Thursday, 28 August 2014

Common Darters

There were at least two male Common Darters, Sympetrum striolatum, around the wildlife garden pond today. If you move slowly, they are great posers and allow very close approximation. Their faces are locked into a perpetual smiling grimace, adding to their charm. If you watch them from a close distance,  you'll notice that they are constantly flicking their heads around, looking for insects flying overhead. If a suitable one is detected, they dart off, returning to their perch to eat their prey.

The ever smiling darter
A short clip of the darter watching for prey.

Male garden spider

We found this male garden spider, Araneus diadematus, on our garden gate, actively walking about. Male garden spiders are on the lookout for females in august and september, when they become adult and receptive. This was a large and handsomely marked male, so I gave it a session on the white bowl and then released him near the largest female in the garden.

Hunting wasps

There are few things reminding me more of the end of summer than hunting wasps. Today, a buzzing ball of fury fell on the pavement in front of me. A common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, holding on a male Eristalis dronefly, desperately trying to escape. The wasp held onto the dronefly's legs, chewing three of them and a wing off, and rendering the dronefly defenceless.
A loose leg and a wing are visible
I was amazed by the determination of the wasp, which was thrown about by the hoverfly while it was only holding by the hoverfly's abdomen.A very short clip shows moments after they landed.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A glimpse of Zygiella mating

 By chance while in the garden a couple of days ago, I spotted two small spiders near each other, which immediately attracted my attention. The smaller spider, which I could now see it was a male, proceeded to approach the passive female and insert one of his palps in her epigyne. After a few seconds, he retreated and repeated the process with the other palp. The translucent inflated palp is just visible in the photo above, where the female is on the right. A gust of wind separated the spiders and, despite the male's apparent efforts to find her partner, thus ended their affair. The female now rested atop a flower stem and I could watch and identify her by the pale leaf pattern on her back and ringed legs: a missing sector orb web spider, Zygiella x-notata.
 Given how slow spider courtship may be, in particular the slow initial male's approach to an often aggressive female, I count myself lucky to have witnessed the mating of yet another spider in the garden.
The female Zygiella x-notata

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Insects in flight

Today it was a summery, hot day, with a light breeze, ideal for insect watching. Somehow, I managed a few decent in flight shots, which usually evade me as I am not patient enough. The first one happened when I spotted two hovering Volucella pellucens. They are large hoverflies, which live near trees and are identifiable even at several meters of distance due to their translucent abdominal belt. Males hover incessantly on the same spot, and inspect or chase off other hoverflies and even speckled woods invading their territory, so maybe this way they spot female hoverflies to mate. Hoverflies also hover during courtship. I tried to encourage the hoverfly to sit on my finger by slowly raising it towards the hoverfly. This technique often works with hovering males, like this Eristalis intricarius from yestarday shows:
but the Volucella refused several times...
so I tried to get some shots while it hovered and got the shot at the top of the post, and I was pretty pleased with that!
 A bit later, then, in my street, a couple of migrant hawkers were hunting over the verge. Migrant hawkers often hunt together with other individuals, and they may settle to bask near each other. They ten to hunt from 4-5 m above ground. I managed some records shots, this one the best.
I popped in the wildlife garden later to release a grasshopper (a matter for a different post) and watched a large Ectemnius digger wasp (probably the common E. cavifrons) inspecting a rotten log. She had to fend off a Tegenaria spider. Ectemnius are hoverfly hunters and are skillful hovers. Females dig their nests in soft wood, and look by suitable nest sites, often hovering in front of the wood. This allowed me an opportunity for the third flight shot for the day.