Mole paws

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It’s always sad to find a dead creature (and this was only my second ever Mole sighting, both dead) but it was a chance to take a closer look at one, in this case at its amazing front paws.

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These are highly specialised digging tools, of course, but I’ve only just found out while researching this post that Moles have an extra thumb, called a prepollex, though it’s not really a thumb but rather an extended wrist bone. As the Live Science website explains:

the mole’s extra thumb sprouts from a bone in its wrist, with the thumb-bone growing parallel to the “normal” inner thumb; but that’s where the similarities stop. The outer thumb doesn’t have any moving joints, consisting of a single, sickle-shaped bone that develops later than the inner thumb and the rest of the mole’s fingers.

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As the extra bone is rigid and extends the width of the Mole’s palm, it is thought to help this little mammal dig its underground tunnels more efficiently. Amazing!

Helleborines

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I’ve been watching these Broad-leaved helleborines since I first noticed their flower stems emerging through the grasses and wildflowers in a local park in early June.

They are plentiful and lush this year – presumably the very wet spring encouraged their growth but, unfortunately, our week-long heat wave has caused many to shrivel and dry before opening fully. Still, I find their flowers rather beautiful.

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An aberrant Gatekeeper

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This striking little Gatekeeper caught my eye during a recent walk. Instead of the vibrant orange hue usually seen in their wings (normal male colouring shown below), this little fellow’s colouring was a pale cream. Looking at the known variations for these butterflies on the UK Butterflies website, this appears to be the aberration subalbida.

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A green result

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Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? A couple of months ago I found this small bit of wood with tell-tale green colouring so secreted it in a damp place in the woodland.

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When I checked it yesterday, result! These are Green elfcups, still tiny but hopefully there will be more next time I look as they usually fruit in the autumn.

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A golden surprise

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My walks in Casehill Woods delivered yet another delightful surprise on Monday, this stunning male Silver-washed fritillary.

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I have, in fact, been looking for these butterflies in the Dinas Powys woodlands in recent weeks as this is the closest area to where I live that Silver-washed fritillaries were last seen on a regular basis. Though they were once recorded quite frequently in Cwm George woodland, none have been reported there since 2003. It seems to my untrained eye that the trees in Cwm George have grown too tall so the area no longer provides the sunlit rides and glades, the flourishing banks of nectar-rich brambles, thistles and other wildflowers, and the quantities of its larval food plant Common dog-violet that the Silver-washed fritillary needs to thrive.

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Fortunately, this particular butterfly has discovered the younger Millennium woodland area of Casehill Woods, which caters exactly to his needs. Now, let’s hope this male can attract a female so that together they can build a new local population. Fingers crossed!

Leafmines: on Teasel, 2

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Another day, another leafmine on Teasel. This is not what I’d planned to blog about today but, by sheer coincidence, I discovered this new-to-me leafmine during yesterday’s walk so thought I’d share. And, in fact, once I had the national expert check my identification, he also confirmed that this is the first record of these mines in south Wales.

210727 Chromatomyia ramosa (1)

The larvae of the tiny fly Chromatomyia ramosa are responsible for these mines, feeding both on Teasel and on the various Scabious plant species. As you can see in my photos, the larvae feed along the midrib of the leaf and also in short galleries leading off from the midrib. Though under-recorded, this fly is thought to be widespread in Britain, so I’ll certainly be on the look out for more of its leafmines.

Leafmines: on Teasel

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I wasn’t aware of any leafmines on Teasel until I saw a post on Twitter on 23 June by @leafminerman Rob Edmunds. Since then, I’ve been checking the newly sprouted leaves of Teasel whenever I see them. And, finally, on Friday I spotted some mines on a small group of Teasel plants at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.

These are the mines of the fly Agromyza dipsaci, another tiny creature I’ll probably never see but I know it’s around from seeing its larval home. The mines appear in early summer once the Teasel leaves start growing, the blotch usually starting at the edge of the leaf and broadening as the larva consumes more and grows. Its large grains of frass can often be seen inside the mine, as shown in the photo on the right above.

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The British leafminers website reports that this is an uncommon miner in the UK so I thought I’d check the records. Sure enough, there are only four Welsh records showing in Aderyn, the country’s biodiversity database – five when my record is included, and only seventeen records (including the four Welsh ones) on the NBN Atlas, the British database. It may be, though, that like many invertebrate species, this little fly is under-recorded. So, if you spot these mines on Teasel near you, please make sure to record your sightings.

210726 Agromyza dipsaci (4)

In praise of thistles

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Butterfly larvae and various beetles feed on their leaves; scores of insect species feast on their nectar and pollen; the stems of the plants are home to various over-wintering insect larvae; and, when the flowers are finished, birds like Goldfinches, Linnets and Siskin feed on their seeds. The plants I’m describing are the various species of the much maligned thistle family. Despite the derision of some farmers and the ‘neat-and-tidy’ brigade of gardeners, thistles are superb plants for wildlife, and I also think their flowers are rather beautiful.

During recent walks I’ve been capturing images of some of the creatures I’ve seen enjoying the bounty of these wild beauties: Comma, Large skipper, Marmalade hoverfly, Meadow brown, Red admiral, Red soldier beetle, Red-tailed bumblebee, Ringlet, Scorpion fly, Six-spot burnet, Small copper, Small skipper, and White-tailed bumblebee.

A Marbled white surprise

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Considering the Marbled white butterfly (Melanargia galathea) thrives in tall grasses, growing in calcareous unimproved grasslands, in woodland clearings and rides, in disused quarries and roadside verges, I always expect to find them in my part of south Wales. But they are rare here, my very occasional sightings consisting of rapid fly-bys and distant record-only photos like the one below.

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So, getting close views of this beauty during my trip to Slade Woods last week was a lovely surprise, not from within the woodland itself, but rather at the edge of a farmland footpath on my way back to the train.

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Though it may seem difficult to believe when you look at its colouring, the Marbled white butterfly is a member of the ‘brown’ group of butterflies that also includes those that are recognisably brown (Speckled wood, Meadow brown, Ringlet, etc).