Tag Archives: poisonous

High Summer Beauties

Although the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, summer doesn’t really mature until the end of July when it becomes High Summer, and this is the best time to see moths and butterflies. This year the warm and sometimes moist conditions have greatly helped the blooming of flowers and growth of foliage, in turn supporting insects, especially moths and butterflies. One of the most beautiful moths is the toxic Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which is usually seen flying in daytime, but this year a significant number came to the lighted windows at night. You might still see some. They are red and black and about the size of a butterfly:

These moths love meadows. They can fly in daytime because they are distasteful to birds, and they advertise their toxins with bright bold colour patterns.

However, most moths much prefer night time, such as this Small Magpie (Anania hortulata), which likes to come to lighted windows, but can be disturbed from long grass in meadows and along hedgerows:

This species is called ‘small’ magpie because there is another, larger Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata), which looks very like a butterfly and feeds on honeysuckle and other night-blooming flowers. Many flowers close up for the night, but not this lot. I encountered one a few days ago and it landed on my hat just long enough for me to get a bad selfie with the moth before it flew off into the night sky:

Why do I wear a brimmed hat at night? Spider-webs. Spiders spin their webs mostly by night and there is nothing worse than walking through a fresh one and getting the web in your eyes. Back to the moths – keep an eye out for the lovely Grass Emerald (Pseudoterpna pruinata), which is on the wing right now and comes to window light. Here’s one I found a few days ago:

For all of the brightly-coloured species many are more drab, and better camouflaged, but are beautifully-patterned, such as the Mottled Beauty (Alcis repandata), which comes in a number of variations, such as these two which arrived side-by-side by the porch light to perch below the Grass Emerald, which stayed put for a few days. These Mottled Beauties were very handsome, despite lacking the colour of some moths species.

   If you have fruit trees, even small ones in pots, you have a very good chance of finding Herald Moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix ) at these time of the year. I found three feeding on Logan berries this week, and two were sitting on the same berry, eating from opposite sides of the fruit:

   These moths are so-called because they will hibernate and overwinter, reawakening in late winter to herald a new spring. They are very beautiful and unusual moths, quite chunky and appearing to have a luminous orange “H” mark on their backs.

Not all moths are quite so easy to find. Some require you to look for them, in the undergrowth, and one of the most handsome of these species is the Bordered Beauty (Epione repandaria ). I was very fortunate to get some good shots of one of these moths this week, and carefully used flash so as to illuminate it without causing it to panic and flee:

Late Summer Days

Sadly, we are already half-way through August, and only in the last week has the weather become good enough to be described as ‘enjoyable’. But it got exceptionally nice when the weath did come round, and it was a great time to do the Cliff Walk from the town of Bray to the slightly smaller town of Greystones to the south. Here’s a short video I made which gives a pretty good sense of the cliffs on a good summer’s day –

Here is a still image of the beautiful day-flying, and poisonous Six-spot Burnet Moth featured in the video, for those who want a closer look:

When seen in flight many people mistake the Six-spot Burnet Moth for some kind of huge bee or wasp.
When seen in flight many people mistake the Six-spot Burnet Moth for some kind of huge bee or wasp. Like the similarly-coloured Cinnabar Moth it is toxic to anything which tried to eat it.

Slightly smaller than the moth, but burning just as brightly is the Small Copper butterfly, which is especially common along the coast in summer months. It is only slightly bigger than a thumbnail but easy to spot. However, this species doesn’t sit still for very long.

Keep an eye out for this small but beautiful butterfly species.
Keep an eye out for this small but beautiful butterfly species.

False Widow Spiders

Unfortunately this week I have been a bit slow on the draw when it comes to posting, but here at last are photos of False Widows to help you identify them. It seems they have been in the south of the country in small numbers for over a century, but with the mild winters of the 1990s and 2000s they spread about the island of Ireland rapidly, aided greatly by the sheer amount of activity of  the Celtic Tiger.

A classic example of a female Steatoda nobilis, the larger of the two common False Widows found in the British Isles. She is very similar to the female Missing-sector Orb-weaver spider, but much larger.
A classic example of a female Steatoda nobilis, the larger of the two common False Widows found in the British Isles. She is very similar to the female Missing-sector Orb-weaver spider, but much larger.

Anyhow, the first thing you need to know is that they get their name because of their resemblance to the true widow spiders, the Lactrodectids, They are identical in size and shape and sometimes in colour, depending on the species.  And, most importantly, they are also venomous to humans, but much less so than the true widow spiders. However, if you have an allergy to their bite then it might as well be a true widow spider, and you immediately need medical help. How do you know if you are allergic? Simple, you will also be allergic to bee stings. The acid in bee stings is almost identical to the acid in the venom of these spiders, and to the acid in nettle stings. Crushed leaves of the Dock plant are very effective at treating all three stings if you are not allergic, as is a little baking soda dissolved in water, as these things are alkalis. If you are allergic or get any sort of large swelling after a bite, whatever the biter was, always seek medical help immediately. Don’t try to tough it out.

A dark female specimen of Steatoda nobilis.
A dark female specimen of Steatoda nobilis.

The female Steatoda nobilis can be very dark, as in the photo above,  but the slightly smaller Steatoda grossa can be as shiny and black as a black currant, and is much more easily confused with the infamous Black Widow. The usual patterns that distinguish the species can often only be seen under a strong light, such as from a flash bulb. False Widows spend almost their entire lives hanging upside down and are very slow-moving. If they are attacked they normally pull their legs in tight to their bodies like a tortoise and drop to the ground to wait until the danger has passed. They mostly get onto humans (a rare enough event) when they are accidentally carried away in items from sheds.

A male Steatoda nobilis trying to convince a female to mate having blocked her retreat into the hollow rung of an upturned ladder. He has very red legs and is as large as she is although his abdomen is much smaller. Pregnant females will have swollen and shiny abdomens about the size of a black currant or a little larger.
A male Steatoda nobilis trying to convince a female to mate having blocked her retreat into the hollow rung of an upturned ladder. He has very red legs and is as large as she is although his abdomen is much smaller. Pregnant females will have swollen and shiny abdomens about the size of a black currant or a little larger.

Unlike true widow spiders, the males of False Widows can be almost as big as the females, and well capable of bullying a female into mating. The true widows don’t stand for that behaviour, which is why they become widows so soon. But their males are much smaller than them. Right now, in Autumn the male Steatoda nobilis spiders are roving around still looking for females. They climb walls outside houses where the females usually wait quietly under the eaves. Some males do get eaten, but this year every male I’ve seen successfully mated and escaped to mate again. That’s probably why they grow as large as their females.

A magnificent example of a male Steatoda grossa False Widow, seen not now but in the spring, their time to wander round. they don't get very big though, but big enough if you don't like spiders.
A magnificent example of a male Steatoda grossa False Widow, seen not now but in the spring, their time to wander round. They don’t get very big though, but big enough if you don’t like spiders.

Although the female Steatoda grossa is very similar in habits to the larger S. nobilis, they much more readily enter houses, particularly sheds and quiet and cool attics. They arrive as tiny spiders and stay put only if they are not disturbed. The male S. grossa is completely different to the female. He seeks her out not in autumn, but in the springtime. Larger ones can resemble the long-legged running House Spiders that terrify people every autumn but they are not nearly so big and can be very brightly coloured. Above is a classic example of a male Steatoda grossa, which prefers running along the ground to climbing around upside down, until he finds a mate. He is clearly built for running.

Now, that mostly takes care of False Widows but I will be uploading a video soon which some people will probably find more useful as the behaviour of various spiders is more obvious.