Tuesday 23 May 2023

...but know when to throw in the towel.

I've stopped trying to identify the Campopleginae that I spent so long on. Happily a more knowledgeable and experienced entomologist has taken them on (thank you AG). I've stopped because getting to a more definite identification requires experience with the family, which I don't have. The literature available can no longer guide me to an answer. But, I learned so much of the terminology and morphology that I could move on quickly to that next specimen and identify it.

Agrypon flaveolatum, male.

The shape is typical of the Anomaloninae. And this common species keys out relatively easily.

The photography using the EM5-11, 30mm macro and holding it to the microscope eyepiece is improving. Open the aperture, f3.5 is good; get enough light and as fast a shutter speed as you can; avoid noise by keeping the iso to around 500 or so. Using ethyl acetate to subdue or kill specimens is far better than using the freezer as the ethyl acetate keeps them supple. Ichneumons are pretty resilient so they can be stunned for quite long periods using this chemical (thanks for the tip MS). However, ethyl acetate dissolves some plastics so use glass jars. Best to set up a larger, wide necked, shallow jar with absorbent material in the bottom, a lid on top of that and then a small specimen pot to sit on the lid.

Face, clypeus, palps of the A. flaveolatum.

Propodeum (apical end of the thorax dorsally), showing the typical "disorganised" carinae of this species.

Teeth and front coxae, the coxae lack carinae (ridges).

The images are manipulated in Photoscape X which is free software. I guess I could probably do better with Adobe but it's expensive stuff.

Anyway, the learning on the Campopleginae was usefully employed. I've got three more animals to address now, all from the garden.

Ichneumon sp I think, possibly suspiciosus but I need to compare the tarsi with my images of stramentarsus. This one seems to lack a white spot on T4.

The moth trapping has not produced anything of interest, but I did find this Monopis laevigella on the garage floor.

Monopis laevigella.

A wander up on the moor located the usual Green Dock Beetles and also Heather Beetle which I haven't seen for a while.

Gastrophysa viridula, female top, male above.

Lochmeae suturalis.

I sometimes comment and offer identifications in Facebook Groups, particularly in our local entomological group. An interesting looking beetle popped up the other day, something unfamiliar to me. I quickly looked at my usual sources, noticed that nationally a particular species was being found and offered an ID. Fortunately I did hedge my bets a bit, because I got it wrong. I wasn't far away but a bit more attention to detail would have helped; less haste, more speed. I should have learned my lesson the previous day when I did exactly the same with an unfamiliar moth. No harm done, useful discussions came out of these two occasions, but with a bit more care and thought I'd have IDed these correctly. With any identification the answer and certainty lies in the detail. (Ok jizz IDs don't, but that doesn't really work with photographs.)

Bird flu still seems to be around. Following on from the previously mentioned Herring Gull and Cormorant there was a dead large gull near Skaill, a report of a dead Bonxie on Westray, and a drake Eider in the middle of a field near Birsay. Unusual behaviour seems to be an indicator of bird flu. On the plus side the Gannets at Marwick seem to be ok with the colony continuing to establish. However, there are not many Bonxies around. On a more cheerful note we found this pair of Eider nesting at Yesnaby.

Eider, drake top two, duck on nest I think, bottom.

The Spring Squill was flowering in carpets and there were hundreds of Scottish Primrose. We paid homage to the Oyster Plant.

Scottish Primrose.

Spring Squill in front of The Castle.

Spring Squill.

Oyster Plant.

The swell was surprisingly high.

Today we went to Evie. There were a few Arctic Terns, a Sandwich Tern and three dark phase Arctic Skuas.

Arctic Skua and Sandwich Tern.

The target species were somewhat less spectacular. A couple of fungi that infest Viola sp.

Urocystis violae on Dog Violet.

Puccinea violae on Dog Violet.

Urocystis violae is found only here and at one other site in Orkney. The photo of Puccinea violae was taken at Yesnaby where I'd found it the previous day, but it was located at Evie also. Gripping!

There are some other Hymenopterans but I'll save them for another day, phew!

Louise went to pick rhubarb for pudding but had to abandon the mission when she found the Blackbirds were nesting in the crown of the plant.

Thursday 18 May 2023


 ... is a good quality. Carol Dweck's work played a large part in my professional life and in our parenting. We were discussing it's implications the other day in a reflective kind of a way. If you want to know more the book is Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, there are lots of interpretations of Carol's work but I was introduced to her work by Barrie Hymer, emeritus professor of psychology in education at Cumbria University https://barryhymer.wordpress.com/. I went to an in-service day, probably the most important in-service training of my professional life; well more than that as Louise and I applied the ideas to our parenting, which we think has turned out pretty well: other opinions my exist...... (Ha, ha, ha!)

I'm applying growth mindset practice to my ongoing struggles to identify Hymenoptera, particularly the pesky wee Campopleginae which have turned up in the pheromone traps. I'm not sure how many hours I've spent on these animals now but it is getting on for a whole day and night I suspect, not in one go I hasten to add. 

The advantage of this perseverance is that I am learning the morphology and terminology related to Hymenoptera, and particularly the Ichneumonoidea as I go, and it is sticking, a good bit. Much help is being enlisted online, again thank you to those who are helping, it is much appreciated.

Anyway, here's a pile of photographs of the male Campopleginae which were proposed as Tranosemella praerogator. It was a big help getting steers to this point.

I've run the males through the Transosemella key and they don't go, the propodem carinae look about right but the leg colours, specifically the coxae, trochanters and trochantellas are the wrong colour. Information received (thanks MS) suggests that in the NHM there are possibly three UK species additional to the key, so Tranosemella sp is where we get to. Now to look more carefully at the female....


Tranosemella sp male legs.

Male 1 head and mesoscutum dorsally.

Propodeum male 2 showing the carinae (raised ridges).

Teath and edge of clypeus.

Slightly concave clypeus, scape is yellow not predominantly black, and there seems to me a subtle difference in the eye margin compared to the images of the reference specimen.

Male 1

Male 3

Tergites latero-dorsally.

Hind tibia and spurs.

Left wings, male 3.

I'll have a detailed look at the female, maybe later today or in a day or so. Although that looks superficially similar it has been suggested that it may be a Phobocampe species.

The pheromone traps produced another Ichneumonoidea today.

Ichneumonoidea 18th May, pheromone trap.

So as President Jed Bartlett would have asked, but this above means I know already, "What's next?"

Sunday 14 May 2023


The male Brambling that arrived here on 5th February, joining a female present at the time, has finally left, last seen on 11th May. The female long-since left. Hopefully the male is winging its way northwards but the male Sparrowhawk that has been hunting the feeders recently might have gotten itself a rather colourful meal.

Brambling male.

Otherwise the feeders produced the first warbler of the year, a Blackcap and a Tree Sparrow was present for an hour or two.

Tree Sparrow right, House Sparrow, left.

Blackcap, male.

Arctic Terns are now present on Bosquoy and sometimes on The Shunan, Greenshank, Common Sandpipter, Ringed Plover and  Dunlin have been recorded for the year and 11 Blackwits briefly graced The Shunan. Most extraordinary though was the first patch record of Turnstone when a small flock of four flew through Bosquoy, probably flushed from the wadery bit by a Bonxie. Two days ago the first singing Willow Warbler, just on the very extremity of the patch and four Sedge Warblers on territory.

Sedge Warbler.

There was a brief hirundine flurry, with plenty of birds on Bosquoy and Louise heard a Cuckoo up, behind the house, I dipped (but got it today). Swallows are now regular around the house and looking to settle in to their regular site. Finally, skua visitations; twice for Bonxie and twice for Arctic Skua, the Arctics were a dark and pale phase and then two dark phases.

The moth traps have been out a couple or three times, with last night being a tad disappointing, however, second site records for two species on the two previous outings made up for that.

The Herald, only second garden record.

Puss Moth, also only second site record.

Both these moths were found outside the trap, The Herald on the house wall and the Puss Moth on the grass by the trap, the previous Puss Moth was also found outside the trap, beside it.

Beetles have also been interesting with records for Pelophila borealis from Bosquoy, Harray and Wasdale (which is a new site I think).

Pelophila borealis.

Searching the loch shore I also managed to capture an interesting and large (5.8mm) Bembidion. After a bit of a struggle with Duff this came out as Bembidion tibiale, which might be NFM (I must check my old copy of Lindroth to see if it has a tick).

Bembidion tibiale.

Other new beetles have been a couple of Lesteva.

Lesteva sicula, left and Lesteva montana, right.

Both of these required a bit of measuring as the ratio of pronotal length vs elytral length is part of the key and L. montana is tricky from the similar and more common Lesteva longoelytra which I've recorded a few times; L. montana has proportionally shorter elytra.

The main identification battles have been with Hymenoptera. I do sometimes consider my sanity in relation to attempting to identify these things. The putative Euura vaga from the last post was sent off to the county recorder, who did some better business with the penis valve and having pondered suggested further consultation. Further consultation led to further uncertainty and the idea that this genus was not fully sorted re identification and taxonomy. So a full stop with that one at the moment. The other sawfly (Symphyta) I was working on came back as a Tenthredo, I hadn't managed to key it to there even. When I then had a punt with Lacourt I just ran into dead ends. However, a new key has been supplied, a new attempt will begin shortly.

A well known entomologist has likened attempting the Aleocharines of Staphylinid beetles to ascending Everest and his progress being somewhere in the foothills. Hymenoptera seem to be of a similar difficulty, at the moment I'm still at Kathmandu airport.

So, an Ichneumon was in a grass clump. Help from Facebook got me to Lissonota sp (thank you ADK), a male, with a rider that these are a tad tricky. Anyway, I've purchased the key so hopefully....

A bit more success with an Ophion, at least I knew which genus it was! I thought it was O. obscuratus s.l. but I was advised it was more likely to be O. variegatus at this time of year (thanks AG). I dug around and found a key, a recent one, available on the web (link in the side panel). And running the beasts through the key seemed to confirm that ID. However, I was then advised that UK specimens might not key in the same way as Swedish ones... However, everything seems to point to Ophion variegatus so I'm going to be happy with that. This is a genus that often turn up in light traps so the new key should be handy.

Ophion variegatus.

This record does throw some doubt on previous records of O. obscuratus s.l. at this time of year, despite expert verification. Ophion variegatus is new for the county.

I found some interesting Ichneumons, small ones in the pheromone traps. I wondered if they had been drawn to parasitising the micro moth target species of these pheromones, but they all turned out to be males. Anyway help got me to family Campopleginae, and guidance to a new key (thanks BH). A few goes with the key, at least six, has got me to Diadegma sp. (And after I found, what I think is, a female of the same species in the traps yesterday, a bit more certainty). Interestingly this genus parasitises moths. This is the point at which to give up though, a bit of a shame as these are clearly quite common, but I have no way to proceed as the literature suggests the 1969 key is dodgy at best.. The new Campopleginae key is rather wonderful, though, an online key that eliminates genera as you go along. If you use it I recommend hitting the "Submit" green button after you make a decision at each stage. 

T1 showing some difficult to discern features. Interpreting them is tricky.

The female. (Wing venation, particularly of the hind wing is difficult to interpret.)

Diadegma sp, I think.

Lastly a bit of video. I've finally got a new video editor, not as intrusive as the last one, a free which is always a bonus.

Best to play through YouTube, otherwise it seems to sit there doing nothing. (The time on the camera is incorrect by the way.)

I put the camera by our barrel pond for 24 hours and recorded ten species of bird visiting. Commonest were House Sparrow, then Starling, followed by Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Song Thrush and there was one visit each for Wood Pigeon, Dunnock, Greenfinch and Lesser Redpoll. It was fascinating seeing the relationships between the species and each species different behaviour when drinking or bathing, and other behaviour that took place around the water.