Tag Archives: prey

Fledglings and Maybugs

It was a tough spring for the birds because temperatures were almost relentlessly below normal, causing plants to bloom, blossom and leaf late, and insects to be in short supply. I was surprised to see the Blackbird above with such a large fledgling chick. I had put some cream out for them, cream which had just gone off, but they loved it.

Two Cockchafer beetles - the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.
Two Cockchafer beetles – the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.

Last Thursday was our first really warm sunny summer-like day and later that night I found Maybugs, better known as Cockchafer Beetles, coming to the lights of the house in huge numbers. In fact, I’ve never seen so many at one time. They will be flying around Wicklow skies until late in June, and possibly even into July.  They are heavy beetles and when one very big one accidentally blundered into the web of a female Giant House Spider the poor spider was quite at a loss what to do, as the beetle was a bit bigger than its usuall prey. The Cockchafer fell out of the web soon after, ably assisted by gravity:

When spider dreams come true they're generally too big to handle.
When spider dreams come true they’re generally too big to handle.

Tyrannosaur on the Shore

Another visit to the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town, and this time a front row seat for watching a hunting Great Blackback Gull (Larus marinus). At first it was perched on a rock looking into the shallow waters near the wall running alongside the river. This species is the largest gull in the world and even dwarfs large species like the Herring Gull. The Great Blackback is as large as a goose.

The Great Blackback Gull is a handsome species, and the largest gull in the world.
The Great Blackback Gull is a handsome species, and the largest gull in the world.

And then it suddenly jumped into the water and grabbed something. It was a Green Shore Crab, as wide as the palm of my hand. The crab struggled helplessly in the dexterous jaws of the immense gull.

The Blackback Gull with its prey. It brought the crab to the rocky shore.
The Blackback Gull with its prey. It brought the crab to the rocky shore.

And then this happened – the gull showed how it deals with crabs, but I wasn’t expecting it to swallow it whole. Watch the video and you’ll be impressed. Unfortunately I was in a very windy place, so apologies for the sound. This species of gull is known to kill even adult rabbits and swallow them whole. If you don’t believe me, Google ‘Great Blackback Gull’ and ‘rabbit’ and you’ll be in for quite an education.

Great Blackback Gulls are found along coasts of the North Atlantic, and Ireland is in the southern area of its range. Keep an eye out for them on all coasts, but if you want to get close to them then visit the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town. You will usually see at least one, and many Herring Gulls and the smaller Black-headed Gull.

Early May, Flowers and Insects

The spring blossoming continues, with the next wave of flowers coming out in succession, as happens every year. But now, thanks to the first blooms and blossoms and warming temperatures there are many insects around. Some are less welcome than others, but are very important to the food chain, such as the Rose Aphid (Macrosiphum rosae) , the original ‘Greenfly’ which gardeners detest although they’re not as destructive as they’re supposed to be. Here’s a winged female which has landed on a tulip blossom and given birth to two live young, which stand behind her.

A winged female Greenfly with two newborn babies standing behind her.
A winged female Greenfly with two newborn babies standing behind her.

Greenfly reproduce mostly asexually, meaning they are females and don’t require a mate to fertilise them, although there are occasionally males which do mate with females. And Greenfly give birth to live young. These ones disappeared soon after I took this photo, probably because the tulip wasn’t to their taste, or because a predator spotted them. Aphids are eaten in huge numbers by some flying insects, such as this female Large Red Dragonfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) , which I photographed nearby:

A female Large Red Damselfly perched on a leaf. These are highly-predatory insects and will eat anything they can catch, including small spiders.
A female Large Red Damselfly perched on a leaf. These are highly-predatory insects and will eat anything they can catch, including small spiders.

Of course, even damselflies don’t have it all their own way. They have to be careful where they land. Take this dandelion flower for example – can you see the predator lying in ambush?

The white dot is a white death - a Flower Crab Spider waiting to kill anything small enough that comes near.
The white dot is a white death – a Flower Crab Spider waiting to kill anything small enough which happens to come too near.

This predator, the Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) can also turn yellow and this one soon did, making it impossible for me to photograph it in any meaninful way, as it simply could not be seen against the flower. In the close-up below you will notice yellow flecks on its abdomen, the first signs of the colour change it underwent.

Beautiful but deadly, the Flower Crab Spider as seen up close, and already starting to turn yellow. Even the biggest bumblebees fall prey to these little terrors of the garden jungle.
Beautiful but deadly to all insects, the Flower Crab Spider as seen up close, and already starting to turn yellow. Even the biggest bumblebees fall prey to these little terrors of the garden jungle.