29 November, 2015

Rearing leafmines

Rearing leafmines is a great way to get up close with many elusive species of moth that are otherwise hard find and photograph as adults. Some leafminers are very low maintenance once taken into captivity whilst others can require a bit more care and attention in order to successfully breed through.

Phyllonorycter blancadella leafmine on Wild Service

Phyllonorycter blancardella larva feeding within the same mine

Over the autumn I collected a handful of Phyllonorycter leafmines containing larvae to attempt to rear into adult moths. Phyllonorycters feed, pupate and emerge from the small mines they create, making them an easy genus to rear. I simply place the leaf containing the leafmine into a sealed pot, label the species and/or plant it was found on and set it aside in a cool, dark place. Ideally most will emerge next spring, but there is always the chance of early emergences in warmer indoor temperatures.

Signed, sealed... 

Whether or not the end result will be a fully formed adult moth is another matter altogether. Many caterpillars will have been parasitised by another insect of some kind during their lifetime, and it's just a likely that a parasitic wasp will emerge from the leafmine.

This tiny wasp emerged from a Phyllonorycter coryli leafmine a couple of days ago - it would have hatched in the mine alongside the caterpillar, fed on it and eventually pupated in its own cocoon.

A parasitic wasp (possibly genus Pediobius) reared from a Phyllonorycter coryli leafmine

05 November, 2015

Throwback Thursday

Delving through some of my old notebooks the other day, I found this one from 2007. Well thumbed and completely filled from the first to last page with records, this was 12 year old me's first attempt at keeping a log of all the birds I could identify - everywhere I went.

I'd get up at half six every morning before school and note all the species that visited the garden, using an extremely sophisticated picture key to indicate where I saw them. Every so often I'd come across something really exciting that I'd never see before - like the above Willow Warbler & Meadow Pipit spotted whilst visiting family in Yorkshire - and they'd get a special 'F' written next to them (the term 'lifer' was still unbeknown to me at this point), as well as a glued-in picture nicked from Google images!

For me, as with pan-species listing, the act of keeping a casual field notebook unintentionally became a chore over time. The very point of a 'field' notebook is that you use it in the field, get it dirty and don't worry about how it looks, yet I'd find myself thinking way too deeply into how I structured it and would become dissatisfied with how the pages looked compared to other birders' notebooks. I'd typically get a quarter of the way through a notebook and then abandon it when a backlog started to form. Blogger and Twitter became an easy way to record a day's worth of wildlife.

For someone who likes to get a bit nostalgic every now and again, notebooks are a great way to re-surface past events. You can flick through months and years worth of sightings and field trips without the need to load up an app. It's just a shame I never got the hang of writing one!

02 November, 2015

Lists, and my fragile relationship with them

I've had a love hate relationship with pan-species listing since I started doing it in late 2012. When I have a lot of free time, I love it. During my gap year I'd spend a lot of time at Stokes Field, taking photos of every insect, plant or fungi I found and then staying up until stupid o'clock identifying them all. Over time I began to learn more about taxonomic groups I'd never usually look at, and I got a little buzz from the satisfying feeling that came with securing the identification of something particularly obscure and tricky.

On the other hand, when I don't have the time or enthusiasm to scratch my head over the front femurs of a Polydrusus weevil, a backlog starts to form that can be hard to keep on top of. I've been experiencing said pan-species lull for a while - not having entered a record since June 2014 according to the PSL website.

9 out of 37 pages worth of lists.

A bout of competitive curiosity last week had me wondering just how extensive my list had become since then. There wasn't an easy way to work it out - a lot of wildlife-related things have happened since June 2014, and I spent several long nights trawling through all my photos and notes from Skokholm, Mull, Eigg and the like; picking out every species I possibly could and adding them to the list.

I hit the 2000 species milestone on Wednesday night with Elachista albidella - a tiny micro moth found in a bog on Mull - and the common hoverfly Eupoedes luniger became number 2001 the next morning; six months after I photographed it in the garden on a sunny spring afternoon.

Elachista albidella

Eupoedes luniger

How long this spell of listing enthusiasm will last, I'm not sure. The PSL recorders' league table is fun, but it doesn't interest me as much as learning about the species itself. As soon as I find myself listing for the sake of climbing up the rankings, I'll know it's probably time to give it a break again.