Friday, 29 June 2012

Why Biology is Great

After posting about the very clever hiding strategies of moths by crypsis and mimesis, this turns up in the trap. Opulence at its best! Cryptic only at Rio Carnival or a Gay Pride festival and mimetic only amongst marsmallows or bubblegum stuck to leaves!

Elephant Hawkmoth

The Science Bit

A few pics that have come up recently on Facebook I thought I'd share:

Saturday, 23 June 2012

(not many) Moth(s) Night II

Slightly better last night (and tonight looks like a washout). 11 of 7 species:

Large Yellow Underwing 2
Buff Ermine 1
Ingrailed Clay 2
Treble Lines 1
Heart and Dart 3
Common Carpet 1

and new for me, Heart and Club (I think....)

Heart and Club (I think)

Ghost Moth at the beach

Ever been worried that your thighs look big?? Spare a thought then for the aptly named Swollen-thighed Beetle - Oedemera nobilis!

Swollen-thighed Beetle

Friday, 22 June 2012

(Lack of) Moth Night

National Moth Night last night so I thought I'd give it a go with the Actinic despite rubbish looking conditions. Marginally better than on Tuesday night (9 of 3 species) with 8 of 4 species (Large Yellow Underwing (4), Flame (1), Heart + Dart (2), Shuttle-shaped Dart (1). Looks marginally better tonight but still not very good!

Large Yellow Underwings are nice though:

A few new ones over the last week or so as well with Small Rivulet, Common Swift and Dark Arches

Dark Arches

And what happens if you leave your pint a second and your barman thinks he's a comedian..........

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Happier post about the weekend

Enough doom and gloom - there were some brighter moments:

Top: the weird sensation of the day was being in what looked like a wasteland but being serenaded by Skylarks. They must be retrying. I am guessing that similar scenes must have taken place in the spring after the first world war on some of the battlefields. Below: a splash of colour in the brownness - Yellow Wag.

With the moor pretty much deserted, the garden was busier than it might have been.

4 Spot Chaser - Libellula quadrimaculata

Bombus hypnorum - lot of these on bramble

Volucella bombylans var. plumata?

The Volucella is actually a Hoverfly, not a Bumblebee as it might first appear. Mimesis can also involve looking like someone else rather than something else. There are lots of different types of this type of mimicry but this is an example of Batesian mimicry - looking like someone else to avoid detection. Indeed, these hoverflies manage to sneak into Bumblebee nests to lay their eggs. The larvae then eat debris and dead bees/larvae. It comes in two forms - var. bombylans that looks like Bombus lapidarius and var. plumata that looks like Bombus pratorum/hortorum/leucorum (among others).

Total Ecosystem Collapse

The title is an oft used phrase "borrowed" from the Punkbirders (see here for example). This phrase, I thought, was unimaginable. We often hear about certain species or groups being wiped out of an area but there are normally other things that survive perfectly well. I can also imagine that there may be news stories of such ecological disasters (real ones, not the Daily Mail trying to over-explain something). What I never imagined was that I would see such an event myself and nor did I imagine it to happen in an area so close to my heart. Walking round yesterday was, to say the least, upsetting. The following photos are from Currymoor in Somerset. I cut my Natural History teeth here in an age before instant internet IDs and good field guides. This is where I learned to observe and identify species using poorly illustrated and narrated guides and keys. This is where I realised that birds are not the only things worth looking at. This is an area with 20+ species of Odonata including Variable, White-legged and Large Red-eyed Damselflies, Scarce Chaser and Brown Hawker together with countless rare and interesting species of groups I never had time to study (loads of good plants for instance). I have also seen over 120 species of bird here. I may be being pessimistic but all of that seems to be gone now and unlikely to return in the near future.

So what happened? You may remember in this post I showed a picture of some flooding in early May. They were not able to pump that water away for a while as the river was still breaking its banks due to the high rainfall. The murky water, relatively high temperatures and other factors led to some quite serious hypoxic condition in the water that then led to most things rotting. It got so bad that they were unwilling to pump water off so as to avoid polluting the river, making everything worse. The water stayed for over a month and there is still plenty there. Almost everything is dead. I saw just a few plants that were making some sort of comeback and there were a few of the commonest birds about (BHGs, Grey Herons, Woodpigeons). Most obvious was the lack of aquatic plants and the number of dead crustaceans/molluscs - see below). It looks like the entire ecosystem collapsed from the bottom up, starting with the plants. What was obvious was that the Water Snails had died in their shells and had not even rotted but their bodies were drying out where they were. There was almost a complete lack of invertebrates as well - just they very occasional dipteran really. I reckon that the Odonata are stuffed for this year and will have to recolonise. The last time we had summer flooding, several species disappeared and took over 10 years to return.........

Generally gutted and feeling pretty empty. Think I'm exaggerating? See below. If I cheer up, there were some rays of light as well and I'll post some photos.

Mr Dare vainly trying to let water out of the fields - there will be no grass crop this year

My favourite Variable Damselfly ditch

Small drain normally packed with odonata and Water Voles

What most of the ditches look like - dead!

What is under the muddy grass remains

Snail death - I could have selected almost any area of the moor and it would have looked like this

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Some random organisms

I've been trying to get my head around just how much effort is required for a proper go at pan-species listing so I have been having a closer look at random things. There is certainly a lot of stuff out there and of the four examples below, I didn't really know anything about those groups so I have learned a few things as well (which I guess is really the idea). Here are some nice ones (not IDd to species) and a couple of recent moths as well.

A marine amphipod

One of the Clausillidae
A Springtail (probably Petrobius maritimus)
One of the Flat-backed Millipedes
Swallow Prominent
Scalloped Hazel