Tag Archives: Ladybirds

Spit on the Foliage

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?

A big shout out to Rosemary and Ken Curp in Ohio, and Catherine Curp in Texas - thanks for the cap!
A big shout out to my relatives Rosemary and Ken Curp in Ohio, and Kathleen Curp in Texas.

Anyhow, this strange phenomenon is the rather unpleasant-looking ‘spit’ that appears on the leaves of low-growing plants at this time of year:

Spit on the bushes - unpleasant to look at but a really fascinating phenomenon.
Spit on the bushes – unpleasant to look at but a really fascinating phenomenon.

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…

A strange little green bug in the middle of all the spit. What's it doing there?
A strange little green bug in the middle of all the spit. What’s it doing there?
The same little bug from a slightly different angle.
The same little bug from a slightly different angle.

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…

A Seven-spot Ladybird feeding on bubbles. Perhaps Cuckoo-spit is a delicacy in the insect world.
A Seven-spot Ladybird feeding on bubbles. Perhaps Cuckoo-spit is a delicacy in the insect world.

 

The Little Things Of Life

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.

A Seven-spot Ladybird basking on Vinca. These predatory beetles also like to gorge on pollen when it's available. They are larger than most other Irish ladybird species.
A Seven-spot Ladybird basking on Vinca. These predatory beetles also like to gorge on pollen when it’s available. They are larger than most other Irish ladybird species.

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.

A not so green Green Shieldbug sunbathing on the edge of a plant container. In another few weeks this one will be bright leaf green, provided it lives that long. These insects have excellent defences so there's a good chance it will live for a good long time.
A not so green Green Shieldbug sunbathing on the edge of a plant container. In another few weeks this one will be bright leaf green, provided it lives that long. These insects have excellent defences so there’s a good chance it will live for a good long time.

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.

Dotted Borders are quite drab-looking but have a distinctive row of dots along the edges of their wings. Males come to windows by night, attracted to the light, apparently due to a chemical emitted by lightbulbs which is very similar to the pheremone emitted by the female as an attractant.
Dotted Borders are quite drab-looking but have a distinctive row of dots along the edges of their wings. Males come to windows by night, attracted to the light, apparently due to a chemical emitted by lightbulbs which is very similar to the pheremone emitted by the female as an attractant.