Thursday, 30 June 2016

Beetles, bees, and wasps doing home expansions

Today I spent a little while in my garden to see what wildlife I could find. Our wildlife garden is really coming on now, and we have a beautiful pond. I'm rather proud of our garden, as though it is small, it is both nice to look at (at least in our eyes) and rich in wildlife.

Today I found a small solitary bee that I didn't recognise, so I got my FSC Guide to Bees of Britain out to try and find out what species it was. It turns out that it was a leaf-cutter bee, which we have found in our garden several times before. These bees cut discs out of leaves, which they use to make little cells for the larvae to grow up in, sticking the discs together with their saliva. On previous years we have found semi-circles cut out of leaves in our garden, the culprit being the leaf-cutter bee.
 Another insect that I found in our garden today was a small beetle called Lagria hirta. If you find one of these beetles, they may at first-glance appear mundane, but if you take a closer look at them then you will soon see how beautiful they are. They have a black thorax and head, with a brown-yellow abdomen, which is flecked with lovely, fuzzy hairs. In the sun, the hairs can look golden, making the beetle look like it is surrounded by a gold halo of light! That is what drew my attention to this beetle today. This species feeds on pollen and nectar as an adult, however, the burrowing larvae eat decaying matter. Lagria hirta is a common sight in our garden at this time of year.

 Above you can see the L. hirta that I caught. Sorry about the poor quality of the image, I was using my tablet, which does not have a very good camera.

By Hectonichus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Above you can see a much better image that I found on the Internet.

I also took a look in the shed today to take a peek at the wasp nest (see here). I knew that it would probably get bigger with time, but not so quickly! It is now at least half as big again, so the wasps must have been hard at work expanding their home. I'd love to know where they get all the wood pulp to make their nest with - there is a rotting log at the back of the garden, perhaps they are getting it from there? Though, on further research it seems that they don't even need the wood to be rotting to collect it - they can simply scrape it off of wooden fences. In that case, they could be getting wood from the shed, the fence, the trees, and/or the log.

The mammal pelvis from my previous blog post is still a mystery. A few people on Twitter have retweeted my question, so hopefully it'll get around and someone will be able to give me an answer. Someone also suggested taking the bone to the local vets to see if they can identify it for me. Anyway, fingers crossed that soon I'll be able to find out who the owner of this pelvis was.

Until next time, keep on the wild side!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mystery bones

 Yesterday, my mum found a bone round the back of the place where she works, and knowing that I'd be interested in it, brought it home. Today, I've been having a good look at this bone, and trying to identify it.
First of all, this is a pelvic bone, or rather, it is half of the lower section of the pelvis. Here's a different version of the first image, with labels.

The hole is called the obturator foramen, and the place labelled acetabulum is the socket where the leg would attach.
It is great to be able to study an animal pelvis, but what I am most interested in is what sort of creature this bone came from. I would love to know the sex of this animal, how old it was, what sort of life it led, and how it died - but those would be more difficult to find out. Therefore I must satisfy myself with finding out the species which owned this pelvis.

My first thought was fox, so I did some research and looked at some images on the Internet. As far as I could tell from the pictures I saw, the pelvis was about the right shape, but the size was all wrong. I looked at some images of a fox pelvis being held up against a tape measure, and of people holding the bone in their hands. I worked out that the average length of this part of the fox pelvis is around 4 centimetres long. However, my bone was 9 centimetres long! So, although I may be wrong, I have for now ruled out fox.

If a fox pelvis was too small, then the same must be said for many other British mammals, so my thoughts turned to deer. I thought that perhaps the pelvis could have belonged to a baby deer. However, from my research it looks like a deer pelvis would be the wrong shape. There would be a more pronounced ridge (which I am having trouble finding the name for, I believe it may be called the ischiatic spine) leading away from the ischiatic tuberosity, if it was a deer. However, my pelvis does not have a very pronounced ridge, though I suppose it could be because it was from a young deer which had not developed properly yet. I'm not sure, but I think that I can cross deer of of the list.

So, that's fox and deer ruled out, I think. What does that leave? I am certain that this pelvis belongs to a mammal, but what mammal other than those already mentioned have a pelvis like this? I am thinking perhaps a dog, but I am uncertain. Really, I am not sure enough to say that it definitely isn't a fox or a deer - who knows, I might be surprised.
For now, this mystery is unsolved. I asked around on Twitter earlier on today, but I haven't yet had any replies. I will post a new update soon, to continue the story of the mystery pelvis.

However, the pelvis isn't the only unusual bone I'm going to be talking (well, writing) about today. While researching about the mystery pelvis, I decided to try and identify another bone that I have found.

My mum and I found this last year while rockpooling in Filey. In fact, we actually found this bone in a rockpool. We puzzled over it for a little while, and at one point we thought that it might be a seahorse bone. However, we soon disregarded this, and after that this bone was left forgotten in my curiosity cabinet for another year.
Today, I finally remembered it, and decided to try and identify it. This 6 centimetre long bone was not so easy to place as the previous one I talked about. Before, it was obvious that it was a pelvis, but this time, what kind of bone it was alluded us. However, I quickly discovered what it was after a few minutes of searching. Strangely enough, it is actually a part of the hip! However, this was not immediately clear because this small part does not include the the acetabulums (where the leg bone would fit in).
This bone, it turns out, belongs to a bird, probably some kind of seabird given that we found it in a rockpool. Birds have a very strange, elongated pelvis, topped with a part known as the synsacrum - which was what we had found.

 By Renegade Lisp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Above you can see a synsacrum of an unidentified bird. Now compare it to my bone:

 As you can see, my specimen is only a part of the synsacrum - normally it would have other bits on the sides, as you can see from the other image.
The synsacrum is used to make the pelvis more rigid, allowing it to withstand the rigours of flight. The holes that you can see in the picture above are presumably to make the bone lighter, a necessity for a flying animal.

So there you have it, 2 mystery bones, one identified, one still unknown. Keep an eye out for further updates on the mystery pelvis.

Until next time, keep on the wild side!

Monday, 27 June 2016

A spider in the house!

Usually my blog entries are about my wildlife adventures outdoors, but today I needn't look any further than my kitchen to find wildlife!

Today I found a spider hanging just above the doorway in my kitchen. I immediately thought it was interesting, because it had very long legs and a small, elongated body, different from the house spiders that we usually get. I caught the spider in a tub, and further examination and research confirmed my suspicions: this was a cellar spider.
The name, cellar spider, isn't always used, so in this case it makes more sense to refer to the species by its scientific name, Pholcus phalangioides. I had seen this spider several times before in our house, but it was only this time and one other time that I knew that it was a Pholcus (until then I had never heard of them). This time, I did some further research into the species.

Pholcus was not originally native to the UK. Instead, it lived only in warmer regions, but now that most homes in Britain are well-heated, they have been able to spread to the UK. They cannot survive outdoors, so are instead restricted to our houses.
This species feeds on mosquitos, woodlice, and other small invertebrates that it can catch in our homes. However, it will often eat other spiders, of both its own species and of other species, if it can catch them.

This species is a sort of dull brown-yellow colour, and its legs are quite translucent - so much so that apparently you can see blood cells moving around inside them under a microscope. I did look at my specimen under a microscope, but alas, I didn't see any blood cells. My microscope was clearly not powerful enough.

 This species is sometimes called the daddy longlegs - a name also used for harvestmen (a close relative of spiders), as well as craneflies. This can be quite confusing, as all 3 have very long legs, and are superficially similar (except that craneflies have wings). To avoid confusion, I prefer to not use the daddy longlegs name for any of them.

There's an urban legend that Pholcus has some of the most potent venom of any spider in the world, but its fangs are not strong enough to pierce human skin, so we are safe. However, neither of these are true. In actual fact, their venom is not very potent at all, though their fangs can pierce human skin. However, don't be afraid! They are not dangerous, though you must be careful not to allow the bite to become infected, and it causes only a very mild burning sensation which dulls in a few seconds.

All in all, what a fascinating little creature!

Until next time, keep on the wild side!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A wasp nest in the shed - some people's nightmare, but my dream!

Yesterday my dad found something unusual in our shed - a wasp's nest. It was in a torn bag full of sheets of acoustic insulation, strangely enough, and they had chosen to create their nest attached to one of these sheets.

As you can see from the picture, the wasps have built their nest attached to one of the pieces of acoustic insulation, as well as attached to the top of the bag. However, the nest has been tore apart, so you can see most of it on the sheets, and a bit on the bag. Later we put the 2 pieces back together again, and the next day (today) they had repaired the nest! It looked like there had never been any damage at all.
The little white things in the nest that you can see are wasp larvae, and they will be cared for by the workers until they become an adult wasp.

The queen wasp will build her nest out of chewed up wood, forming a pulp which she spits out. As it hardens, the wood pulp hardens into a papery substance in layers (as you can see in the picture). She will then create pentagonal 'cells', and she will lay a single egg in each, which will develop into a larva.

After finding it, we put the nest and the acoustic insulation it was attached to back in the shed. We checked back on them today, and as I said earlier, the nest was fully repaired. I wanted to identify the species of wasp, so I spent quite some time sat at the entrance of the shed, trying to catch the insects. I did not want to further disturb the nest by catching a wasp from there (nor was I overly keen on the idea of being chased by an angry swarm of wasps), so I caught one leaving the nest. After that, I could get to work identifying it.

After some time (and a brief excitement where I thought that it was a rare species), I identified it as a common wasp. I had been focusing too much on abdomen markings, which can be very variable, when the main identifying features where thoraxic markings and the size. My specimen had an anchor-shaped markings on its clypeus (above the mandibles), and elongated yellow markings on the metatonum. Further more, it had a triangular yellow spot on its episternum, a spot on the propodeum, and further yellow markings on the pronotum. All these were features of the common wasp, Vespula vulgaris. Somewhat disappointing after getting all excited about a rare species! However, it is still an amazing animal, and it was time well spent, because now I know the best ways to identify wasp species.

Until next time, keep on the wild side!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Siphunculi, weevils that look like bird poo, and sparring aphids - oh my!

You may remember me talking about the brownfield sight which we nickamed Kinder, and I first talked about here. In that post I also explained how the area would be developed upon soon. Well, recently, despite our best efforts, areas of Kinder have been destroyed. One of the largest parts is now fenced off and is being built upon, but there are still some brownfield left on Kinder.

Today we took our first visit to the site (or at least what is left in it) in a while. Despite the construction going on nearby, this part of Kinder is still going strong, and we found a variety of invertebrates. We saw several meadow browns and unidentified blue butterflies, as well as loads of bees and hoverflies.

 Insect hunting on Kinderland!

I took a good look at some aphids under my field lens, and was surprised by how strange they look! They have a pair of tubes on their abdomen called cornicles or siphunculi. From these they can exude a fluid to defend themselves from predators called cornicle wax. Aphids come in a variety of different colours, and the majority of the ones that I found were the classic 'greenfly' type. However, there were also some brown-coloured ones, and I saw one of these having what looked like a fight with a green aphid. They reared up and pushed against each other with their front pair of legs for a few seconds, before the green one was pushed down and the brown species crawled onto its back! The purpose of this fight (if it was indeed a fight) is unclear, as as soon as the brown aphid had got on top of the other, it just walked away.

 Wild strawberries on Kinder.

I found 2 caterpillars, which I later identified as six-spot burnet moth caterpillars (Zygaena filipendulae).

Six-spot burnets are day-flying moths, with distinctive black colouration with red dots, and they can be seen on warm, sunny days from June to August. The caterpillars feed on clover and bird's foot trefoil.

 I think that this is an immature female blue-tailed damselfly, but if anyone thinks that it isn't, then please do let me know.

I also caught several lesser marsh grasshoppers (Chorthippus albomarginatus). They were only very small, and I caught 5 of them. Previously, this species was mostly found in boggy habitats, in sandunes, or somewhere near water. However, in recent years they have been expanding their range to drier areas. Now many of the grasshoppers that I find in local areas are lesser marsh.

We also found some figwort weevils (Cionus scrophulariae), which are very interesting little beetles. The adults are small and mottled, looking like a little piece of bird poo or soil, and the larvae look like small slugs. They are fairly common in the south of Britain, but in this area they are uncommon. We also have figwort weevils in our garden, though we have only found 1 so far this year.

 Pictures above: figwort weevils

Overall, it was a great day. It can't get better than being out in a meadow with a pooter, sweep net, and lots of tubs!

Identifying grasshoppers with the help of my books and field lens!

Until next time, keep on the wild side!