Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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Insect antics

Well, the Green Tortoise Beetle eggs hatched after 12 days (indoors – the outside ones haven’t hatched yet), and they are now almost two weeks old. But they have very strange ways…  Do not read on if you are of a sensitive disposition.  You have been warned.

This is one that was only just hatched, in side view.  It was all of about 2mm long, so getting things in focus was tricky.  The leaf hairs of the woundwort leaf look like a forest.

At the rear end of the larva, there are four dark spines.  In between the spines is the anus, which is extensible and can be  directed towards the upper two spines.  The big brown blob is excrement, which they use as a disguise.  Delightful.

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle larva (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

These next ones were probably the first to hatch, as they have had time to accumulate quite a decoration. It’s a slow process – about twenty minutes to produce each of those little brown sticks (maybe they have to let it dry gradually – ugh!)

Green Tortoise Beetle larvae (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

Green Tortoise Beetle larvae (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

This is how they looked a few days later, after giving them some fresh woundwort leaves:

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle larva about five days old

And here’s how they look now, looking nothing like beetles at all, but about 5 mm long, and carrying a huge load. It includes cast larval skins as well as more excrement.

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle, two week old larva

While I was checking the woundwort, to see if the outdoors ones had hatched, I came across another woundwort specialist. I would have missed it, thinking it was just a bit of dead leaf, if I hadn’t seen something very similar on the ispot wildlife identification website. The woundwort was a big clue for identifying it, and a bit of googling led me to the Woundwort Case-bearer moth. It’s also described on the UKmoths site – but it’s hardly an exciting looking moth.

The hairs on the casing come from the woundwort leaf – I think it cuts bits of leaf to make a cover like a tea-cosy. (Do you remember those? My aunt made one – it was thickly padded and had a clip at the top like a handbag – I’ve never seen another one like it.)

I assumed it was a pupa, and put it in the bottom of the box with the Green Tortoise Beetles, hoping that it might eventually hatch out. However, the next day, I realised it had moved, and that there was other evidence that it was a larva.

Woundwort Case-bearer moth's larval case

Woundwort Case-bearer moth’s larval case

It has been in there for several days, moving around when I wasn’t looking, but today I found it on the bottom of the box, looking dried out and dead.

Woundwort Case-bearer moth's larval case

Woundwort Case-bearer moth’s larval case

However, when I looked again, it had moved itself back onto a dried-up leaf, so I put it onto the fresh leaves.

It came out to say hello!

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

It clearly didn’t like being exposed on the top of the leaf, and within a few minutes it had crawled over the edge to the underside – very hazardous when all it has to hang on with are tiny little feet, amongst all those long hairs, and dragging round its huge case.

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva looking over the edge

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva – let’s see what it’s like down here

Well, that’s turned into rather a long post. I also have loads of photos of colourful bugs from last weekend, when I repeated the Garden Bioblitz that I did a year ago. I was surprised to find quite a lot more different species – but I think I’ll save that for another day.


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Green Tortoise Beetles

Yesterday I found several of these bright green beetles, about 1cm long, on the Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) in our garden. The leaves had lots of holes in, which is fine, as although it is a wild flower, it’s a bit of a nuisance in the garden as it spreads by runners. Plus it stinks.

Cassida viridis

Green Tortoise Beetles mating (Cassida viridis)

They are Green Tortoise Beetles, Cassida viridis, distinguishing features being the rounded shape of the back corners of the pronotum (the front shield-like part) and having no red/brown markings, plus living on a plant in the dead-nettle family. The internet is very useful.

On the same plants were small papery brown packages, a few millimetres across. The top layer had bits in that looked a bit like legs…

Green Tortoise Beetle (Cassida viridis)

Mystery egg package

I bravely (or foolishly) investigated. They contained eggs. I wondered whether they were Green Tortoise Beetle eggs, but internet searching only showed up one picture and it was only labelled as ‘likely’ as they hadn’t hatched.

Cassida viridis eggs

Eggs from underneath protective layers

I put a few in a box, to see whether they might hatch out, as the larvae are quite interesting too, covered in spines and camouflaging themselves with excrement. Not everyone would find that interesting, I suppose.

I went out today to see whether I could find any larvae emerging yet, and instead found a female just starting to lay eggs. So I brought her inside and watched for 45 minutes, and took about 70 photos. Yes, I had lots of other things to do, but they didn’t get done.

Cassida viridis egg laying

Green Tortoise Beetle (Cassida viridis) just beginning to lay eggs

After each egg is laid, she goes over the heap and exudes a fluid that seems to instantly dry into a cellophane-like layer.

Cassida viridis oothecum making

Cling-wrapping the eggs

Then, when she has finished, she adds a pool of fluid – and then defecates into it. Whether it is for camouflage, or out of relief after all that hard work, I don’t know.

Green Tortoise Beetle egg-laying

Female Green Tortoise Beetle defecating onto completed egg-mass

I’d read that similar beetles do this, so I was waiting for it… Hmm. So the bits that looked like legs weren’t.

This was about 15 minutes after she’d finished. Clearly the same thing as the ones I found yesterday.

Cassida viridis oothecum

Egg-mass just laid

Well, it was interesting for me. 🙂


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Spring is sprung and I have run 2 miles

Quite a few flowers are getting going in the garden. Doubtless if/when we get some ice and snow they’ll be knocked back a bit, but I enjoyed them this morning in glorious sunshine.  Several of them are scented, and there’s something rather wonderful about perfume outdoors on a sunny winter’s day.

The birds were busy too.  I didn’t start at dawn this time – most of these arrived between 10 and 11.

    2 Blue Tits
    3 Starlings
    4 Goldfinches
    2 Long-tailed Tits
    2 Woodpigeons
    1 Collared Dove
    2 Blackbirds (male and female)
    5 House Sparrows
    2 Dunnocks
    5 Jackdaws
    2 Chaffinches (male and female)
    1 Robin
    1 Great Tit
    5 Greenfinches
    1 Buzzard soaring overhead

A squirrel ran through the garden too.

I got rather cold outside, so went for a run to warm up.  I really pleased to manage to keep going for 30 minutes, without it being too difficult, and covered 2.25 miles.  🙂


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Early birds through my kitchen window

Early bird survey
Yesterday morning and this morning I got up earlier than usual for me at the weekend, and did the Early Bird Survey  for the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology).  All it involved was recording the time that I saw different birds at our bird feeders, from the first bird onward, up to a maximum of ten species.  It also fits in tidily with the weekly photo challenge of ‘Window’.

We have a sunflower seed mix, peanuts, ‘buggy’ fat balls and a fat block, and I’d scattered some seeds on the drive to see whether I could attract any ground-feeders (I don’t usually do that to avoid attracting rats – yuk).

We have streetlights about 50 metres from our house, which may or may not affect the time that the birds begin feeding – investigating that, is the idea behind the survey.

Earlier start
Yesterday, I’d heard the first bird singing (a robin) before I was ready to start recording, so I was downstairs a bit earlier this morning.  There was a lovely red glow in the sky, but it was still very dark inside.

Before dawn

Before dawn

1: Robin – 7:37
Sunrise is about 8:15, but I’d heard the robin at about 7:20 yesterday.  This morning he was singing at 7:10, but didn’t visit the feeder until 7:37.  (Photo taken later on when it was lighter.)

Robin

Robin

2: Blue-tit – 7:45
A blue-tit was next, at 7:45. Later on, I saw up to four blue-tits in the garden, but only two visiting the feeders at once. On average, a blue-tit visited every five minutes between 7.45 and 10.30, with most visits (7) between 10 and 10:15. They ate seeds, fat from the fat balls or fat-block and sometimes peanuts.

Blue-tit

Blue-tit on the buggy fat balls

3: Chaffinch – 7:37
A female chaffinch came along at 7:37. Yesterday she didn’t appear until much later on. She only visits the seed feeder, or hops around picking up bits others have dropped.

Chaffinch

Female Chaffinch

4: Dunnock – 8:05
The fourth visitor, at 8:05 was a dunnock, or hedge sparrow, picking up seeds from the drive. They don’t sit still much though – fuzzy photo.

Dunnock

Dunnock about to hop off

5: House Sparrow – 8:05

Three house sparrows arrived at the same time, 8:05, on the seed feeders. Later on, there were up to six of them feeding or just chirping and watching. Sometimes they feed on the fat balls or fat block, but mostly they eat seeds.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

6: Goldfinch – 8:12

Sixth species was a goldfinch at 8:12. It returned a number of times, with a friend or two. Very dashing outfits they wear. They eat the seeds; I used to put out Niger seeds for them, but they seem just as happy with the sunflower mix.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

7: Great-tit – 8:15

At 8:15 a great-tit visited. It came back a couple of times, once with a partner, but all three visits were very speedy, just long enough to grab a peanut and go, but not long enough for my camera.

Sun-arise
Here comes the sun…

Sunrise

Sunrise through kitchen window

I carried on watching for several hours (it’s a good long meditation session), recording every bird that visited. I suspected that was all I was going to see (though we do sometimes get greenfinches on the seeds and starlings on the fat).

Prowler
A neighbouring cat was lurking under the car, but didn’t catch anything today, thank goodness (fewer blue-tit visits while the cat was there though).

Cat under car

Predator on the prowl

8: Long-tailed Tit – 10:12

Then ages later, at 10:12, a pair of long-tailed tits came for the fat block. Hurrah! I think they are my favourite birds, and I’ve only seen them a couple of times this winter, so I’m so pleased to see them back.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – didn’t stay long, this was the best picture I got

Not quite ten today
Eight different species used the food we put out, and all the different foods were visited. Blue-tits were the most frequent visitors, and they ate all the different foods. I also saw a male and female blackbird, a male chaffinch, a starling, jackdaws, collared doves and wood pigeons, but not at the feeders.

I don’t usually note down the time that different birds visit, so it was interesting to notice how different the feeding patterns were. I’d definitely recommend doing a survey like this – though maybe just do half an hour or so for starters!


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Rainbow of fungi

A colourful day – saw a rainbow again, on the way to work. Bizarrely, it wasn’t actually raining when I saw it, though it had started to rain by the time I’d got the camera out.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Then I went out for a fungus walk at lunchtime (as you do) and saw some very brightly-coloured beauties.  I just cannot resist vivid fungi.  The ‘Blue Roundheads’ don’t quite live up to their name – ‘Yellowish-greenish Slimy Flatheads’ would be closer to the mark, but they were strikingly gloopy.  The Shaggy Ink-caps aren’t colourful, but they do have a great texture when fresh, and when they go over, they deliquesce into black slime that I think used to be used as ink.  I rather like the alternative name of Lawyer’s Wig too.

Edited: I hadn’t identified the red one correctly – it is probably another ‘Roundhead’ – the Redlead Roundhead, Leratiomyces ceres. So three of the new fungi I found this week were Roundheads, as I’d also found a yellow Garland Roundhead, but didn’t have a good photo. Last year I found some Cavaliers growing on the ‘green roof’ of our garage, which all goes rather well with being near the site of the first battle in the English Civil War.


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Burgundy-drop Bonnet and Greensleeves

Mycena haematopus

Burgundy-drop Bonnet (Mycena haematopus)

I found this pretty little fungus growing on a rotting log in the garden. It’s only about 2 cm across the cap, and when I broke the stem, it bled! Dark red-brown juice oozed out. There are a couple of ‘bonnet’ fungi that do that, but I think this one is the Burgundy-drop Bonnet, Mycena haematopus (‘bloody-foot’ is more gory than burgundy).

As there’s a big storm forecast for this weekend, we’ve picked the rest of our apples, and I’ve bagged them up and labelled them according to recommended eating times.  We have: Scrumptious (those are past their best now), Ellison’s Orange, Gala, Fiesta, Greensleeves, Herefordshire Russet, Sunset, Laxton’s Superb, Tydeman’s Late Orange and Bramley.

Apples to store

Apples ready for winter storage

 

The Apple Book  (which is full of beautiful apple paintings and very good descriptions of well over a hundred apple varieties) recommends using plastic bags with pencil-thickness holes poked in them. I prefer the idea of old newspapers, but the bags do make it quick to check whether any are beginning to rot, and last year they did keep very well in the bags. They didn’t shrivel up like ones I’ve paper-wrapped in the past. Some of them should still be good to eat into January.

The box of apples is kept in the shed.  Some of the apples were picked last week, but a mouse had got in and started nibbling one of them, so this is my high-tech solution to keeping the mice out:

Apple storage to avoid mice

Anti-mouse technology


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Mini-beasts

Apologies to any squeamish readers, but I went out on a woodlouse hunt, to see if I could find the three different species that I found back in June when I did my ‘bioblitz‘.

It didn’t take long to find them, but taking their photos was a bit trickier, as they really don’t like sitting still in bright light.  I deleted a large number of blurred shots to get these more reasonable ones.

I don’t expect everyone to appreciate their beauty, but I do really rather love them.  When I was little, we used to collect them in jars, and have woodlouse ‘farms’ in cardboard boxes.  I was vaguely aware that they didn’t all look the same – I thought the flatter ones looked a bit scary – but just thought they were different stages of the same thing.  But no!  I think these are correctly named, but please let me know if you know otherwise, thank you.

Here’s the Rough Woodlouse again – great sculptural detail on the body plates.  I don’t think these roll up.

rough woodlouse

Rough Woodlouse (Porcellio scaber) – I presume the scientific name means ‘rough piglet’, which is rather cute.

Now the Common Shiny Woodlouse (the ones I used to be scared of).  I don’t think these can roll up.

Common Shiny Woodlouse

Common Shiny Woodlouse (Oniscus asellus) – I don’t think this one rolls up.

And finally, the Common Pillbug or Common Woodlouse or Roly-poly – which definitely does roll up.  this was a particularly shiny one (or maybe I’ve misidentified it).

Pill Woodlouse

Pill Woodlouse (Armadillidium vulgare) – I presume that means common little armadillo – even cuter.

Pill Woodlouse

Pill Woodlouse – rolled up

And finally, a beautiful little yellow snail – only about 1cm across.

A small yellow snail

A small yellow snail