Well, here I am once again examining some unusual phenomenon that appears in Wicklow in June, and can now be seen everywhere. What am I looking at?
Anyhow, this strange phenomenon is the rather unpleasant-looking ‘spit’ that appears on the leaves of low-growing plants at this time of year:
This spit is known traditionally as ‘cuckoo-spit’ because it appears after the arrival of cuckoos. In modern times cuckoos are a lot less common that cuckoo-spit. If you want to solve the mystery you need to be a bit brave and run your fingers through it, revealing…
This little bug is actually a species of insect known, appropriately, as ‘spittle bugs’. There are many species the most common being the so-called Froghopper, which somewhat resembles a miniature frog, and it really can hop, further than any frog I’ve seen. The larva is known as the Cuckoo-spit Aphid, which is actually a misnomer, as these bugs are not true aphids. The spittle is caused by the little bug sucking sap out of the plant it is living on and then blowing the sap out through its backside in the form of bubbles until it is completely enclosed in a shroud of bubbles which protect it from predators and parasites. But these bubbles might also distract potential predators, as I have seen quite a few creatures apparently feeding on the bubbles. Perhaps it tastes sweet like honeydew, which true aphids blow out of their butts as bubbles. The photo below was the first time I had ever witnessed a predatory insect feeding on the cuckoo-spit bubbles. But maybe it was trying to get at the little bug beneath…
Spring is now gathering pace, and the days have grown to be almost as long as the nights. This week the Azores High has arrived over Ireland, bringing us clear skies – gorgeous warmish sunny days and frosty nights. But the warm days have caused insects to appear and there is a population explosion of Seven-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata). They can be seen basking on trees, shrubs and walls all across Wicklow right now.
ANot quite so noticeable as these bright red ladybirds, but almost as numerous, are Green Shieldbugs (Palomena pristina) which have truly awesome camouflage. In summer they are bright green, but in winter become dead-leaf brown. Most are still that colour right now, but will soon become brighter.
One especially interesting insect I’ve seen this week is a type of moth, the Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) is a little bit smaller than a butterfly, and very similar in appearance. It is a late-winter/early-spring species and so you have only a few more weeks to see them this year, if even that much. They readily come to light. The one I photographed is a male, and this is easy to tell because of the typical feathered antennae, but also because the female of the species has only stubs for wings, and must walk about on foliage wafting pheremones on the air so that she can be found by the male. Keep an eye around window frames for these guys.