Thursday, 30 June 2016

Post 427 - Blown-away by Brilliant Big Bang Fair

Me at my stand at the Big Bang Fair in Doncaster
Hey everyone, Post 427 today and I've lots to catch up on as it's been quite a busy time for me in June with 30 Days Wild, National Insect Week and another fabulous event that I want to tell you about today.

This year I started at secondary school which is great. Lots of new friends and lessons on all sorts of subjects that we didn't do in much detail at primary school - it is so different and really great. As you might have guessed I was really looking forward to science lessons and I got talking quite early in the year with one of my science teachers about my blog. They were really impressed and they told me about a thing called the Crest Awards run by the British Science Association. Well Mum, Dad and school looked into this and told them about my project and it was good enough to get a Silver Crest Award.

Telling Teachers and students about my blog!
That was unexpected and pretty awesome but it gets better. The award meant that I could enter my blog as a project in the Big Bang Fair in Doncaster which I was at on Tuesday. There are lots of them all around the country and if your project is judged to be a good one you could get to go to the finals. I didn't know until the day either there are a lot of awards at these events which projects can win.

So before the event Dad and I went through a lot of my photos and picked some which we thought we going to be good for a display and made a few slides to explain a bit about what my blog was about and got it all printed up. We headed to Doncaster which is pretty much at the other end of Yorkshire to us so I got permission from school to be off Monday & Tuesday so I could get there in good time (and visit a few reserves around there - more on that soon).

The event was in a massive hall at Doncaster Racecourse. There were stands on all sorts of things like engineering, maths and science. I had a go on some great stands demonstrating how Virtual Reality headsets are used for all sorts of things. I didn't do very well at welding as I was a bit small to see what I was doing properly! There were some great science demonstrations going on too, there was a mini planetarium, and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was there too. Saying that there was a lot less about nature and biology than the other sciences.

Talking about the Hoverfly
One of the main bits of course was that there were lots of schools along that were demonstrating science projects that they had been working on. There were schools from all over Yorkshire, secondary schools and grammar schools, and pupils of all ages from 12-18. There was only one other project that wasn't a team project and I was the only nature based project.

I got my stand set up and I was really pleased with it, it looked great. The photos really helped to get people interested and it was great to tell people about my blog and my passion for nature. I had lots of interest. I took a couple of things out of interest too like my Golden Ringed Dragonfly exuvia and my hoverfly larvae. I'd taken the hoverfly larvae only because it had started to pupate and I was worried it would emerge while I was away. On the way down I'd noticed there was another larvae in the pot which must have come from the vegetation we put in with aphids to feed the first one. Anyway the pupa opened up and the hoverfly emerged on the morning of the fair! What timing! So that was really a good prop for me to show the life cycle of an insect!
Talking about the lifecycle of dragonflies!

Well after a busy day telling lots of school children and judges about my blog I packed up the display and went off to the closing event which was where I'd find out if I had got a place in the finals. Well to cut a long story short I'm off to the finals in Birmingham in March next year!

That was great news! But it got better. I also won the award for the best Crest Silver Project. I was pretty amazed at that! Then it got better still, the last award was the ACE Communicator Award for the person or project that communicated their project and a passion for their subject the best. I was doubly surprised and amazed when they read my name out for that one too.

The awards - I`m still blown away by it all!
An amazing day but the best bit of course was telling people all about nature and how important it is to look after it. Nearly everyone thought the dragonfly exuvia and hoverfly were cool! I had some great discussions with people that had got a bit of an interest in nature but were a bit shy about it as their friends weren't really into it. I hope I showed them that doesn't really matter and that there are other people around - like them - who do care and think it's cool, it sometimes just takes a while for us to all find each other!

So all in all a fantastic day.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Post 426 - Dancers & Damsels - more fabulous bugs for National Insect week

A Dance-fly sharing a bit of nectar with a smaller fly
Hi all, Post 426 today and I can't believe it's the last day of National Insect week already. I hope you've all enjoyed it too and managed to join in the fun of bug hunting!

It's been a great event for me, I've discovered new bugs in my local patch and learnt a lot about some of the bugs I see quite often. In fact the whole family has enjoyed it so much that we've just ordered a four-fold net so that we can do proper bug hunts more often!

I've covered some of the insects I found in my posts this week but today I thought I'd cover two insects that I'd not seen before but with the help of Dr. Roger Key and his wife Rosy on one the bug hunts we had I now know about these great creatures.

The first is a Damsel Bug which I saw at Ripon. This is a really interesting bug as it looks quite like a preying mantis. So what did I find out about them?

A Damsel Bug - side shot

  • The first thing is that they are found all around the world.
  • They can grow to between 3 and 12 millimetres, so it is quite easy to miss them!
  • Despite them being small they are aggressive predators. They will eat moth eggs, spiders and other insects. 
  • As they eat a variety of plant pests they are useful to farmers. I found a website from Australia that sells them as a biological pest control.
  • If their food is scarce they have to watch out though as they may turn on each other!
Looking from above
  • Throughout the the world, there are 500 species and 20 genera of them! They seem to have adapted to live in a variety of habitats.
  • Their family is 'Nabide' but their genera can change between the 20 different ones that covers the 500 different species.
  • The species in the UK grow to between 6.5 and 7.5 millimetres, so you can see the difference worldwide!
  • They can be seen all around the year, but are more common in the Summer and warmer months.
  • Adults over-winter inside leaf litter and there are usually between 1 and 5 generations of them per year.
  • The mating and egg laying is seen in the Spring, and larvae can be seen throughout June-September. The next generation of adults is seen from August and on-wards.

The second bug I saw at my favourite local forest - Silton Forest. Now I know what it is I've seen them most times I've been there. These are quite an interesting little fly too:

Feeding on  Cow Parsley
  • They are true flies so are part of the order of insects called Diptera. Their family is Empididae which still has overall 212 species.
  • Dance-fly, their common name, comes from their behaviour in mating swarms. They fly up and down sort of dancing for the females.
  • As well as doing this they have a captured insect wrapped in silk to offer to the females, though some of the males may cheat and just offer a ball of silk!
  • Females choose the mate with the most attractive present and while she eats it the male mates with her.
With lots of little flies.
  • All of the larvae are predators. They live in a variety of things like soil, rotting wood and some are aquatic.
  • Many of the adults are too and have grasping legs and piercing mouthparts. Some though feed on nectar which the one in my picture seems to prefer.
  • Adults like moist areas. Some species like forests others like grasslands.
I've not seen these flies dancing yet, I will be looking out for that, but it's great to be able to identify them now when I go on my walks.

Hoping to get back to Silton Forest in a while but it's looking like it might rain. I don't see as many bugs then!

Hope you enjoyed!


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Post 425 - Analysing Amazing Ants for National Insect Week

A red ant at Nosterfield
Hey everyone, Post 425 today and I thought it was time to look at an amazing insect that I haven't covered until now. I actually don't see these creatures as often as I think I should. I was reminded though today when I saw one so I thought I'd do a post on them as they are fascinating creatures.

This is an insect that is very successful and you will have seen as they live pretty much everywhere, except Antarctica, a bit ironic as I'm talking about Ants today! (ANTarctica...)

I've been reading up on them and they are very adaptable. I'm glad we don't have some species in our country though as some give very painful bites! A Bullet Ant bite is supposed to feel like you've been hit by a bullet!

So what else did I find out?

Smiling for the camera
  • There are over 12,000 species of ant in the world but only around 60 species in the UK.
  • Ants belong to the order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps and bees. I read that they evolved from a wasp like ancestor.
  • They are very powerful! They can lift over 20 times their own body weight. If I could lift as much as ants relative to their body weight I'd easily be able to lift our car!
  • Ants don't have ears, instead they pick up vibrations in the ground with their feet.
  • They social creatures and live colonies of groups - some species live in colonies which have millions of ants!
  • When ants fight it is usually to the death! This is normally only happens if they are trying to get access to food or if their next is being attacked.
View from above
  • Some colonies have a single Queen, like black ants, but others have many queens. Only the Queen and the males she mates with on her maiden flight reproduce.
  • If the queen of the colony dies they can only survive for a few months.
  • They live in a structured social system in their colony. They have different jobs - worker, soldier, queen and drone. The workers and soldiers are sterile queens.
  • When foraging ants leave a pheromone trail which allows them to know where they have been.
  • They have a lifespan which can be as little as 7 weeks but some will live several years and in one species Pogonomyrmex Owyheei - the queen can live up to 30 years
A black ant from Norfolk
  • Ants will farm some insects like Aphids and Leafhoppers. They love the sweet liquid they secrete, honeydew. So they herd them and take them to plants so they can suck the sap and then provide the ants with honeydew.

So a pretty amazing creature. I will be looking out for more of them now.  As you can see from the pictures I've seen black ants and red ants so far, though I'm not sure of what species. I really like the sound of Yellow Meadow Ants so I'll be looking out for them on my reserves challenge.

Hope you enjoyed,


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Post 424 - National Insect Week - Some facts on Sawflies

A Sawfly from Silton this year
- I think its Tenthredo mesomela
Hey everyone today's post is post 424 and as you'll all know I've recently been on a walk with a great local entomologist called Roger Key. We use a load of different techniques to catch all the bugs but the one I like to use the most is using my eyes! I usually go to a piece of Hogweed and check if there's much on it, then sweep at the plant and get whatever is on the plant. Sometimes you'll get Hover Flies,  smaller flies, May Flies, Beetles and loads of other things, but the ones that I do really like seeing are the Sawflies. These are quite nice insects and you don't always need a net to see them up close, a lot of those I see seem quite happy for me to photograph them.

Well I did a bit of research on these fabulous insects and here are some facts on Sawflies:

This one has a meal!
  • Sawflies all seem to be quite small as the largest one ever (Hoplitolyda duolunica) was discovered to be only 55 millimetres long. Just 2.2 inches!
  • It seems usually that sawflies are only about 0.1 to 0.8 inches in length, so this one was quite exceptional. 
  • Most Sawflies feed on leaves, fruit, pollen and nectar. Only a few species are carnivorous and feed on other insects.
  • There are 9 families of Sawfly and belong to the order 'Hymenoptera' - the same order as ants, bees and wasps!
This is one from last year - also Tenthredo mesomela  I think
  • The name Hymenoptera is related to the wings of insects in this order. They have two pairs, fore wings and hind wings which are hooked together on each side by rows of tiny hooks. There wings are said to be 'married' and the Greek god of marriage was Hymen is where the name comes from
  • Sawflies have been around quite a long time, about 200 million years is the estimate!
  • Some types of Sawfly live in twigs and stems. One particular species, the Pine Sawfly starts its life in pinecones!
  • Sawflies, like Hoverflies, are completely harmless, some will mimic themselves to look like dangerous bees and wasps, but they cannot hurt you.
This one might be Rhogogaster viridis
  • The ovipositor looks like a stinger, but, in effect, it does not bring death, but life, as this is where the eggs are deposited from!
  • The name 'Sawfly' comes from the fact that the ovipositor is shaped like a jackknife! 
  • Most species of Sawfly complete their entire life-cycle in just a year, and the adults live for only a week!

I hope you are enjoying 30 Days Wild and National Insect week as much as I am.

Again, before I end off I'd like to thank the Wildlife Trusts, National Insect Week and the Royal Entomological Society for all the great support you've been giving me and I'm always happy to help you out whenever I can!

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 20 June 2016

Post 423 - Now its wonderful National Insect Week

Hoverfly (Sericomyia silentis) feeding
Hey everyone, it's Post 423 and today 30 Days Wild meets National Insect week. I've been busy out insect hunting and have a few nice ones to tell you about. I thought I'd start today with some lovely insects I see a lot of. They're quite tricky sometimes to get a good look at but if you find them feeding on some handy wild flowers that are at your head height you can get a really good look at them.

Most of these insects are brightly coloured, some are furry and they are like this for a reason. They are trying to look like something else. I'm talking about Hoverflies. That's quite lucky as I saw this earlier.

Cheilosia illustrata

Sericomyia lappona
So at Silton Forest, my local patch, I've seen lots of Hoverflies in the past but I saw a load at the weekend. Esme, my Jack Russel, has had a little operation today so as we're looking after her and not going for a walk tonight I thought I'd learn a bit more about these great mini-beasts.

I saw a dronefly quite similar to the one in the tweet which I think might be a Tapered Drone Fly (Eristalis pertinax) which I found in the forest last year (click to see my post about that).
Sericomyia silentis

  • They are true flies (Diptera) and only have one pair of wings, I'm pretty sure that most species of bees and wasps are not true flies and sport 2 pairs of wings.
  • They are a pretty varied species - there are 6000 species in the world and about 270 in the UK. 
  • Most of them are striped like wasps or bees. This is deliberate mimicry! They try to look like another species so that predators will avoid them.
    Eristalis pertina
  • Apparently if you catch and hold some hoverflies they will also pretend to sting you, pushing the tip of their abdomen into your finger. They have no sting!
  • They can be very varied in size, shape and hairiness as you can see in my photos!
  • Some species e.g. some Dronflies larvae have long tails which they breath through - these are called rat tailed maggots.
  • As their name suggests one thing they do well is hover! If you watch them their heads remain absolutely still.
    Eupeodes sp - probably luniger or corollae
  • Adults eat nectar and they love wildflowers and are important pollinators of them.
  • Their life cycle goes from egg, to larvae, to pupa to adult.
  • Larvae eat a range of things but many will eat aphids. Some eat decaying plant or animal matter. 

Close up headshot
Hoverfly larvae
- a brave aphid is hitching a lift!
The Hoverfly larvae I found recently is doing nicely. It had a nice meal on the way home, I did have two but when I got home there was only one. Since then it has been in a jar eating aphids from bits of garden plants that we have put in the jar. Today I checked on it and it has started to pupate. Here's a few photos.

I'm looking forward to seeing it emerge, I just hope it decides to do that while I'm at home.

Starting to pupate.
Well, before the end of the post I'd like to thank National Insect Week and The Royal Entomological Society for all the support that they've given me. I've really enjoyed the recent bug hunts and learning about the species I've found. I'd be happy to help you back if I can whenever you'd like!

Hope you enjoyed,


Saturday, 18 June 2016

Post 422 - 30 Days Wild Day 18 - An Extremely Entertaining Entomological Endeavour

Hey everyone, today's post is 422, Day 18 of the Wildlife Trust #30Dayswild and next week is National Insect Week! So watch out for a few bug related posts from me! I've been getting ready for this for a while now by going out looking for bugs. This is a great 30 days wild activity and it's really simple. Just find a place with lots of native plants that are in flower, preferably on a warm and sunny day in a place out of the wind. You should see a lots of bugs.

A Mayfly nymph in transition!
I did this but with a small twist. I was able to go on a couple of walks with a great local entomologist, Roger Key, along with his wife, Rosy Key. Last week we went to a place near Ripon where I knew there would be loads of bugs. flies and beetles, and sure enough, it delivered! We also went out today to one of my favourite places, part of my local patch, Silton Forest. Today conditions were nearly perfect and we saw so many bugs I will struggle to remember them all!
A Swallowtail caterpillar from Norfolk

Bright beetle with a great name - Crepidodera
But before we started the first walk, Roger showed me something he'd brought back from Spain where he'd recently been on holiday. He said that over there it was a common garden butterfly, but in Britain, you don't get many. He had a Swallowtail Caterpillar with him which he'd reared from an egg! It was feeding on Fennel and other things in the Carrot family, which you wouldn't expect in England, where they only seem to eat Cambridge Milk Parsley, but in Spain their diet is far more varied! Now I've seen Swallowtails in Norfolk, mostly the caterpillars and I knew that they are quite fussy eaters so I was surprised to learn about them being much less so in the rest of Europe. Our Swallowtails aren't doing themselves any favours being fussy eaters!  I'm hoping to see it if Roger and Rosy manage to rear it to an adult, I normally go to Norfolk just in between the time of first and second emergences of Swallowtails so I've only had a few short views of adults.

The Ripon walk

A lovely Sawfly
So after he'd shown us this, and, he got out of his car quite a lot of bugging stuff such as nets, pooters and pots! So then we started walking and he immediately found a place that he thought would be good for finding lots of buggy things so we hopped over the fence and started to catch some bugs.

Forest Bug from Ripon - probably 4th Instar
The way we started by doing it was by using our nets and swiping through the plants to catch anything that was sat on them, and also, Roger had a special piece of equipment that he used to catch the bugs that he knocked out of the tree with a stick. Using these two techniques seemed to be the most efficient way to do it in the type of area we were in, a wooded river. We found lots of different things like shield bugs, sawflies, an ant mimic, meadow bugs, many flies, craneflies, soldier beetles, and much more. I'll cover a bit more about some of these bugs in posts this week.

I found something I had never seen before, it looked like some sort of maggot, and in effect, that's what it was. It was a hoverfly larvae. So I put it in a pot and Roger said I should take it home and try to rear it. So I asked it what it ate and he said it was most likely to be a carnivore so to feed it aphids. And that's exactly what we did, and we have it in a pot in the kitchen right now! It's doing very well and chomping on aphids from bits of vegetation out of our garden. More on that as it develops.

Hoverfly on the Cow Parsley

One of the things that we found that was quite incredible was a Mayfly that was just breaking out of its nymph casing and you could see it blowing up its body to get out and you could see a difference from how far it was before and after we found it!

The Silton Forest Walk

Green Dock Beetle
Our whole family enjoyed this walk today, well   except for the midges! It was as if all the bugs had been waiting for this weekend to come out as the flower heads were covered in flies, hoverflies, ichuemon wasps, saw flies, weevils, well all sorts really.
Larch Ladybird

I've not seen Red and Black Froghoppers until recently at Three Hagges Woods but today in my local forest I saw loads. At least 20. They are such a lovely insect, very colourful and a lovely shape. Their nymphs make cuckoo spit too, just like that stuff you see on grass made by the Common Froghopper nymph, only this froghopper nymph does it underground on plant roots where it develops before emerging to the surface. If you don't know how froghoppers make cuckoo spit it's quite fascinating. They suck plant sap and froth it up by blowing bubbles into it from their bottoms! They then hide in it and feed on plant sap until they are ready to emerge into adulthood.

The biggest thing we saw today was down to Roger's eagle eyes, he found a Golden Ringed Dragonfly that was still drying out its wings having just emerged from its nymph. Dad managed to get the exuvia to add to my collection of Broad-bodied Chaser exuvia without disturbing the adult. It is a spectacular beastie.

Silvergreen Leaf Weevil (Phyllobius argentatus)
We saw lots of bright coloured insects today as you can see from the pictures. The Sawflies are very colourful as were the weevils we found. Most of these were bright green but some were a bit older and a bit duller as their colour comes from scales similar to moths and butterflies and it wears off.

Golden Ringed Dragonfly freshly emerged
There was a bright green Dock Beetle and a lovely orange beetle with the fantastic latin name of Crepidodera. There was also a nice blue nymph of an insect that I've forgotten too (I will have to ask Roger what it was again.). I also saw a Ladybird that I'd never seen before - a Larch Ladybird which is a bit different to the usual ladybirds!

There were lots of Hoverflies around too, and you can see some here in the photos. There were quite a few moths too especially the longhorn moths.

I saw a lot in Silton Forest while I was doing my Year of Nature but today was a pretty awesome day for spotting things and I found a lot more in a day than I usually would, possibly down to having some better bug hunting kit but mainly down to Roger and Rosy and knowing where to look.
Red & Black Froghopper

Two awesome bug hunts - thanks so much to Roger and the Royal Entomological Society. We managed to find some nice bugs for Roger to take down to the launch of Insect Week in London too. Thank you Roger and Rosy - we all had a great time bug hunting with you!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Post 421 - 30 Days Wild - Day 12 Marvellous Moths at Fountains Abbey

Hey everyone, today's Post 421 and it's Day 12 of 30 Days Wild and I went out at half past 7 this morning to go to Fountains Abbey. Now, considering that Studley doesn't even open until 10 o'clock, isn't this a bit early to go there? Well I had a reason, Jill Warwick told me there was some moth trapping. Sadly though, she wasn't able to make it so it was just me, my Dad, Charlie Fletcher, a Fountains Abbey Wildlife Warden and somebody who was keen to learn about moths who's name I don't know.

A few other people joined in from time to time, but on the whole there were just a few of us which was great for me to be able to get close to the moths - or in some cases for the moths to get very close to me! I was inspecting a Poplar Hawk moth quite closely and it decided that my nose was a good place for it to perch for a while!
Poplar Hawk Moth

Orange Footman
We caught quite a lot of moths, more than 50 species, but the ones I was most interested in were not only the largest, but in my opinion the prettiest. They were the four types of Hawkmoth that we caught today. Poplar, Lime, Elephant and Eyed. Some we got a couple of times! The Eyed was a first for me and it was interesting to see that, when disturbed, they would unfold some under-wings with some huge fake eyes on them to deter predators!
Map-winged Swift

3 types of Hawk Moth on one arm!
Eyed Hawk Moth
Another interesting one to get was the Diamond-Back Moth, or rather the Diamond-Back MothS. Yes, anybody that does mothing at all will know that there is an abundance of them this year. This is because millions (literally!) have come up from the continent after being blown up by the winds! People further south have been getting upwards of 1000 in a trap!

Having a close look!
Poplar Hawk Moth
There were other highlights that were there such as an Orange Footman which Charlie was very pleased with as there aren't many records of them in Yorkshire. Some that I quite liked were the Map-Winged Swift, Beautiful Golden Y, Buff Ermine and the Scorched Wing.

As I mentioned there were a lot more species that we found but it would take ages to tell you about all of them so I hope you enjoyed,


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Post 419 - Brilliant & Totally Outstanding - The insects of BTO BirdCamp16

Hi All,
Four Spotted Chaser at Lakenheath Fen

Post 419 today and I mentioned in my BTO bird camp posts that there would be another instalment to come, well here it is. I decided that with my first two posts, since it was bird camp, that I would focus on the birds we saw.

That wasn't all we saw though. There were some nice plants and insects that we saw so I thought I'd just round up my posts on birdcamp by showing you a few invertebrates we found too. It's not long to National Insect Week now either so it seems a good idea to write this.

The Holly Blue Butterfuly

On the way to bird camp Dad and I stopped off at Weeting Heath to look for Stone Curlews. Well we didn't see them that day (though we did later in the weekend) but I did see a nice Holly Blue Butterfly which I managed to get a picture or two of. I don't seem to see these much at home so it was nice to see and it was one of the first butterflies I saw on this trip, I had seen a Brimstone flying high up down a track on the way to where I found this one.

A grasshopper with impressive antennae
We also went for a quick trip to Lakenheath with the hope of seeing a Bittern. Yet again they decided not to show themselves for us (then) but I did see a nice Hairy Dragonfly and a few Four Spotted Chasers - one of these sat nice and still for me to get a nice shot.

I also found a small grasshopper with some impressive antennae, I need to identify this one yet!

Scarce Chaser
photo by David Walsh (thanks David)
Variable Damselfly
The next day at Lakenheath we  saw another couple of nice flying insects. Dad spotted a Dragonfly he didn't recognise. Thankfully David Walsh was with us and he did - it was a Scarce Chaser and it was the reason he had come to Lakenheath that day. The photo is David's which he got through his telescope. This is a really nice Dragonfly and not one I have seen before. I don't know if it gets its name because of this but it is quite scarce in the UK and only found in the south, mainly in Suffolk and Norfolk.

A bit further on the walk we also saw a nice Damslefly, a Variable Damslefly. This is another insect I don't think I've seen before so I'm glad it sat quite nicely for a photograph. They are also not very common.
A mystery beetle!

Bugs sye view of the Small Elephant Hawk Moth
I also saw an interesting Beetle but I've not yet been able to identify it.

On the last day of Birdcamp we set off to Landguard Bird Observatory. They had more luck with insects than they did with birds that day. They had a few moth traps set up and the first one produced quite a few moths but two quite pretty ones, a Small Elephant Hawk Moth and a White Ermine. The moth that surprised Nigel who was showing us the catch was a Pearly Underwing. This is a migrant moth that he didn't expect to see. They normally don't start showing up until August.

The Pearly Underwing
White Ermine
So, not only was Birdcamp great for birds, it was also pretty good for other species too.

I've said it before but a big thank you to the BTO staff and all the young birders for making it a really brilliant weekend. Thank you too to the Cameron Bespolka Trust who helped make the weekend possible.

Hope you enjoyed,