Tag Archives: entomology

Embracing Autumn in Wicklow

This year autumn really feels like autumn. Since the Equinox the weather has seemed markedly cool, although there’s been good sunshine too. There’s a lot of rain about also, though. However, there are still some very interesting things to be seen. All across the landscape there are the big, beautiful, shimmering webs of the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) slung between bushes and trees, and occasionally buildings too:

  These webs are mostly made by the females, which reach full size at this time of the year. They are extremely pretty spiders, almost jewel-like, and very ungainly on the ground, so they almost never leave their webs. There are mainly two variations – a common, boldly-marked one with strong brown and white markings; and a pale, almost golden variety, which you can see here:

The presence of these large, stout spiders attracts insectivorous birds. Spiders are extremely nutritious, on average about 40 times more nutritious than a fly of similar size, and also relatively easy to catch in comparison to flying insects. As a result, this is one of the best times of year to see bird species such as the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), which are much less shy than they usually are during the majority of the year. Usually they hunt along riverbanks, and specialise in catching semi-aquatic insects, such as mayfly or stonefly:

   Many people assume, when they see one, that they are looking at the Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) as this one has so much yellow on it, but the Yellow Wagtail is actually almost completely yellow, whereas the Grey Wagtail has quite a lot of grey on it, although it’s not so noticeable when one of these birds flies across the path in front of you. Although spiders are easy pickings, birds have lots of flying insects to hunt too. The past summer was a bumper year for Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album), and you can see a second, even more brightly-coloured generation this autumn, if you keep your eyes peeled. Here is one I came across at the weekend:

However, this is the end of the time of the Commas, and very soon this second generation will also be gone into hibernation. They live to re-emerge in the springtime when they breed.

Besides butterflies there are also many moths to be seen, and one very interesting species which is attracted to the lights of windows, is the Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria). The ‘feathered’ title comes from the shape and size of the male’s antennae, which do look like miniature feathers. Here is a very handsome specimen which I photographed on a wall by a window the night before last. It’s a male, but unfortunately its antennae are folded beneath it:

   Autumn is only beginning, and there are many interesting things to be seen, and still more to come.

August Colour and a Little Rain

There were times in July when there was some worry we could have a drought, but after several bouts of rain over the last couple of weeks those fears have been allayed and the sunburnt lawns have recovered. However, one of these rainy periods is coinciding with the August Bank Holiday, which is usually the high point of the Irish summer. Thanks to all of the good weather, and some helpful rain, we are having a great summer and a colourful one. There are many interesting creatures about. You might find circles cut from rose leaves, both wild and cultivated forms, and you might also see a leaf flying through the air, carried by the Leaf-Cutter Bee, a beautiful solitary species.

The species in the photo, which is the most likely one you will see, is the Patchwork Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis) which likes to make nests in nail-holes in fence-posts which it stocks with leaves for its larvae.

There are also lots of dragonflies and damselflies around, and many will fly along hedgerows, green areas and even gardens with or without ponds, although they all need ponds or slow moving rivers in order to breed. Some damselflies are very dainty, and they can be difficult to tell apart from one another. This one was in a meadow garden, and it is almost certainly an Azure Bluet (Coenagrion puella), and is a very handsome species which can easily go unnoticed despite being as long as an adult’s little finger:

   There are some very interesting little creatures which you can find absolutely everywhere right now, in meadows, gardens, hedgerows and pretty much wherever there are flowers. These are Pollen Beetles (Meligethes aeneus), tiny beetles which can be seen in almost every flower everywhere across Wicklow right now. They are important but barely-noticed pollinators of many species of plant and they often appear in huge numbers. Here are quite a few of them in a poppy:

Butterfly Fly-bys

Some butterflies and many moths have short flight periods. They spend most of their lives as caterpillars and only become butterflies or moths in order to find mates and lay eggs. We are coming to the end of the flight season of one of these butterflies right now, the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperanthus). This butterfly like long grass in open areas such as fields or meadows, so it’s a little off the beaten track for most people to come across. It’s also quite dark. Here is a male, which is quite handsome and has a white edge to its wings which looks quite impressive:

The female is slightly more brownish and less bold.

Another summer butterfly which lives in a similar habitat, but which flies mostly throughout July until the end of August is the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina). Although not very brightly-coloured they are very handsome, but rarely sit still for too long except in the tall grasses of meadows. Here is one which, unusually, has stopped to feed on a buddleia bush:

   You have up until the end of august to see this butterfly, but if you want to see a Ringlet you have only a matter of days.

Despite my efforts to find and photograph an Elephant Hawkmoth it seems that the window of opportunity for this year has run out, or just about, and I will have to wait until next year. However, there is no shortage of food for the enormous caterpillars, which jungles of its beloved rosebay growing all around Wicklow, especially on the eastern seaboard, as you can see here:

Sometimes rosebay can grow to almost three metres tall!