Tag Archives: entomology

Warm Spring Weather at Last!

In fact, it feels more like summer than spring, and all in the space of a week. And summer weather at its best too. The sudden warming of the weather has brought bluebells into full bloom in the lowlands of Wicklow, apples into blossom, and many insects into view.

A beautiful little Holly Blue butterfly, no larger than an adult human's thumbnail with its wings folded.
A beautiful little Holly Blue butterfly, no larger than an adult human’s thumbnail with its wings folded.

It’s a great time to see Holly Blue butterflies, which are everywhere at the moment. Gardens, lanes, hedgerows and even bare muddy ground where they can lap up nutrients directly from the soil, and get some sunbathing done.  But there are also some beautiful and interesting moths about, such as the Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata):

The Small Phoenix as seen from above. This one is a male.
The Small Phoenix as seen from above. This one is a male.
The male Small Phoenix always keeps its abdomen cocked up in the air.
The male Small Phoenix always keeps its abdomen cocked up in the air.
A commonly seen ground beetle, also known as a Sun Beetle.
A commonly seen ground beetle, also known as a Sun Beetle.

You will probably see some very shiny little black beetles running about the footpaths in the last week, and throughout the summer, and these are Sun Beetles. They are omnivorous, eating small creatures, vegetable matter and even seeds, and run speedily up and down the burning hot sunlit paths at the sunniest times of day, but also after dark on warm nights. The species above seems to be Amara familiaris, although there are many very similar species and they are poorly recorded in Ireland.

Also keep a look out for St. Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci). These large ungainly flies can normally be seen hovering in a sinister motion along hedgerows, but they are completely harmless and actually quite clumsy. As adults they live only to breed and this year they are much fewer in number than is usual. They are named for their tendency to appear in or around St. Mark’s Day, 25th April. However, this year they are later than usual due to the cold spring conditions. Nevertheless, here is a mating pair I came across on the road:

A mating pair of St, Mark's Flies. The male is on the left and has much bigger eyes than the female.
A mating pair of St, Mark’s Flies. The male is on the left and has much bigger eyes than the female.

April Warming and the Mining Bees

Saturday was the first decent warm sunny day in Wicklow this spring, and Tawny Mining Bees immediately appeared. Most of them were males, about twelve all newly hatched out, but there were two larger females giving them a wide berth.

My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don't look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar 'culture' and distinctive weapns too, as you'll see.
My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don’t look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar ‘culture’ and distinctive weapns too, as you’ll see.
It's not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!
It’s not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!

Many mammal species have horns and antlers which allow the males to fight off other males for the right to mate with females and pass on their genetics. Similarly male Tawny Mining Bees have enormous jaws to allow them win these fights. The female is a very different insect.

Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.

Tawny Mining Bees fly mostly for the month of April and not much beyond that. So for the next few weeks they will be very busy doing important work, which involves a huge amount of digging.

 

The November that thought it was summer

November has drawn to a close and taken with it an extraordinary weather pattern that has allowed summer flowers to continue blloming, and inspired many trees and shrubs to begin producing big leaf buds and some to even begin producing early flowerbuds. But there were two sights that I have been more astonished at then all others:
Firstly, a field with red meadow poppies still blooming in it, and not just any field, but one on a quite windswept hill overlooking the village of Newcastle, just a mile from the Wicklow coastline.

Meadow Poppies blooming near Newcastle village. This photo was taken on the 13 November!

But even more amazing than this have been sightings of butterflies throughout Wicklow. Just last week I came across a Red Admiral perched on a sunny tree trunk down on the East Coast Nature Reserve, and moments later a Small Tortoiseshell flew down a path and over my head. Last year we had heavy snow and freezing temperatures everyday from the 25 November and well into December. This is clearly a very different kind of year, and many plants are behaving in a strange manner that could point to a very mild winter and no snow.

However, personally I don’t want to make any predictions at this point, as anything can happen in January.

A Red Admiral sunbathing on a sunny tree trunk on the East Coast Nature Reserve taken on 22 November.