Sunday, 31 August 2014

Three bright characters for the end of August

Some invertebrates appear as heralds of autumn, and today three striking ones were present in the garden. Migrant Hawkers have been around for a while, forming loose swarms that hunt between 2 and 8 m high, often well away from water. In the cooler, shorter days of late summer it becomes easier to come across sunbathing ones, perched on a branch, often more than one near each other. I flushed this male a few times as I went about in the garden, until I finally spotted him hanging from its perch. I got so close taking the macro above that I could have kissed him.
A single Red Admiral was also about, alternating between feeding in the buddleia and basking on a brick wall. During sunny spells she closed its wings, while during passing clouds she revealed its fresh, amazingly marked wings to their full splendor. This was a beautifully marked individual, the small, delicate blue markings on the edge of its wings very apparent.

I used the flash to counteract the sunshine and reveal the intricate patterning of the underwings, which can make the butterfly well camouflaged.
This garden spider, Araneus diadematus, is one of the largest in the garden, she hangs her web on the side of the rubbish bin, and has her retreat under the rim. Given the size of this species, detailed inspection of the epigyne is possible without even disturbing the spider (click on the photo to see it).

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