Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A new bee hotel and its guests

This year I got a new bee hotel, kindly given to me by George Pilkington from Nurturing Nature. What a great present! His bee hotel design has removable wooden sides with glass covering the actual grooves in the wood, so that you can remove the wooden sides and inspect the cells as they are being built, a rare peek into this usually hidden world. It is designed to provide suitable nesting holes for the common Red Mason Bee, Osmia rufa, which would naturally would use holes in masonry or cracks on walls to nest.
  I treated the nest with teak oil before hanging it out in early February (above). The Red Mason Bees took to it quite quickly after their appearance in the garden, and on the 11 of April the first female Red Mason Bee Osmia rufa roosted in one of the holes.
Below, a male here inspecting the hotel (14/04/14)
By the 10th of May the topmost hole had been sealed and the second had a couple of cells already made.
a poor photo showing the row of cells containing a mound of pollen, nectar and an egg laid atop. Each cell has a mud wall separating if from the following one (10/05/14).
Once a hole has been filled with cells the bee puts the final wall to cover the nest. This is the first finished row of cells.
On the 12th of May, I spotted the first beautifully fresh and golden Male Osmia caerulescens, sitting on the conservatory window by the sage. The males have been about about a week now, and females a couple of days. Males are very similar to Osmia leaiana males, but O. caerulescens have a strong preference for sage and hedge woundwort in my garden, while leaiana prefers knapweed.
...and the same day this very old, faded and bald male Osmia rufa  guarding the bee hotel.
A cleptoparasite fly Cacoxenus indagator is also present often around the bee hotel. This little fly, related to fruit flies, parasitises Red Mason Bee nests. The fly will lay eggs on the cell as a bee is provisioning it. Its grubs will feed on it, preventing the development and emergence of the bee (17/0514).
This female Osmia rufa is finishing filling the second hole.
On the 17th of May I also noticed a new bee (so I thought!). It turned to be a wasp, Sapyga quinquepunctata, which is a cleptoparasite of solitary bees including from the genus Osmia, the mason bees. I found this wasp on the nest and surrounding area. It has blue-purplish wings and white spotted abdomen, with curved antennae. Thank you to Ian Beavis who identified it from one of my photos on Twitter.
Another view of the wasp, on the post holding the nest. The wasp is also a cleptoparasite of Osmia and related bees.
The bee hotel today. Four cells have been completed.

Not only the bee hotel makes it easier to observe mason bees, but other bees and their cleptoparasites will also be attracted to it, increasing the chances of observing their development in the nest and interactions. Also to note that a spider, possibly Clubiona sp, has made a home in one of the holes.
Undoubtedly, I will post more on future developments on this bee hotel.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The bird poo beetle

No, that is not the accepted common name of this beetle, which instead goes by the name of Scarce Fungus Weevil, Platyrhinus resinosus, but it should be. We didn't start our relationship very well, this beetle and me. He landed on my arm unannounced, and I automatically slapped it away as I realised it wasn't a fly, but something more interesting. I am glad I was crossing a road, as it it hadn't been on the tarmac, I wouldn't have refound it. Having met me in such an unfriendly way he played dead (understandably) for quite a while, its resemblance to a dry bird poo uncanny. After a while it timidly dared stretch its antennae and front legs, posing in a more relaxed position. This is a most unusual looking beetle, with a flat whitish face and rough surface and a cylindrical body.

More information

Playing dead
A frontal view

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Two common ground beetles

We came across two Ground Beetles, and they happen to be two of the commonest species in the UK. The top shot is the Strawberry Seed Beetle, Harpalus rufipes, a female. The elytra of this species look duller than the thorax, as they are covered with fine hairs, which you can see glowing in the photo below of the same individual, as they glistened with the flash light. They eat many vegetable matter, and appear to be partial to ripe strawberries.
The next species, larger (15-20 mm), is the Black Clock beetle, Pterostichus madidus, a very shiny, large headed species with impressive jaws and eyes. They are mainly predatory, and feed on ground invertebrates. This individual is a male, recognised by the enlarged tarsi of the forelegs.

There are many species of ground beetles (about 370) and many are hard to identify. These are some websites that might help you ID them:

Watford Coleoptera Group

Let me know if you know any others!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Hairy shieldbug

This side shot of a Hairy Shieldbug, Dolycoris baccarum, in the wildlife garden, shows well where its name comes from. Its hairiness does not show in a more usual top shot (below).

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Wildlife garden bug safari

After my encounter this morning with the basking Nursery web spiders, I popped back to the wildlife garden after a storm had passed and there was some promise of a sunny spell. The spiders weren't out, but I found a few interesting invertebrates about, including two new species for the garden.
A Peacock, which together with a couple of large whites were the only butterflies about.
 The first nice surprise were a couple of Green Thistle Tortoise Beetles (Cassida rubiginosa), which I had never seen before, both of them on knapweed:
Then I found some Rophalus subrufus, including a couple mating.
A Green shieldbug came out on the leaves to bask.
And then I came across some nursery web spiders, one of them a male prowling...
...demonstrating how agile they are moving across leaves, hiding behind them quickly if I moved a bit too fast or too close.
...and a placid female sunning herself on the oregano of the herb garden.
 Just before leaving, another new species for me, a very pale grass spider, Tibellus oblongus, contrasting with the green leaves.

Colourful nursery web spiders

The population of Nursery Web Spiders is thriving in the meadow of my local wildlife garden. I counted no less than 11 today, sunbathing in the long sunny spells between showers. They are striking, easy to spot spiders, that like to stretch to sunbathe like wolf spiders, but keeping their front pair of legs stretched forward together. Many were visible close to each other in various leaves of the lush vegetation, which made apparent how variable in colour they are, from ashy grey to brown and orangey or reddish. They all have longitudinal stripes, with the darker stripes on the cephalothorax. They will probably be mature or mature soon, so males would be capturing flies, wrapping them in silk and offering them to females, while they play dead in order to survive the encounter and make copulation more likely.
More information
British Arachnological Society page.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Neriene montana under her sheet web

I wanted to photograph this Neriene montana in her retreat, tucked underneath a groove in a plastic toy car. I must have touched the web, as she darted out and sat for a few moments in the middle of her sheet web. They are relatively common in the garden at the moment, and they can be easily distinguished from their relative Linyphia triangularis by their boldly annulated legs. Judging by the large size of her abdomen, thin palps and full size this is an adult female. Contrast with a male, wandering in search of females (below). His palps are like black boxing gloves and his abdomen is about the size of its cephalothorax.

Vapourer caterpillars hatching

I have been keeping an eye on the Vapoureur egg clutches from last autumn every few days. watched a male being attracted by a female just emerged from her cocoon on the windowsill. They mated and the wingless female laid eggs on the cocoon itself. it is thought that the irritant hairs that the caterpillar weaves on the cocoon silk might offer protection to the eggs and young caterpillars.
It has been eight months and the eggs have overwintered and their development has speeded up as the days warmed. Today, in between showers I had a look and noticed nine open eggs and five tiny caterpillars indicating that probably some of them have already dispersed onto nearby plants.
The other egg clutch nearby is showing no signs of hatchlings as yet.