Tag Archives: coleoptera

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.

October Twilight

October is a very strange time of year – September seems like an extension of summer, but colder, and then very suddenly October arrives and the flowers of summer begin to die off, the leaves yellow, or redden, or both, and fall off deciduous trees as the nights grow longer than the days. Everywhere gets gradually more muddy as leaves, flowers and berries decay on the ground.  But there is still a lot to see amid all the nostalgia of another year growing to an end.

There are still some Swallows flying about on their journey south back to Africa. It's a good time to see and photograph them as they perch on wires. The light might not be so good though.
There are still some Swallows flying about on their journey south back to Africa. It’s a good time to see and photograph them as they perch on wires. The light might not be so good though.

At this time of year our swallows, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), tend to perch for long periods to rest their weary muscles before making their autumn migrations. There were definitely fewer of them around Wicklow this summer, which is slightly worrying as something must be preventing them arriving safely in Wicklow.

The Autumn Hawker dragonfly usually arrives in August to hunt butterflies and other insects. This year they didn't arrive until mid-September and you can still see them patrolling footpaths and garden driveways.
The Autumn Hawker dragonfly usually arrives in August to hunt butterflies and other insects. This year they didn’t arrive until mid-September and you can still see them patrolling footpaths and garden driveways.

Ironically our autumn was better than our summer this year, although not quite as warm, although certainly more stable. Eventually the annual arrival of big dragonflies occurred, the Migrant or Autumn Hawkers (Aesna mixta) and there are still a few around, although very difficult to photograph or video as they fly. I usually watch one land and slowly approach to get a good photo. If you move slow they will remain still.  But there are some other very interesting insects around, and some are both interesting and slightly creepy, such as this one:

A noctunal visito to a window, this large and handsome insect is a Burying Beetle.
A noctunal visito to a window, this large and handsome insect is a Burying Beetle.

Burying Beetles are quite closely related to chafer beetles (like the Cockchafer) and dung beetles, like the Common Dor Beetle. However, unlike these beetles, Burying Beetles lay their eggs in corpses which they find in the countryside, and they actually bury the animals they find underground. They are very intelligent creatures and very recently it was discovered (with the aid of special cameras) that they keep their larvae in nests and will feed them mouth-to-mouth, as birds do. Even more remarkable, the young ‘tweet’ when they’re hungry. This extremely handsome species is Necrophorus investigator (but there are many very similar ones and some even quite different. Watch out for them this autumn as they fly across the deep night skies.

 

Some Autumn Wildlife

Now it’s getting into autumn it gets easier to see archaeological sites, and they have a lot more atmosphere. But before I begin paying more attention to that, it’s still a great time for wildlife. They’re not exactly everybody’s favourite but spiders certainly make their presence felt at this time of year. Especially the web-makers such as the Garden Spider which can be easily identified by its big classic shaped spider-webs, its generally large size and white cross marking on its back, as in the photo below.

The Garden Spider (also sometimes known as the Cross Spider) is a bulky spider that lives strictly outdoors. They reach adulthood and full size in autumn and spin webs in gardens, fields, meadows and woodlands.
The Garden Spider (also sometimes known as the Cross Spider) is a bulky spider that lives strictly outdoors. They reach adulthood and full size in autumn and spin webs in gardens, fields, meadows and woodlands.

These are not the only redators about. The population of ladybirds recovered this year after crashing heavily in last year’s wet summer. The most common species is the Seven-spot Ladybird and the ladybird most people think of as the Ladybird.

Seven-spot Ladybirds are passionate little beetles, often found mating and not very concerned about anything else.
Seven-spot Ladybirds are passionate little beetles, often found mating and not very concerned about anything else.

Most ladybirds are extremely predatory beetles, but they are actually omnivores, preferring to eat aphids, but also pollen and nectar. Some ladybird species are vegetarians. There are many other very brightly-coloured handsome species.

The Cream-spot Ladybird (also known as Fourteen-spot Ladybird) is another really beautiful species.
The Cream-spot Ladybird (also known as Fourteen-spot Ladybird) is another really beautiful species.