Just a few of the little critters I’ve come across this week …
I can’t be entirely sure but this is probably Chrysoperla carnea, Britain’s most common Lacewing. Their transparent wings lend these creatures a fragile air so I was surprised to see one still out and about as these Lacewings usually find a cosy spot indoors to hibernate come the autumn weather.
I think these are Common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) that I’m seeing frequently on and around Ivy, and basking in our rare glimpses of sunshine, but I don’t have any face-on shots to properly separate them from German wasps (Vespula germanica). At this time of year, these are likely to be male wasps, which apparently are not able to sting – only female queens and workers have the anatomy for that.
We saw Earwigs hiding in umbellifer seedheads in a recent post (Insecting, 31 October). It seems they like to hide, though I’m not sure how effective this earwig’s hiding place is, its head tucked into a gorse seed but the length of its body exposed. Still, I doubt anyone – insect, bird or human – was going to argue with those pincers.
Spiders have been much in evidence lately. Garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) sit ready to pounce in their strategically strung webs, and, in the right photo, I only spotted the tiny, unidentified spider lurking under the Creeping thistle flower when I got home and started looking through my photos.
If you suffer from arachnophobia, look away now! This spider, found recently in one of the outer fields at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, was the biggest spider I’ve seen in Britain. That’s still not big when compared to Tarantulas or Huntsmen or other large species but it was big enough to make me feel both a teeny bit freaked out and totally fascinated at the same time.
This is a female Four-spotted orb weaver (Araneus quadratus), a species that’s apparently quite common in Britain and can be found in a variety of habitats, from grassland and bogs to gardens and woodlands. As with many spiders, females are larger than males. In this species, females can grow to 17mm long, while the males are only half that size.
This beauty was slowly making her way through the long grass at the edge of a bramble patch. Because of the size of her body, she was struggling to stay upright, and several times overbalanced. But those long striped legs are obviously quite strong and she easily managed to pull herself upright again.
I spotted this orb weaver because her apricot colour stood out from her surroundings but, according to the Naturespot website, adult females are like chameleons, able to change their colour to coordinate with their surroundings, though that process can take about three days to complete. Fascinating!
I’m not a huge spider fan but, as I’ve been spying a few during recent meanders, I thought I should show them a little love, so …
White crab spiders (Misumena vatia) like this one are usually very good at camouflaging themselves, lurking on white or pale-coloured flowers, but this little one was being bold, and so made for a good subject for a photo.
A spot of leaf-turning revealed several Paidiscura pallens spiders and their weirdly shaped egg sacs. You can read more about these tiny creatures in my previous blog The sputnik spider, July 2017.
One of the meadows where I walk has a lot of long grass, some of which is now woven together by the silken threads of Nursery web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis). These spiders don’t spin webs to catch food; instead, their webs are constructed to keep their spiderlings safe while they grow in to adults.
The adult spiders are a pale brown in colour, with a pattern of darker brown and black stripes running vertically along their bodies.
The Wildlife Trust website has this fascinating information about Nursery web spiders:
‘Mating is a dangerous game for male Nursery web spiders, so they present a gift of food to the female while laying perfectly still and pretending to be dead. When the female investigates the food, the male will suddenly jump up and mate with her.’
At first sight, from several feet away, I thought this splodge on the side of a building was a dollop of bird poo … but then I noticed it was moving. So, of course, I immediately got out my camera and peered closer.
They were spider babies, hundreds of them, of the species Araneus diadematus, commonly known as Garden spiders. Both as spiderlings and as adults, these are completely harmless, though, as so often happens, several of the trashy daily newspapers have, in the past, vilified these bunches of babies with such headlines as ‘Woman’s horror as hundreds of tiny yellow spiders erupt from a nest in her back garden’ and ‘Millions of “exploding” yellow baby spiders invade Britain’.
When they’ve grown to adult size, these little cuties will look like those I photographed for my November 2017 blog post Wearing a diadem. You can read more about the Garden spider on the British Arachnological Society’s website.
I found these two mini-beasties lurking on the outside of my building the other day. They may look like spiders but they’re not really – they’re Harvestmen (Opiliones species). Unlike true spiders, Harvestmen can’t spin webs and their bodies have only one segment, not two. They’re completely harmless – no venom – and, I think, rather prehistoric looking.
And I just discovered this very interesting but slightly creepy snippet of information about them on the UK Safari website:
When attacked, harvestmen are able to shed a leg as a defensive trick. Even after the leg becomes detached from the body it continues to jump and flick about. This distracts the predator while the harvestman makes its escape. They are able to shed up to four legs in this way, but they need to retain at least one of the sensory legs to survive.
I mentioned yesterday that I saw my first butterflies of 2018 this week. The first was a Peacock but my camera was in my backpack and, by the time I extracted it, the butterfly had flown off. I was still cursing that fact when another butterfly appeared, this lovely Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Snap!
On Wednesday’s walk, as well as the bee-flies I blogged about yesterday, I also saw several varieties of bee. I’m hopeless at identifying bees – I will focus on them one year to try to improve my skills, but that won’t be this year. Luckily, there’s a good Facebook group where the folks are very helpful, and they’ve IDed these as Yellow-legged mining bees (Andrena flavipes). They’re spring-flying solitary bees that make individual nests but often in large groups (the experts call them aggregations). This lot, of perhaps 20, were digging in to a sandy bank by the seaside. (Here’s a link to more information from BWARS.)
This next little critter was tiny, as you can see by comparison with my hand behind (and I have small hands). Once again, I needed help on the ID but the folks from my local Butterfly Conservation Facebook group are experts. This is a caterpillar of the Magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata), a stunning-looking moth that I have not yet seen. Its caterpillar is quite lovely too, don’t you think?
Though only 3 to 5mm long, these little Red Velvet Mites are hard to miss, simply because of their unusual colour. This is one of the Trombidiidae family but I don’t know which one. It’s really an arachnid (note the eight legs) rather than an insect but I’m including it here anyway. It’s carnivorous but no need to worry – it only eats creatures smaller than itself!
And, finally, a bee that I haven’t tried to put a name to – I just liked it for the way it’s positively luxuriating in the pollen of this Lesser celandine flower.
I know a lot of people freak out about spiders but these are not dangerous in any way and they’re incredibly beautiful. They’re Garden spiders (Araneus diadematus), and are also known as Crowned orb weavers, Garden cross spiders and Diadem spiders because of the intricate crown-like patterns on their backs. And it’s those patterns that I want to focus on here.
As you can see below, the designs vary from spider to spider, a little like fingerprints and retina patterns in humans. As you can also see, their colours are quite varied, ranging from an orangey brown right through to very dark brown, verging on black. So, next time you spot one of their large webs strung across the plants in your garden, take a closer look … and be amazed.