a species likely to be associated to water.

Friday, 31 July 2015

More skippers!

The sun shone finally after a wet and cool week. We popped in the wildlife garden in the afternoon. The knapweed, a favourite feeding plant for the skippers is now flowering in the meadow. Both species were very active, a male Large Skipper fed on the flowers, showing its long tongue.
A male Small Skippers followed a female fluttering behind her, but then appeared to lose interest, quickly losing her and perching, maybe she was already mated? The female settle to feed almost next to him and I just managed to take a photo with both in the frame: the male is in the foreground.
 
 We watched possibly the same female later as she was searching for suitable oviposition sites, which in the case of Small Skippers is Yorkshire Fog grass.  She settled and started a curious dance on the long grass stems, her swollen abdomen curved and everted, its tip touching the stem, and she moved circling around and up like moonwalking. We didn't actually see any eggs (they must be tiny!), but this confirms that the garden has a breeding population.
This gif showis a short sequence of egg laying behaviour:

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Male mouse spider

As I lifted a towel from the kitchen floor, a male Mouse Spider, Scotophaeus blackwalli, ran out. He was quickly potted and had a brief session in the white bowl. These spiders are usually cooperative, and they freeze for a while when disturbed, which is enough for me. This is the time of the year when Mouse Spiders are mature and look for potential mates and I wonder if that's what this male was doing. These spiders are strongly associated to humans, and are mostly found in or around buildings, sheds and gardens, which suggests they have expanded from a more southern origin. Scotophaeus males only have slightly enlarged palps compared to other spiders, but they are still thicker than the female's, this and the very narrow abdomen of the male helps distinguish the sexes.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Trespassing old lady

This Old Lady moth, Mormo maura, entered a bedroom earlier tonight, and I took its photo as it sat on the wall. This is a large moth, which looks like is wearing a long dark cloak, hence its name. Although nocturnal, it is not attracted to lights, but it appears inside the house, often (but fortunately not tonight) brought in by the cats, but also possibly to roost. It feeds on buddleia and other flowers at night, while the caterpillars feed on blackthorn. It is a local species, but a regular in the garden, with my records from mid July to mid September. I found this grown larvae on a windowsill a few years ago.
Old Lady caterpillar 30/04/2008

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Cucumber spider with egg sac

 While looking for lily beetles, I found this female Araniella sp guarding its egg sac. The sac, made of coarse yellow silk threads, was attached to the underside of a leaf, and the female sat on a loose web underneath, where she was also eating an aphid (below). There are two extremely similar species, Araniella cucurbitina and A. opistographa, which can only be identified by inspection of their epigyne. Both are small and bright green, with a red mark over their spinnerets, which can often be seen from underneath. They live in trees and bushes, and are orb weavers, although their webs are quite small.