Beetle blogging

It’s been a very exciting beetle week here!

Beetle no. 1. Green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris)

Green Tiger Beetle, Skipwith Common, April 07

On Thursday (26 April) a friend took me to  Skipwith Common,  a 270-hectare nature reserve just south of York, specifically to see Green tiger beetles. And see them we did – including a pair mating!

They are quite the most beautiful beetles I’ve ever seen – with iridescent pink legs that were glistening in the dappled sunshine.

I’d never been to Skipwith Common before, and it felt to me like a primeval landscape, or like mangrove swamps, except that instead of exotic vegetation rising up from the ponds, there were silver birch trees.

We saw lots of other fascinating insects there too, including tiny grasshopper nymphs that looked like they’d only just hatched, and a Large red damselfly, which I’d never seen before.

Beetle no. 2: Lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelopipedus)

Lesser Stag Beetle, Heslington, 1 May 07

OK, so it’s dead, but it still counts as a sighting! 

I was walking to my car in our communal carpark the following Tuesday morning (1 May), and noticed a *large* black beetle on the tarmac. When I knelt down to take a photo of it, I was surprised that it didn’t scuttle away. I took some photos, and it slowly dawned on me that the reason it wasn’t doing any scuttling was that it was dead!

I showed the picture to local entomologist Dr Dave Chesmore a couple of days later, and he said he thought it might be a Lesser stag beetle. We went back to the carpark to see if it was still there, and it was (that’s the advantage of dead beetles!) He examined the body, and confirmed that it was indeed a female Lesser stag beetle. Apparently, these haven’t been sighted here for a couple of years, so it was another Exciting Find, which he was going to report to the relevant recording authorities!

Dave said Lesser stag beetles live in dead wood, so I took him to a big dead log we have just by the carpark, to see if we could see a hole that was Lesser stag beetley in size, but we couldn’t. So the mystery of where this beetle lived remains …

Beetle no. 3: 14-spot ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata)

14-spot ladybird eating aphid, Bishopthorpe, 3 May 07

The following Thursday lunchtime (3 May) I was at the Archbishop of York’s  Junior School in Bishopthorpe on the outskirts of York, to talk to the Deputy Head there about putting on a workshop for his pupils. After our discussions, he said I could go and explore the wildlife garden they have in their grounds. So, off I went, to see what I could find there. It’s a lovely secluded spot a the far end of the playing field, perfect for wildlife.

In and around the pond I saw, amongst other things, tadpoles, a frog, a toad and a 14-spot ladybird. I tried to get a photo of the 14-spot – but it immediately scuttled onto the underside of the leaf it was on. I turned the leaf over, but the ladybird fell straight off into the undergrowth. Hrrumph! – that’ll larn me to be impatient!

I thought I’d missed out altogether on my chance to photograph the 14-spot, but some time later, I saw it – or another one – on the same clump of vegetation. So, this time I decided I had to be more patient. When it scuttled onto the underside of a leaf, I waited for it to re-emerge. And re-emerge it did, and I was able to photograph it.

Then it started climbing the stem of a plant, in a way I thought that would make a nice image, so I took a few pictures of it there. It was only when I got these photos onto my computer at home that I realised why it had been climbing the stem of the plant. At the top of the plant were tiny aphids, and the ladybird was eating them! This is the first photo I have of a ladybird – of any species – actually eating, so I was very excited!

The pupils of Bishopthorpe Junior School are very lucky to have such a great wildlife garden in their grounds! I’m looking forward to visiting it again …

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