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  • Cepaea hortensis: the white-lipped snail

    Walk along any hedgerow with lush vegetation in mid-summer and you will see lots of white-lipped snails (Cepaea hortensis). Hogweed leaves, nettle leaves, brambles, thick bladed grasses; any plant with good nutritious leaves and this snail will be quite at home.They can occur quite high up on some plants and so are obviously very good climbers.

    The white-lipped snail also comes in all sorts of colours too, from this striking 'Everton Mint' pattern to much paler browns. This is one of the most common creatures around in mid to late summer but because they are snails and not very popular I think they get rather over looked.


     

  • Deroceras reticulatum: the large black slug

    If snails are a problem in gardens, what does that make the slug? Slugs would probably come out number 1 in a poll of gardeners as the most troublesome pest. People will stop at nothing to try and keep them under control it seems. My wife used to do a morning patrol of their favoured hiding places, collect them up in a pot and we would dump them somewhere well out of range when we went out. Even slugs are protected from harm in our garden but they are not safe from eviction!

    This large black slug (Deroceras reticulatum) also occurs in various other forms including brown and chestnut versions. Although it will apparently eat anything it is not a species that does much damage in the garden, that honour falls to the smaller netted slug.

    I guess the poor slug is not going to be popular with anyone as it has little going for it. However, hedgehogs, frogs and grass snakes are all very partial to a tasty slug so someone loves them.


     

  • Helix aspersa: the common or garden snail

    The most common snail in gardens is, not surprisingly, called the garden snail (Helix aspersa) but it also known as the common snail in most books.  Although not the most popular of creatures we all learn about them at junior school, how they carry their homes on their back and in winter how they seal over the entrance whilst they sleep soundly inside.

    The garden snail is unpopular with gardeners for good reason, being very fond of low growing fruit and vegetables and the fleshy leaves of some varieties of flowrs such as hostas. Not a popular garden resident with keen horticulturists maybe but popular with song thrushes who adore them! The frequency of snails in a garden is not down to the abundance of food however. They need calcium to form their shells and so are more common in chalk and limestone soil areas. They also have problems crossing sandy soil so are rarely found in such environments.

    They tend to be most active at night and spend the day behind flower pots and other sheltered places. It is apparently true that if you mark them and follow their movements that they will return to the same sheltered spot every morning after a night on the rampage amongst your plants.


     

  • Mayfly: the sun dance kid

    The mayfly (Ephemera danica) is is a remarkable insect. It spends most of its life as a nymph in lakes or rivers that have sandy or muddy bottoms. What makes it remarkable though is that thousands and thousands hatch on the same day and throng the air 'dancing' up and down in the sun. They do not eat as flying adults, they just mate, lay eggs and die where they become food for hungry trout. It is said each female lays around 8,000 eggs so it is not hard to see how large hatchings of thousands of insects can occur when the conditions are right.

    There are several species of mayfly and this particular one, known by some as the green drake, is one of the largest and certainly the most common on lowland rivers. The main chalk rivers of Dorset are ideal for mayflies but you have to be there on one of the few days in late May when they hatch to see the spectacle and we were lucky enough to see this on the River Stour near Sturminster Newton.


     

  • Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale: the hawthorn shieldbug

    This insect is shield shaped and is found mainly on the leaves and fruits of hawthorn so, not surprisingly, it has the common English name of ... hawthorn shield-bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale). Although common on hawthorn and carrying that name it also frequents other hedgerow shrubs like dogwood, hazel, holly and even oak. They can be found in woodland settings, in hedgerows and are quite common in gardens.

    The hawthorn shield-bug is mainly green but they can vary in colour quite considerably depending on age but the red triangle is usually visible. Take care though, some other shield-bug species also have a red/brown triangular shape on their backs, it is often more pronounced on this particular species. The green surface is also pitted and appears to have lots of black dots on it as a result.

    Although at their peak in September they hibernate as adults and can be see as early as March if they awake in a mild spring and can be seen as late as November if conditions are such that they do not have to go into hibernation earlier. In their search for somewhere safe to spend the winter that can venture into houses but they do not pose a threat , they are quite harmless. One of the bigger shield-bugs, one of the most distinctive in appearance and and one of the more frequently seen, there is likely to be one near you soon!

    Shield bugs are part of the order Hemiptera, sub-order Heteroptera; they are not flies or beetles, they are a separate taxonomical group. 


     

  • Palomena prasina: the common green shieldbug

    Although a common insect the common green shieldbug (Palomena prasina) is not often seen. This is a species hidden deep in garden shrubs, hedgerows and woodland where, in summer, its colouring and relatively small size gives it protection from its many predators. 

    At first glance you can see immediately why this and its related species are called shieldbugs. Their general shape, formed by its wing cases, is the form of a classic heraldic shield. They are part of the order hemiptera which is the scientific name for bugs and so shieldbug seems the obvious name for them.

    The common green shield bug is a bright green with a darker triangular patch to the rear. On close inspection you can see that the wing cases have tiny holes in them. Later in the summer the insect turns a darker colour becoming almost brown before it hibernates for the winter. This change of colour helps it adapt to its surroundings during the winter whilst asleep and so helps to disguise its presence.


     

     

  • Hairy Shieldbug: the sloe shieldbug

    The purple or red tinged hairy shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum) can be found throughout the summer on shrubs of the mainly of the rose family and that includes blackthorn or the sloe bush which gives it its other common name of the sloe shieldbug. They can be found from March right through until November but as they feed on both flowers in May and on fruits which are forming in August they tend to be more common at these times.

    Shieldbugs are members of the sub-order heteroptera, and are 'bugs' in the true sense, hence the name hairy or sloe shieldbug. Shieldbugs are so aptly named with the body casing definitely resembling a shield. They come in all shapes and sizes, but always looking as though they are carrying a shield on their back.

    This is one of the most common species of shieldbug but you do have to look for them to find them as they are often deep inside a hedgerow blackthorn.


     

  • Piezpdorus lituratus: the gorse shieldbug

    As its common name suggests the gorse shieldbug (Piezpdorus lituratus) is, indeed, a shield-shaped bug that is associated with gorse and also broom. Those who follow my nature notes will know I caution against trusting common names but here is a case where you can! As it feeds on gorse and broom it can be found anywhere these plants grow but the most likely place to find it is on the Dorset heaths. Although quite common they get lost in the gorse and one does not see them very often. 

    This is an interesting species as the adults vary in colouration throughout the year. They hibernate as adults and the first to emerge in spring can be seen in March and the early specimens are green with blue edges to the wings and they have reddish antennae. Those later in the year in September and October have a purple triangle on the wing cases and purple antennae! It seems the purple colouring wears off over winter during hibernation. The purple triangle can be a bit of a problem with identification as other species of shieldbug display similar markings.


     

  • Coreus marginatus: the dock shieldbug
    One might think at first sight that this is a beetle but it is in fact a squash bug, so called because the family as a whole are a significant pest of squashes in north America. This British member of the family is quite common in the the spring and autumn, especially favouring dock leaves but the later brood are found on blackberries and other fruits as well. This fondness for dock means it is also known as the dock shieldbug (Coreus marginatus).
     
    Not an attractive insect it has to be said, its big 'padded' shoulders making it look quite fearsome but it is quite harmless of course being vegetarian. It is also very variable in colour shading and can be lighter than the one I photographed and can also be much darker, almost black.

  • Leptoglossus occidentalis: the western conifer seed bug

    The western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) is a native of the west coast of the USA so how did I take this photograph of one in my greenhouse? It seems to have come with imported timber being first recorded in Europe in 1999 with records first from Italy and then the Balkans, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, France and across the Alps. At the same time it has spread across much of North America and has now been found as far east as Nova Scotia. The first British record came from Weymouth in 2007 and, given the amount of pine plantation in Dorset, it is probably now quite well established here.

    As its name suggests it is dependant on pine trees where it sucks the sap from developing pine cones which has the effect of withering the life from the cone preventing the seeds forming. It is considered a pest in some areas but I think here in Dorset we should welcome it given the Corsican pine plantations here are not native and are now of little value. 

    It is a distinctive creature, quite large as bugs go at almost an inch long, and with distinctive and clear markings. It has long legs with 'pads' on the rear pair. It may look a bit fearsome but it is quite harmless and does not bite but it does, like many insects, emit a stinking bitter smell. If you need to handle one wear gloves but do not kill it, let it go in peace.


     

  • Miris striatus: the fine streaked bugkin

    Getting a close up extension for my camera was one of the most significant moments in my natural history involvement. From an interest in only 'large' creatures, mainly birds, the beauty of a fascinating world of much smaller animals emerged. This photograph of a mirid bug (Miris striatus) is a testament to that.

    At less than half an inch long the mirid bug is rarely noticed as it prowls oak trees and hawthorn bushes looking for aphids for lunch. If you choose to look you can find them from May until July in woodland and hedgerows across Dorset but nationally they are quite localised and not spread widely across the country as a whole. Being so small they just look yellowish to the naked eye but under a close up lens their attractive yellow and black markings are revealed. In contrast they have red legs and in some individuals there is more orange in the wing cases than yellow.

    When you 'google' mirid stratus you find that this has been given the common name in some quarters of the fine streaked bugkin. I do not think that will catch on somehow!


     

  • Pond Skater: the harbour master

    I am afraid to say I take some species of wildlife for granted. Everyday from March through to October, possibly even November, the little pond skaters (Gerris lacustris) relentlessly make their way around the surface of our garden pond and I take very little notice of them; they are always there. It took years before I even thought about pointing a camera at one but now I have I am quite taken with them! There is so much of interest right under our noses in our gardens and all too often we totally overlook it.

    In every way "just another insect"  but they are perfectly adapted for their environment and they take advantage of a micro-habitat few other insects are interested in, the surface of still water. They wait for small insects to get in to trouble on the water and they are then quickly there and strike. They have developed an ability to rapidly move across water without getting waterlogged and that is mainly down to the shape of the legs, as this picture shows, with the back legs from the 'knees' downwards running along the water's surface.

    There are several species of pond skater but this is the most common and the one mkst often seen on small ponds, ditches and puddles.


     

  • Ceropis vulnerata: the red and black froghopper

    So who does not know cuckoo-spit when they see it? It must surely be one of the first things in nature we see and learn to name in our early years?

    Of course, the bubbly secretion on plants has nothing at all to do with the cuckoo but because it starts to appear when the cuckoo arrives each spring so it got its country name. The substance is actually secreted by a family of insects known as Aphrophoridae but are better known to us as 'froghoppers'. Very small insects, a few millimetres long, and easily over looked as many of the genera are dull brown and very well disguised as they lurk in the shrubbery. This one, Ceropis vulnerata, bucks that trend however with its bright red and black attire and being very common they are very easy to find. Although predominantly a spring species you can find them around until July and even in to August.


     

  • Philaenus spumarius: the common froghopper

    I have no doubt that if you have a garden and if there are some shrubs in that garden then you will have seen these frothy, foaming clusters of bubbles on them in the mornings in late spring and early summer. We commonly know them as cuckoo-spit as they start to appear not long after the cuckoo returns to our shores and starts to sing.

    This phenomenon has nothing to do with the cuckoo of course, they are the work of the females of a tiny spittle bug we know as the common froghopper (Philaenus spumarius). Each drop of foaming fluid contains the eggs of the bug which will remain within it until it has dried out which takes about ten days. Whilst in the foam it is protected from predators and can live safely in an environment where the temperature and humidity are perfectly controlled. 

    The insect itself is tiny, mainly nocturnal and is rarely seen. It can run and fly but its most effective form of self defence against predation is an amazing ability to suddenly jump (or hop) a considerable distance in relation to its size - hence froghopper! The origins of the Latin name, Philaenus spumarius, are explained by Wikipedia; Philaenus comes from the Greek philein meaning love so I guess this is a love bug! Spumaris comes the latin spuma meaning sparkling and, of course, refers to its foam nest.


     

  • Aphrophora alni: the alder spittle bug

    This is the alder spittle bug (Aphrophora alni) but it is actually associated with a wide range of deciduous trees and bushes, not just alder. Indeed, it is more likely to be seen in woodland rather than by rivers where the alder grows. The alder might be misleading but the spittle bug is not! This is one of the froghopper bugs that produces 'cuckoo-spit' to house its eggs and hatched larvae.

    Large for a froghopper but still very small, just a centimetre long at most, it can be quite variable in colouring. The reasons for this are not known but one thing remains constant and that is the distinctive pale patches on the margins of the wings.

    A common species but not often seen as most of its work is done at night. During the day it rests on the leaves of trees and shrubs. It is active from May until October but only produces one brood of off-spring each year.


     

  • Graphocehala fenndui: the rhododendron leafhopper

    The rhododendron leafhopper (Graphocehala fenndui) is described in my text book as having been introduced to Britain in the early 1900's from the United States. It does not expand on this statement so it is unclear whether it was an intentional or accidental introduction. One source on the internet says the first record was from Chobham in Surrey in 1934 so it appears that the bug found its own way here on imported rhododendrons for garden planting. 

    It is a large species for a leafhopper but still a pretty small insect being less than half an inch in length. It is primarily green with red streaks and in the United States it is known as the scarlet and green leafhopper; it is pretty much unmistakable. It lives exclusively on rhododendron from which it sucks sap from the plant. Often, several will be found together on one leaf.

    Although an alien species it is not considered invasive despite having done well here. As swathes of rhododendron are cleared from our countryside so the numbers of this little creature will decline too. It is thought to carry a fungus from one plant to another but between them, the insect and the fungus, they seem to have little impact on controlling rhododendron organically.


     

  • Chrysopa perla: the green lacewing

    Lacewings like this species Chrysopa perla, are mainly nocturnal and are rarely seen. However, when they emerge from their cocoon, just like a damselfly or dragonfly, they have to wait for their wings to straighten out and fill with blood and so, for a short time they are very vulnerable, not only to predators but also to the camera. I am sure this one would like to have flown away but it just had to sit on the leaf and hope I was friendly!

    Lacewings live up to their name. They are exquisitely made little insects with amazing patterns in their wings. Usually green, sometimes brown, this one with the black spots down its back inhabits deciduous woodland, hedgerows and gardens where they feed mainly on small insects like aphids so they are a gardeners friend. The fly as adults from May through until September. Related to caddis flies, lacewing larvae tend to camouflage themselves with the empty skins of their victims; they too are voracious eaters of aphids.

    There are related species that are very similar that need microscopic identification but Chrysopa perla is the most common.


     

  • Panorpa communis: a scorpion fly

    I have headed this species up as Panorpa communis but there are several very similar species so I may have the species wrong, but the genus Panorpa is undoubtedly right. 

    The scorpion fly is not a true fly, ie a member of the order Diptera, it is more closely related to lacewings and caddis flies. Although pretty dangerous looking individuals they are quite harmless and do not live up to their name, scorpion.

    They are usually found in woodland and shady places and feed on dead animal matter and rotting fruit. You can see them from May through until August.


     

  • Anabolia nervosa: the brown sedge caddis fly

    There are several species of insect that spend most of their life in water as a larvae before climbing in to the open air, pupating and then emerging as a flying adult with the sole purpose of mating and then dying when their part of that process is complete. Dragonflies and damselflies are probably the best known examples along with mayflies of course but caddis flies do this too. Caddis flies are insects of fresh water rivers and are best known for the habit the larvae have of coating themselves with sand grains to protect them from predation.

    There are about ten species of caddis fly and this one is the brown sedge caddis (Anabolia nervosa). The adult has wings about half an inch long and are quite a small insect. Like mayflies large numbers tend to hatch at the same time and so finding them is not difficult as one tends to encounter a swarm of them. Most numerous in August and September, widely distributed in or rivers and not uncommon.