Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Moth Night Magic

This year I took part in the Moth Night, in which members of the public can record and identify moths as part of a national survey. The Moth Night takes place every year, and this year the survey focuses on Tiger Moths.
We put our moth trap out in the garden for the night, and checked its contents the following day.
One of the species we found was a Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos alniaria), a beautiful hairy yellow species. It's larvae feed upon numerous species of deciduous trees.



 
Sorry about the quality of the picture of this Canary-shouldered Thorn.



We also captured a Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (Noctua janthina). They really couldn't have thought up a shorter name could they? ;-)



 A Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing.



A similar looking Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba) was also in the trap.



 
A Large Yellow Underwing.



 Another moth species that was in the trap goes by the name of the Common Rustic Agg - what an odd name! It's scientific name is Mesapamea secalis agg.



 
Mesapamea secalis agg. poses.



A beautiful Scalloped Oak (Crocallis elinguaria) was also captured in the trap.



 A Scalloped Oak.



The aptly named Willow Beauty is indeed a beauty as we discovered when we caught it in our moth trap.



  A Willow Beauty.



My favourite one of them all was an Orange Swift (Triodia sylvina). The larvae live underground where they eat the roots of various plants including bracken, dandelion, dock, hop and Viper's Bugloss.



 
The Orange Swift moth - what a little beauty!



Until next time, keep on the wild side!

Postscript:
I have recently discovered (thanks to Barry Warrington, the local entomologist) that the Common Rustic Agg is actually an 'aggregate' of three moths: the Common Rustic, Lesser Common Rustic, and Remm's Rustic. The only way to identify the individual species is to examine the genitals. Quite a few people don't do this, so simply class all three species as 'Common Rustic Agg'.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Dung Wars At Beverly Westwood!

The second and third episodes for my series on BBC Radio Humberside (see my previous post, BBC Fun) were recorded on the 2nd of August. These episodes look at Grassland and Woodland habitats.
For Woodland, we went to Burton Bushes, a large expanse of trees next to the better known Beverly Westwood. I had never been to Burton Bushes before, so this was really exciting for me. The wood is made up of a wide selection of trees, but the main ones are Oak and Beech. Purple Hairstreak Butterflies (Neozephyrus quercus) are on the site, but I never saw any of these on my visit.

We saw an Early Thorn moth (Selenia dentaria), a species that can sometimes be seen during the day, hiding amongst the leaf litter.



An Early Thorn moth posing on a piece of wood.



We discovered numerous fungi and lichen species at Burton Bushes, including Small Stagshorn (Calocera cornea), a star species on the site, and also Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica). The Beefsteak Fungus really did resemble a piece of beef, and if squashed it exudes a scarlet substance that resembles blood!



Beefsteak Fungus!



 
Small Stagshorn Fungus on a piece of wood.

We saw numerous beautiful lichen species of all different shapes, shades, and sizes. All the species that can be seen at Burton Bushes are indicators of clean air.
We came across a large Oak tree stump, which had numerous burrows going into it. It seemed likely that the uncommon Yellow-legged Clearwing (Synanthedon vespiformis) was the culprit. The larvae of this species live inside tree stumps, pupate inside the tree stump, then burrow their way out as adults. The adults will then mate and lay their eggs in the tree stump, and the cycle continues.
For Grassland, we moved onto Beverly Westwood, a large expanse of unspoilt Chalk Grassland. This site is grazed by cows, which means that there's quite a few cow pats. Well, I couldn't resist such a great opportunity to have a poke about in one, so I grabbed a stick and started my exploration. Numerous fly (Diptera) species and their larvae could be seen, as well as quite a few Rove Beetles (Staphylinidae). But then we found what we were really looking for: Dung Beetles (Scarabaeinae). We discovered a species that is a  pretty typical sort of Dung Beetle, known as Aphodius fossor, a species that can be found on wet dung of cows and horses.



Aphodius fossor explores my cow-pat covered hand.
 




Exploring cow pats with a stick!



My Dad got quite jealous and found his own stick to poke piles of poo with. It became a bit of a 'Dung War' as I didn't like Dad poking about in my pile of poo!
We also heard a Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) singing its little heart out, which was a complete first for me.
We also found a Meadow Puffball (Vascellum pratense), and in brilliant condition too. They prefer short grass, so places such as golf courses are perfect for them. Unfortunately, due to this habit, they are most often shredded by lawn mowers or stepped on, so discovering one in this condition was quite uncommon.



 A Meadow Puffball.



All through my trip to Burton Bushes and Beverly Westwood I was taking little recordings whenever something interesting cropped up.
I had a great time, and I'm really looking forward to hearing the episodes on the radio!

In the meantime, keep on the wild side!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Jacob's Jungle

What a spoilt boy I am! As a birthday treat, the back bedroom was turned into a room where I could keep all my insects. I keep various species to help with my studies, and I must admit, it was getting pretty crammed in my bedroom! The name of the room was originally the 'Bug Room', but it has now been changed to 'Jacob's Jungle Room'.
3 large cupboards were moved into the Jungle Room, perfect for placing study tanks upon. The first new tank was an impressive Exo Terra, which are specially designed tanks (thanks to Barry Warrington for getting us discount on the enclosure and paying for so much of it as my birthday gift), that was 60cm tall and 90cm long. Now for the fun bit: landscaping!



 Creating the habitat!



We used a substrate of rotten wood, leaflitter, and coconut husk. Several pieces of wood were added, and after some fiddling and several trips to the pet shop, it was complete! This was going to be the Beetle Tank. We already had several Spotted Sun Beetles (Pachnoda marginata peregrina), which originate in Africa, and these were going to be the first beetles to be added to the enclosure!
Unfortunately, the Sun Beetles had a parasitic mite infestation, which isn't a good thing. The mites irritate the adult beetles and block up the breathing holes, called spiracles, of the larvae. Because mites can only survive in a moist environment, we placed the mite-infested beetles in a dry container for a while. Unfortunately it didn't help, and the already sickly beetles were all dead or close to it by the next day. We managed to rescue 6 beetles, but one was still too mite-infested to be moved into the new tank.

In the end, only 5 Sun Beetles were moved into the new Beetle Tank.



 
You can only just see the Sun Beetles on the right hand side, feeding on a slice of apple.


A while later we bought 3 new Sun Beetle species: Pachnoda trimaculata, Pachnoda sinuata, and Pacnoda aemula. The first species is particularly nice, being bright orange!



 
Pachnoda trimaculata!



There's other new beetles on the scene too. We now also have 4 Stephanorrhina julia and 4 Coelorrhina hornimani!



 Coelorrhina hornimani male. The males have a distinctive horn on the face!



  Stephanorrhina julia.



 Pachnoda aemula.



Jacob's Jungle Room is now also home to a Coconut Palm, my tank for Giant Millipedes, and a temporary breeding enclosure for Green Jewel Beetles (Chlorocala africana africana).
Future tanks for Jacob's Jungle Room include an Arboreal Insect Enclosure, housing Katydids, Horse-head Grasshoppers, and Stick Insects, and possibly a Terrestrial Crab tank.
My Dad has recently created a sign for my Jungle Room too.



A picture of me next to my Coconut Palm and the Jacob's Jungle sign.



Look out for updates on Jacob's Jungle Room!

In the meantime, keep on the wild side!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

BBC Fun

Great news for me! I've been asked by BBC Radio Humberside to be their Wildlife Reporter for this year's Summer of Wildlife! I will be doing a small series with 5 episodes. Each episode will look at a different habitat: Woodland, Grassland, Pond, Urban Brownfield, and Urban Managed.
I was taken for a tour of Hull's BBC Studio while learning how to create the series! It was great to learn about how things work backstage. A huge thank you to BBC Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Regional Broadcast co-ordinator Chloe Davies, for taking the time to show me round and teaching me how to create the recordings for the series.



 In the BBC Studio with Chloe.



Practising for the series in the nearby gardens.



I also did a little practise in the nearby public gardens, which was interesting in itself. It was surprising how much life was living there given that it was an intensively managed area.
I am hoping to do all of the episodes in Hull, which will work well for several locations that I want to cover, including Kinder. I'll post further details about when the episodes will be broadcast.
 

Tophill Low Nature Reserve

The 20th and 21st of July was Tophill Low Nature Reserve's Summer Of Wildlife Event. Various activities were taking place from early morning to late at night. Barry Warrington, Hull Valley Wildlife Group's Entomological Recorder, held two bug hunts at the reserve, which were fun.
At 10 am we examined the contents of a moth trap that had been set up the previous night. This was interesting as we saw a large variety of species that we have never seen before, as well as a few well-known favourites such as the Elephant Hawk Moth ( Deilephila elpenor) and Garden Tigers (Arctia caja).



Peach Blossom Moth (Thyatira batis)



A Garden Tiger  (Arctia caja) on my nose!



 One of my frieds, Oakley, get hands-on with an Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor).



I never thought that it was possible to have 2 Poplar Hawk Moths (Laothoe populi), an Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor), and a Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) all on one hand, but my friend, Eden, managed it!



After looking at the moths, we joined Barry on his first bug hunt. First of all we examined a small area, just a few metres across, and discovered a surprising number of species including a Cucumber Spider (Araniella cucurbitina), Ichneumon Wasps (Ichneumonoidea), and Soldier Beetles (Cantharidae).
We went on to explore a larger area which was particularly productive. Butterflies such as Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus) and various bee species pollinated flowers, while caterpillar-like Sawfly larvae munched away at leaves.
We had our lunch beside a pond, around which we saw an interesting Bee Mimic.
We visited various hides but unfortunately saw no bird life from them, however Barry assured me that species such as Kingfishers (Alcedo atthias) can be seen there.
Barry's next bug hunt took place on a large area of grassland which had lots of ponds scattered across it. Here we saw various dragonfly and damselfly species, including a 4-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata), Blue-tailed Damselflies (Ischnura elegans), and a red dragonfly that I think was a Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum).
I also saw a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) fly over, which was great, as I really love this species.
I didn't stay for the whole bug hunt, but my Dad did, and he assures me that they saw plenty of great stuff afterwards.
He saw a Common Frog (Rana temporaria), which is a rarity on Tophill, as the non-native Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) that lives on the site has driven them out due to food competition, etc.



 Common Frog



Overall, I had a great time and will definitely go to Tophill Low Nature Reserve again.
 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Butterflies Left, Right, & Centre!

The first thing that I want to say is that I'm extremely sorry for the lack of posts this week. I've been really busy, doing something nearly every day of the week.
On Tuesday (July 16th) I was in for a rather pleasant surprise, as I found that one of my Peacock butterflies had emerged from a pupa, one of many that I have been rearing (see my previous post, Caterpillar Nursery). This was the very first Peacock to emerge! I released the little beauty an hour or so later, giving it some time to warm itself up and prepare for flight first.
The next day, we were in for another pleasant surprise. Another 8 Peacock butterflies had emerged! We took them outside to take some pictures of them, and luckily they co-operated, with only a few flying off.


 This Peacock (Inachis io) sat on the bark for a while, soaking up the sunlight.



 
A living ear ring!



This image demonstrates the dark colouration of the underwing, providing perfect camouflage when at rest.



 This specimen has just emerged from its pupa, and is in the process of pumping blood into its wings to spread them out.


We noticed that the butterflies were exuding a sort of golden substance. This is called meconium and the butterflies were exuding it on purpose. When they first emerge from the pupa, the butterflies will not immediately be able to fly and will be extremely vulnerable. However, the meconium is foul-tasting, discouraging any predators hoping for an easy meal.
The next day produced another 4 Peacocks. The following day we had another 3, and today (July 20th) we have another 6! If you do a little bit of maths, you'll find that we've had a total of 19 Peacocks emerge. And there's still some pupae and caterpillars left!
I've really enjoyed rearing these Peacocks, and would highly recommend trying it yourself.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Garden BioBlitz

This year I took part in the Garden BioBlitz, which took place on the 1st and 2nd of June. The word 'Bio' means life, and the word 'Blitz' means to do something quickly and intensively. And that's all it is: to see how much life you can find in your garden in a set amount of time, usually 24 hours. For participants, all the species that were seen had to be written down and sent into iRecord, a brilliant site that manages and shares wildlife records.
The BioBlitz was great fun, and it was amazing to know just how many species there are in our garden. It is small and untidy, but we have made it as wildlife friendly as we can. We haven't cut the lawn in . . . how many years? Its been so long I can't remember. We have put up a nest box, and we have also made a hedgehog home beside our new wildlife pond.
Soon after submitting our records, a person from NBN got back to us, asking if I would be able to write a short piece about our BioBlitz, about 300-400 words.
It has now been put on NBN's 'eNews', along with several other pieces done by fellow participants. To read my piece and the others, click here.
My Dad put a picture of me doing the BioBlitz on Twitter, and a while later he got a tweet from Springwatch, asking if they could use it for that night's episode!
Here's a video of me being mentioned on Springwatch.


video


The next Garden BioBlitz won't be until next year (2014), so I think I'll probably take part in that one, too.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Insect Festival At York

Yesterday (July 7th), my Dad, Barry, and I went for a trip to York for the Insect Festival that was being held in the Yorkshire Museum's Gardens.
The Insect Festival is held in the same place once every 2 years. It usually takes place in July; and my family and I had attended the festival once before in 2011. We had greatly enjoyed it, and decided that we wanted to go again.
The festival started at 10 am, and finished at 4 pm. It was a beautiful day, if a little hot, and was perfect weather for the occasion.
There were stalls both in the gardens and indoors. There were activities such as face painting, 'make a minibeast', and 'make a minibeast home'.
There was an interesting stall that had a tank full of beautiful Flower Beetles. This was of particular interest to me, as I keep quite a few Flower Beetles to help with my studies.
There were quite a few areas where it was possible to handle insects. I had the pleasure to hold a Magagascar Hissing Cockroach ( Gromphadorhina portentosa), a Giant Prickly Stick Insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) , and best of all, a Leaf Insect! (Phyllium sp)


 Holding a Giant Prickly Stick Insect (Extatosoma tiaratum).


 As it will be my Birthday quite soon, my Dad bought me a few early presents. One of these was a great guide to British Orthoptera - A Photographic Guide to the Grasshoppers & Crickets of Britain & Ireland by Martin Evans & Roger Edmondson. I also bought an interesting book called Working In Entomology. Published by the Ametuer Entomologist's Society, and written by a 14 year old girl called Rachel McLeod. The series of interviews with Entomologists that make up the book was originally a group of articles in the Ameteur Entomologist's magazines. 
Another thing I got was a piece of ancient amber from 14 million years ago, which contained 5 winged ants and a fly.
I also met a good friend of mine, Dr Roger Key. He is a great Entomologist, and has been all over the world to look for insects. I first met him a few years ago on one of his insect events, which are always really good.
Dr Roger Key was taking a short bug hunt, and gave his little group (which included me) a sweep net, pooter, and supplied tubs when we needed them.




 Dr Roger Key showing the group how to use a pooter.





 Hunting for insects!

Our little group found several Froghoppers, Ichnuemon Wasps, and Grass Moths, to name just a few. I believe that children should be allowed to explore their natural curiosity for nature, because when you see these young children running around doing a bug hunt, you see that there is an interest. We also need enthusiastic and encouraging parents, teachers, and experts like my friends Barry Warrington and Dr Roger Key to spark that interest in the first place and to keep it going.
There were a few things that I didn't like about the Insect Festival. My Dad, Barry, and I were disappointed that there was no information or advice on keeping insects. We also would have liked to have been able to buy insects and equipment. If done correctly, the keeping of insects in captivity should be encouraged, as I would say that it is crucial for a good understanding of entomology.
We noted that the most popular stalls seemed to be those with live insects, and especially when they could be handled. This shows that people like being hands on with nature, and I hope that this means that there will be more stalls like these in the next festival.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Insect Festival, and I will attempt to go to the next one in 2015.

Caterpillar Nursery

Last Thursday (July 4th), my Dad came back from a 'wildlife walk' clutching his hat as if he was never going to let it go. He opened up the hat to reveal about 20 (probably more!) Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) caterpillars! Great news for me, but not so much for Dad as his hat was covered in caterpillar frass (fancy word for poop)!
Peacock caterpillars aren't particularly spectacular, being black in colour and slightly spiky. My Dad informed me that in the place he had found them (along the River Humber, near Hessle) there had been hundreds of them feasting upon Stinging Nettles, their food plant.
We decided to rear them, and moved the caterpillars into an old 'Exo Terra' (a supplier of many different terrariums) tank, which had once housed a stick insect, and already had a layer of soil on the bottom, aswell as some wood for decoration.
We added some Stinging Nettles, and released the caterpillars into their new home! I have to admit, I have never seen caterpillars quite as active as this species before now!


 Here's a picture of our caterpillar nursery! If you look carefully, you can see several of the inhabitants crawling about and munching away.


If you looked carefully at the previous picture, you may have noticed several pupae (chrysalises) hanging from the lid. Last night (July 7th), I noticed a few caterpillars hanging upside down by their back ends. One of them had already turned into a bright green pupa! It surprised me by wriggling, then going still.
The next day, we discovered that there were more pupae, and that after a while, they turned dark green. There are currently 12 pupae in the caterpillar nursery, but I suspect that there will be more by tomorrow!


A close up of a freshly emerged pupa (bright green), surrounded by older ones (dark green and brown).


This pupal stage should last between 3 to 4 weeks, though longer periods (sometimes all through the winter) have been recorded. Keep an eye out for another post about emerging adults!
The rearing of the caterpillars is part of my studies into metamorphosis, see my previous post, A Tank For Tadpoles.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Fun With Chafers!

Just the other day (July 2) my Dad and I discovered something unusual in our moth trap, which had been set up in our garden the previous night. It appeared to be a Cockchafer, though it was much smaller, only about 2cm long.
After some researching, we came to the conclusion that it was a Summer Chafer,  Amphimallon solstitialis. Of course, we got Barry down, and he confirmed the identification as correct.
I've never seen a Summer Chafer, so this was quite exciting for me! We also learnt that it was quite rare and declining in numbers, so our find was actually even more exciting - even Barry looked quite chuffed! Our find was only the second record for East Yorkshire!
Summer Chafers eat plants and tree foliage, and can be seen from June to August. They live in meadows, hedgerows, and gardens.
Like most beetles, Summer Chafers undergo metamorphosis (see my previous post, A Tank For Tadpoles) in which there are 4 definite stages. First is the egg, which hatches out into the larvae. These look rather like maggots, and grow quite large. While in this stage, they feast on plant roots, and are a pest to farmers. They then pupate and turn into a very alien looking creature, before finally developing into an adult. Once more the beauty of metamorphosis is being displayed!



Here's a Summer Chafer. They are much smaller than a Cockchafer, and lack the small white triangles on the lateral side of the abdomen.

After finding this amazing little thing, my Dad and I have both vowed to set up our moth trap more often!

Friday, 28 June 2013

A Tank For Tadpoles

Let's face it, tadpoles are pretty cool. They undergo metamorphosis, a very interesting aspect of nature! Metamorphosis is the process of a species changing into another form. A tadpole, for instance, will eventually develop legs and leave the water entirely. But, unlike some other species that undergo metamorphosis, the tadpole actually has control over its change. A tadpole that spends a great deal of time in a shallow, warm area of the pond, stream, or lake will metamorphose quicker, were as an individual in the dark, cool, and deep area will develop slower. If the water level starts to drop, the creature will sense this and start to develop legs! And what's surprising is that these creatures actually make a decision on whether or not they should metamorphose. They judge whether the water is becoming dangerously low! Also, if an individual is killed and eaten, it will send out a distress hormone, which will promote the other tadpoles to start to metamorphose quicker!
Another interesting species that undergoes metamorphosis is the butterfly. The larvae, or the caterpillar as it's more often called, will often shed its skin in order to grow. But one day, the caterpillar will hang upside down from a twig, attached by a strand of silk, and shed its skin for the last time. This will fall away to reveal a strange, legless form. This is the chrysalis. It will stay totally motionless, yet inside its skin, the creature has broken itself down to a sort of soup of its own cells. For a moment, let's imagine we have a set of building blocks. We make something out of it, the caterpillar, then we take it apart again. Then, using the same building blocks, we create something else, a butterfly. And that's what is going on with the caterpillar's metamorphose. It's cells are simply being rearranged. Then, when the butterfly has been built, it emerges from the chrysalis to start a new life. What's so very amazing about this, is that despite being torn apart and rearranged, the caterpillar and the butterfly are still the same species and the same individual! This has been proved by scientists examining the unique genetic code of a certain individual! For more information, I recommend that you watch the fifth episode of the Alien Nation series, called Metamorphosis: The Science Of Change, with David Malone.
So, given all that, I decided that metamorphosis would be a pretty cool thing to learn more about. And what better way than to watch metamorphosis for yourself?
And so I set up a tadpole study tank. I originally had a shallow, open-topped container, but then I transferred them into a deeper, plastic tank. A tank is easy to create, just follow this easy step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Buy and position a tank. The tank's size will vary upon the amount of tadpoles you want to keep. Medium-sized plastic tanks are easily available and normally quite cheap, but the downsides are that they can break, scratch, and chip quite easily.
You can position your tank indoors or outdoors. If you have your tank inside your house, then you have much more control over temperature, water level, and survival rates. However, having them in a garden is also perfectly fine. Make sure that the tank is not in full light all day long, they need to have some shade for part of the day.
Also, if you want as many individuals as possible to survive, make sure you have a secure lid. This ensures that birds cannot come down to peck the tadpoles out of the tank!

Step 2: Pour a substrate in. This step is not entirely necessary, but I personally like the look of a tank better if it has a substrate. Sand, gravel, and grit are all good to use!

Step 3: Add some water. Do not use tap water, and if you do, make sure it has been left to stand for 24 hours. It is always best to use rain water, so using it from a water butt is fine. If in the process you add tiny, almost microscopic, creatures into the tank, then leave them. They'll make a great snack for them lucky tadpoles.

Step 4: Position furnishings and decorations to your taste! Stones, sticks, and wood are all great to use! In mine, I used 2 smaller rocks, and made a land area with a pair of large ones. It is important to add a land area when your tadpoles start to develop legs, but if you don't, they will climb out of the water on the glass! The blooming things are like geckos! You can also plant pond plants to add to the natural look.

I made my tadpole study tank as said above, and here's the result!


 Here's my tadpole study tank. You can see the land area on the right hand side.


When my tadpoles lose their tails and develop all their legs (i.e, they become a froglet), I move them into my froglet study tank. I have covered the bottom with soil, used a plant pot to make a cave, and made a water area using a plastic container. I added a few plants as a finale touch.
Here's the result:


My froglet study tank!










 A view from the top of my froglet study tank. This picture shows the water area on the left, and the cave at the right.

The tadpoles can be fed small land-living insects, fish food, and boiled cabbage and spinach. The froglets must be fed live creatures such as Ants, Fruit Flies, and Woodlice.

I hope that this post has inspired you to create your own study tank, and observe the amazing metamorphosis of the Common Frog for yourself!