A Study Of Spiders – 2014

Here’s my third installment of A Study of Spiders. See below for the first two installments;



Hope you like!

Tetrix denticulata 1Tetrix denticulata 2A common species in our gardens and such, this is Tetrix denticulata. The body pattern and the long spinarets at the end of the abdomen help identify it. It’s commonly found  on the underside of stones and bricks etc. It is similar in appearence to what are commonly known as Wolf spiders one of which is below;

Pardosa species carrying young 1There are about 39 Pardosa species in Europe and examination of the genatalia is needed to identify them to species level. A very common species and probably the individual in the photo is Pardosa amentata. The female in the species carries its’ young on its’ back for a week or so after hatching.

Pardosa species carrying young 2

Male Philodromus dispar

This handsome beast is a male Philodromus dispar. The swollen palps tell us it’s a male but also because it is different in appearence to the female, her being a sort of beige colour and without the swollen palps.

Probable Araniella cucurbitinaNow this species is most likely to be the Cucumber Spider (Araniella cucurbitina). There are however a few very similar species in appearance but this is the most common, followed by A. opisthographa. Examination of the genitalia is needed to confirm identify to species.

Hopefully will be able to do more on spiders in the future. Thanks for reading!

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Fly Agaric – So that’s how Reindeer fly?!

Autumn really has arrived and it’s well and truly fungi season! One of the most familar and striking of the toadstools out there at this time of year is the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Fly Agaric 1

Along with its striking looks this mushroom has an interesting history also. Now this fungus is a powerful intoxicant and hallucinogen. The Sami tribesmen of northern Scandinavia noticed their reindeers’ love for the mushroom, in fact the deer are so fond of it that in order to gather their herds the herders simply had to lay fragments of the stuff on the ground! Now the Sami may have noticed some strange behaviour from the reindeer and were curious as the Sami actually consume the mushroom for its powerful effects. After consumption the central nervous system is affected and the consumers’ muscles begin to convulse. Dizziness follows and then a deep sleep filled with vivid visions and upon waking being very elated and active. The bodies nerves are now very highly stimulated causing the slightest effort of movement to be highly exaggerated. So, be you a human or deer you will take a large leap just to clear the smallest obstacle! Perhaps if you take a really huge leap then you can fly!!

Despite its regular intake by certain peoples this is a dangerous and very poisonous fungus. The toxins that it contains are powerful enough that one can become intoxicated by drinking the urine of someone already intoxicated. (Another observation the Sami made from the reindeer). Death has been attributed to this mushroom and deadly poisonous is how this mushroom should be treated.

Fly Agaric 2

So look and revere! No eating or recycling the urine of someone who already has so!!

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Who’s That Hoverfly? – Summer/Autumn 2013

This is the first installment of Who’s That Hoverfly?, a blog showcasing the hoverflies that I have found and managed (mostly!) to identify this year. Hoverflies are stunning insects and arguably the most popular group of flies. Some are present throughout the summer and autumn and a few can be seen throughout the year. Some are distinctive and straightforward to identify whereas others not so and need close scrutiny under a microscope! Hopefully you will find the notes on identification useful! Here goes…!

Episyrphus balteatus

A very common and familar hoverfly and one of the few with common name. Known as the Marmalade Fly (Episyrphus balteatus) it has very distinctive body markings. It can number abundantly particuarly with influxes of migrants.

Sphaerophoria scripta male

This species is Sphaerophoria scripta. The individual above is a male, told by the fact that the wings are shorter than the length of the abdomen. This is also the feature for easily identifying it and seperating it from other similar species. The female (below) is slighty different in appearance;

Sphaerophoria scripta female

S. scripta is one of the most common hoverflies in and around open grassland.

Syrphus vitripennis

This is Syrphus vitripennis. There are similar species. A good feature to note is that the hind femur is yellow towards the end whereas the upper part is black. (A similar species S. ribesii has an entirely yellow hind femur). A common and widespread species.

Platycheirus scutatus male

This is Platycheirus scutatus. Now there are many Platycheirus species and many with this basic pattern of yellow spots. It’s a male so I was able to take a closer look under the microscope at the front feet as the different species have subtle differences in shape, colour and arrangement of hairs.

Syritta pipiens 1

A small slender fly with basic markings, this is Syritta pipiens. A distinctive feature is the greatly swollen hind femur (below);

Syritta pipiens 2

S. pipiens is a widespread and abundant hoverfly.

Volucella inanis

A blurry photo but this is an easily recogniseable species – Volucella inanis. A large wasp mimic that has been gradually extending its range northwards. Note the body markings and the dusky wings.

The tribe Eristalini have a distinctive deep loop in the one of the wing veins (Radial vein 4+5).

Eristalini wing

A helpful feature as this deep loop points us straight to this tribe. The remaining hoverflies all belong to this genus and all have a deep loop in this vein.

Eristalis pertinax

This is Eristalis pertinax. There are species with similar body markings so the features giving this one away are that the tarsi of the front and middle legs are pale coloured. E pertinax is a common and widespread species.

Eristalis arbustorum 1

This is Eristalis arbustorum. A very variable species in appearance and it can be confused with others. Markings can range from as above to all black like this female below;

Eristalis arbustorum 2

Below is possibly E. arbustorum or a very similar species E. interruptus;

Possible Eristalis interruptus

E. interruptus has a more developed black facial stripe and some small differences in the wing that need close attention. I’m not sure however as I wasn’t able to catch it and only got this photo! Both these similar species are common.

Myathropa florea

This brightly coloured fly is Myathropa florea. Note the dense yellow hairs on the body and the greyish patches on the thorax which almost make out what looks like a face! A widespread species in Britain.

Criorhina ranunculi 1

Criorhina ranunculi 2

This furry bee mimic is Eristalis intricarius. The body colouring can very greatly. Note however the white bands on the legs, a helpful feature if confused with similar species. A widespread species but often low in numbers.

Helophilus pendulus

This attractive species is Helophilus pendulus. There are other Helophilus species which are very similar. At least half of the hind tibia in H. pendulus is pale. H pendulus is a common and widespread species. Below is one of those similar species;


This is Helophilus hybridus. The most reliable way to distinguish the species is is that only the basal third of the hind tibia is pale (see photo below).

Helophilus hybridus 2

H. hybridus is a more local species throughout Britain.

That’s all for this year. Hope you enjoyed it and look forward to looking out for these lovely insects next year.

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Blogs on Bugs – Summer 2013

Continuing the series of Blogs on Bugs, here’s a collection of some of the bugs that I’ve found over the summer with hopefully helpful tips in identifying the things! Some are strikingly marked whereas some are not so and pose some ID diffculties! Hope you enjoy!

The following bugs are all Plant bugs. Here’s the first;

Harpocera thoracica (Male)

One of the earliest bugs to be seen in the year commonly found on Oak – Harpocera thoracica. Once seen a couple of times its general appearance makes it easily recognised. This individual is a male, dark in colour with a white stripe down the middle of the pronotum.

Harpocera thoracica (Female)

This is the female. Slightly more oval in shape and very different in colour being an orangy-brown. You can make out a yellowish stripe down the middle of the pronotum.

Deraecoris ruber (Male)

This is Deraecoris ruber. It’s colour ranges from orange to black as in the photo. A decent sized bug and as the above species, when seen a couple of times its general appearance gives it away. The very dark colour of the bug in the photo suggests it’s a male. Found on a range of plants particuarly Nettle.

Psallus varians

Psallus varians 2

This small reddish-brown bug is Psallus varians. It’s general appearance gives it away as a Psallus species but they’re quite a tricky group to identify. In order to identify it I contacted friend and bug expert Jim Flanagan for help. He informed that it looked like P.varians. Sometimes you need a little help!

Phytocoris varipes

This is Phytocoris varipes. Phytocoris species are easily recogniseable due to the long hind femora and long 1st antennal segment. Also, the angle at which they hold their legs is helpful. There is a similar species, P. ulmi but this is more uniformly marked and another very scarce species called P. insignis which is confined to heathland in the south. P. varipes is a common species feeding on the flowers and fruits of a range of plants.

Miris striatis

This striking bug is Miris striatis. Fairly large with distinctive body markings. Found on Oak and Hawthorn generally it is predatory feeding on small insects. It can only be possibly mistaken for Rhabdomiris striatellus (below);

Rhabdomiris striatellus

Similar body markings to M. striatis but the body is more oval shaped. This bug is found on Oak.

Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus

One of several black and yellow bugs this is Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus. A common species found on Oak.

Stenodema laevigata

This is one of several similar looking bugs also known as grass bugs which are sometimes difficult to seperate. Above is Stenodema leavigatawhich have a noticeable spur on the hind femora as some species do. I found the individual above just as it was moulting from a nymph to adult. I was then able to see a helpful feature as a nymph which was two red stripes running down the abdomen. Adults overwinter and mate in the spring turning green in colour the new generation are straw coloured as the one above. A common species feeding on the unripe grains of a number of grasses.

The next 4 are all ”little green bugs”. There are many species of  green bugs that are quite non-descript and quite tricky to identify. In alot of cases males are needed and close examination of the genatalia is needed to confirm identity.

Black-kneed Capsid

The first is one of the easier to identify. This is a Black-kneed Capsid (Blepharidopterus angulatus). In the photo you can just make out black bands or patches on the knees giving the bug its name. This individual has quite a yellow scutellum but the depth of colour is very variable. A very common species found on a variety of deciduous trees. It is partly predatory and red spider mites constitute a large part of its diet.

Possible Ortothylus marginalis

This ended up being one of the not so easy ones! This is an Orthotylus species. Now determining species on external features alone is very difficult and examination of the genatalia is needed really for confirmation of species. A couple of features to notice are that the veins in the wing membrane are a greenish colour and you can see that the body is covered in dense pale hairs. These and the fact that I found it on a willow (Salix sp.) points to it being O. marginalis. However, like I mentioned it needed to be checked more thoroughly.

Common Green Capsid

For this one I sought the help of Jim Flanagan again. I just potted it up and handed it to him! Luckily it was a male and it turned out to be a Common Green Capsid (Lygocoris pabulinus). As the name suggests it’s a common species and is found on a range of plants.

Plagiognathus chrysanthemi 1

Last of the green’uns is Plagiognathus chrysanthemi. A little easier to identify as it’s more oval in shape and is covered in dark hairs which you can make out in the photo. You can also see dark hairs on the legs which are set in black spots.

And finally, the last bug to feature is a Lacebug.

Creeping Thistle Lacebug

The general appearance is characteristic of the very pretty Lacebugs. This is a Creeping Thistle Lacebug (Tingis ampliata). It is commonly found on its’ hostplant Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense). A very similar species is the Spear Thistle Lacebug (T. cardui) and you can probably guess its’ hostplant is Spear Thistle (C. vulgare).

Well, thats all the bugs for this summer I think. Here’s a quick link to the last blog on these overlooked but stunning insects;


Thanks for reading!

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Ash’s Book of Beetles Chapter 1- Devil’s Coach Horses, Divers and more…

This is the first of a series showcasing beetles. Though some identification features and tips will be given it’s not a comprehensive or systematic series on beetle ID etc. It’s simply to showcase the wonderful complexity, shapes, sizes and colours of these wonderful insects with a little natural history thrown in. Here’s chapter 1! Hope you enjoy!

Great diving beetle

Great Diving Beetle 2

This large and robust beetle is the aquatic Great Diving Beetle (Dysticus marginalis). It is distinguised from other similar species as the yellow/orange border around the pronotum is complete and there is a lack of yelllow around the eyes. The insect in the photo is a female, told by the striation on the elytra (wing cases). The male has smooth shiny green elytra. It is a ferocious predator that eats virtually anything it can catch including frogs and fish! The larvae are just as fierce

The next two species are Soldier Beetles;

Cantharis rustica

This is Cantharis rustica, one of several similar looking Soldier beetles. The black spot in the middle of the red pronotum and the reddish femora help distinguish it.

Rhagonycha fulva on Wild Carrot

This slighty smaller species is Rhagonycha fulva. A common beetle that is often found in large numbers on various Umbellifers such as Wild Carrot etc. Red in colour with the tip of the elytra gradually darkening to black.

Mating R. fulva on Wild Carrot

They are the most common of the Soldier beetles here and also in central Europe. The reason why we so many mating couples all the time is because copulation takes a long time!

Mating R. fulva

Mating Rhagonycha fulva beetles.

Male Oedema nobilis

A little similar looking to Soldier beetles this beetle is Oedemera nobilis. Metallic green in colour with distinctive gaping elytra. The male has swollen hind-legs. Commonly found on flowers feeding on pollen.

Female Oedema nobilis

Female Oedemera nobilis.

The next 3 beetle are Weevils;

Vine Weevil 1

Vine Weevil 2

This is a Vine Weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus). Black with yellowish scales this is a common garden pest. The adult beetles feed on the leaves and shoots of plants but it’s the larvae that really do the damage feeding on the roots of plants.

Figwort Weevil

This smaller weevil is a one of several similar species. This is Cionus scrophulariae and is abundant on Figwort sp. I found this very beetle on Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata).

Probable Nut Weevil

Again there are several species of weevil that have this appearance – light brown in colour, swollen tibia and a long rostrum. This particular beetle is most likely to be a Nut Weevil (Curculio nucum) or an Acorn Weevil (C.glandium). The larvae of the Nut Weevil are laid in young hazelnuts which then eat the kernel from the inside. The Acorn Weevils’ larvae are laid the Oak acorns.

Devil's Coach Horse

This Rove beetle is the Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens). A familiar looking beetle with the characteristic upturning of the tail when alarmed. A predatory beetle feeding on many invertebrates including slugs.

Keep an eye out for the next chapter!

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Galls on Ferns, Bracken etc

Curled Bracken fronds

The curled fronds on Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) are caused by the tunneling larvae of the fly Chirosia grossicauda.

Blackish swellings on Bracken fronds

Dasineura pteridis on Fern sp.

These dark swellings on the frons on Bracken are caused by the gall midge Dasineura pteridis. The leaf edges become rolled and thickened and eventually turn blackish in colour. Each roll contains a midge larva.

Bunched frons on Fern species

Chirosia betuleti on Fern sp.

These distorted frons and stems are caused by the fly Chirosia betuleti. Once the larva has hatched it tunnels into the main stem and causes it to twist. This in turn causes some of the frons to become bunched and distorted.

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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