Tag Archives: small

Little Creatures

In May in Wicklow there is an explosion of life, largely thanks to the increased sunlight, blooming and blossoming of trees and smaller plants, and the arrival of leaves on trees flowers and shrubs which slow the movement of air and create sheltered spots that become heat traps. But a lot of the most spectacular creatures that depend on these blooms, blossoms and leaves are very small and can easily be overlooked. For example, here is a creature I have seen only once or twice before, and only just managed to photograph this month. This beautiful and tiny insect is a Lacehopper:

A Lacehopper perched on a snap dragon flower.
A Lacehopper perched on a snap dragon flower.

Lacehoppers get their name from the appearance of their wings, which resemble lace fabric. There are many species and this one is Tachycixius pilosus. The beautiful lace-like pattern can best be seen from above.

When seen from above the Lacehopper really does look like its wings are made of lace.
When seen from above the Lacehopper really does look like its wings are made of lace.

This particular insect is only about 5 mm long, an absolutely tiny insect. If it wasn’t for the white background it would have been very difficult to see, let along photograph. Lacehoppers drink sap from plants, using needle-like jaws to stab into the stems or veins in leaves. But they seem to be few in number compared with other insects so I doubt they are plant ‘pests’ as such.

Other tiny insects to look out for are micromoths. Despite their name some micromoth species can be bigger than the so-called macro-moths. The species below is a beautifully-patterned and coloured insect known only by the scientific name of Incurvaria masculella:

Many micromoths will fly by day and night, and this one is similar, landing on the inside of a house door around noon after flying in on the breeze, and having to be rescued in a matchbox.
Many micromoths will fly by day and night, and this one is similar, landing on the inside of a house door around noon after flying in on the breeze, and having to be rescued in a matchbox.

 

The Coastal Frontier

Loads of people will have been down at the beach over this warm sunny long-weekend. The shore is a strange place, a part of civilisation,of course, but only a few feet from a world completely beyond human control, a true wilderness. A few days ago I found a Lesser Spotted Dogfish just beyond the receding tide. It was unusual primarily because it had two massive holes punched through it, one exiting on the other side of its body. By the distance between both puncture marks I realised this was almost certainly the work of a large seal.

The Lesser Spotted Dogfish with two holes punched through its flanks like bullet-wounds.
The Lesser Spotted Dogfish with two holes punched through its flanks like bullet-wounds.

In olden times, centuries ago, almost all sharks were referred to as ‘dogfish’. Ironically, the only sharks to retain this name belong to a family known as ‘cat sharks’. The Lesser Spotted Dogfish is now sometimes referred to as the Lesser Spotted Cat Shark. The following day I spotted the enormous head of a Grey seal bull near the shore, and immediately realised it must have been the killer of the dogfish, the huge puncture wounds having been caused by the seal’s awesome canine teeth. Dogfish have skin like sandpaper, and are virtually indigestible if eaten whole by any animal, except another shark, so this explains why it was left relatively unharmed and intact, despite its violent death.

As I walked along the shingle beach, shortly afterwards, I was astounded to find a Common Starfish, still alive, trying to crawl back to the sea, which was ebbing down the beach. I have found starfish often, but never alive on the shingle in Wicklow.

The starfish as I found it, trying to make its way back to sea on the hundreds of little feet on its underside.
The starfish as I found it, trying to make its way back to sea on the hundreds of little feet on its underside.

I lifted the little creature up on the palm of my hand and found it was clinging to small pebbles. However, I soon returned it to the sea, where it hopefully managed to settle on the sea floor safely once again.

The starfish on my hand, during the rescue.
The starfish on my hand, during the rescue.