Friday, 27 January 2012

The window date of lace webbed spiders

Last week I noticed a female Amaurobius similis, also called lace webbed spider, on the kitchen windowsill. After a few moments - enough for me to take her photo - she quickly retreated to a crack between the sill and the window frame (photo below). These spiders usually live in holes in walls, fences or windows, and have a characteristic fuzzy sticky white silk that radiates in strands away from the hole. Yesterday, late at night, I found the handsome male on the top photo, right next to the female burrow. It is not the first time I find wandering Amaurobius males in the house the first months of the year. Males and females mature in the autumn and males often come out of their burrows to find females. Once the male finds a female's burrow he will drum the threads with his legs and often vibrate his abdome too. They are fierce-looking spiders, with large, dark head and chelicerae, bright, orange legs with darker rings, and nicely patterned abdomen with lighter chevrons. Males have longer legs than females.
 For more on Amaurobius spiders in BugBlog click here.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Buzzing laurustinus

 I planted a laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) bush on a large pot a couple of years ago and placed it opposite the window where we eat, a sheltered patio area. I did not realised at the time what a great location this was and what a fantastic bug magnet this bush is. One of the best features of lauristinus is its long winter flowering season (from October to May). My new vantage point has also revealed that their pollen and nectar rich flowers are often visited by honeybees, hoverflies and droneflies during mild winter days, as you can see in the photos below, all taken a few days ago. Come spring they are also visited by butterflies like the Holly Blue and early bumblebee Bombus pratorum queens. As this hardy bush does not mind shady conditions, their pink-white flowers are a good way of lightening dark corners of the garden.
A poor shot of Episyrphus balteatus
Eristalis sp. Dronefly.
The one on top of the post is possibly Meliscaeva auricollis, thank you Geoff F from WAB for the tentative ID given the difficult angle.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

An early start for the butterfly year

I just sent my record of the first butterfly of the year to the fantastic Woodland Trust site nature's calendar, a citizen science website which allow enthusiast naturalists to add their phenological data. It has fantastic live interactive maps and data is also used for scientific projects. Only once before I had my first butterfly of the year in January, but Sunday's (8th) was the earliest. A Peacock, flying strong, but coming close enough to us for ID (the photo above is from a few years back). We have had very mild weather since before Christmas, and this is stirring up overwintering bugs and bringing them out. All five butterflies, which spend the winter as adults (Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Commas, Peacocks, and Red Admiral) had been reported in the Butterfly Conservation website by the 8th of January.