I think the sawfly is a species of
Saturday, 8 November 2008
I think the sawfly is a species of
Saturday, 18 October 2008
One of my colleagues spotted both male and female Phasia hemiptera along the road at work, so the next day I brought in my camera to try to get some photographs of what is probably one of the UK's prettiest flies. I've since discovered that very few photographs of P. hemiptera do justice to the iridescent blue on the wings, so I don't feel quite so bad about failing to get any photographs over two consecutive days.
Instead I spent my time photographing the abundance of other insects, mainly on hogweed Heracleum sphondylium. Chief among these were hoverflies (Syrphidae), including the species below. Now that colder weather is setting in I'm getting around to dealing with the images.
I'm not an expert and I did not get any of the hoverflies photographed under a microscope, so don't rely on these identifications!
The most abundant hoverfly was Syrphus. I'm certain that I saw female Syrphus ribesii, so I'm assuming that this male (right) is also S. ribesii.
Also present on one day was a male Syrphus with a twisted abdomen (left). Sadly it did not pose especially well, but the shot does show the distorted abdominal tergites. I thought at the time that it might be a stylops, but they do not appear to parasitize flies at all.
Rather similar, but not as common, was Dasysyrphus albostriatus. The individual to the right is a female and shows the distinctive lines on the thorax that provide its name.
Probably the prettiest species present with regular stripes on the abdomen was Eupeodes luniger. This female (left) looked like a flying jewel in the sunshine, with a bluish sheen to the black areas on the abdomen.
Scaeva pyrastri (male, right) has more white or cream coloured stripes on the abdomen.
Another very common hoverfly in the UK, so common in fact that it has a English name, is the marmalade hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus (male left). This is possibly one of the most distinctive hoverflies in the UK, due to the overall shape and the double stripes on each abdominal tergite.
Also very distinctive is Chrysotoxum bicinctum, as it seems to be the only British species with two stripes on the abdomen as shown on the female on the right. I think that C. bicinctum is one of the few species that does a convincing job of looking like a wasp. This is on yarrow Achillea millefolium, rather than hogweed.
Finally, there was Xylota sylvarum. If I had seen this before then I obviously haven't been paying enough attention, as it is large, glossily hairy and attractive, if a little lumbering (there is also the smaller but similar X. xanthocnema). I fell in love with this female so there are two photographs (below, left and right)!
Friday, 17 October 2008
Yes, it's a fly (I don't know which species), but it is a fly with a fungal parasite, Entomophthora muscae. The fungus grows inside the fly, eventually reaching the fly's brain and influencing its behaviour. The fungus needs to get as high as possible to ensure reproductive success, so it forces the fly to climb to the top of a flower, twig or, as in this case, blade of grass and then makes it hold tight. In some cases I've even seen fungal hyphae around the flies proboscis and legs where the fungus has apparently anchored its host (though I suppose this could be a secondary infection in older specimens). The fungus then kills the fly and bursts through its abdomen to shed its spores. These spores are picked up by the wind to infect the next generation of flies.
E. muscae isn't rare by any means, but it does seem to be overlooked. It also seems to be most abundant as it starts to get wetter in autumn, so I find it most years at about this time. Nevertheless, I have very rarely found as perfect a specimen as this.
I know there won't be many others who share this opinion, but I do think that E. muscae is rather awesome.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
However, linking ants to poverty seems impossible. The best I could come up with was a video criticism of a Neocon version of the parable of the ant and the grasshopper which, whilst true, is not exactly interesting or relevant. So I'm moving up to the overarching theme of biodiversity, as there are many links between biodiversity and poverty.
Money is so often made at the expense of the natural world, most often not by locals, who are exploited just as badly as the environment in which they live. However, it doesn't always have to be like this. Anyone who's been watching Bruce Parry's Amazon (which should be everyone, as it's brilliant) will know about the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, within which local communities are encouraged to live sustainably. The local communities feel that being part of the programme operating within the reserve benefits them and increases their quality of life.
Last year, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) published a report entitled Biodiversity and Poverty Reduction; The importance of biodiversity for ecosystem services. I'd recommend reading the summary of this report at least. It lists some of the ecosystem services on which the poor are particularly dependent, including:
- 'Varied diet (including flavourings and micronutrients), famine foods and food security - provided directly by components of biodiversity that are consumed, and through a wide range of biodiversity that is crucial for food production, including that involved in the services of pollination, pest and disease control, and soil fertility.
- Water quality and availability (including regulation of flooding events), and erosion control - affected variously by vegetative cover at local and landscape scales.
- Medicines and health, both through the supply of natural medicines, and through the regulation of infections and emerging diseases.
- Cultural values, closely tied in many societies to components of biodiversity, typically at the species or landscape level.'
One of the main points that the report makes is that the rich can 'buy-in' services when ecosystems stop providing them. The poor cannot do this, so are much more dependent upon greater diversity through a heterogeneous local environment.
Combating both poverty and the loss of biodiversity are two of the greatest challenges to face us in the 21st Century, so it is good that the two are not mutually exclusive. What will probably have to change are current economic policies, as these generally operate at the expense of the poor and biodiversity - though, given the current global financial crisis, maybe now is the time for significant change anyway. Ultimately, we as citizens of rich nations have to make a decision about which is important: other members of our species and the world in which we live, or money. Only one of these will not matter when we are gone.
Monday, 6 October 2008
If that's not enough, check out their versions of 'Hey Ya!', 'Toxic' and a number of other covers. Before there are any accusations of selling out (which might otherwise be justified) I should point out that they're German.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
Harpagoxenus sublaevis is interesting in that, despite its relatively small size, it is a 'slave-maker'. In this instance it was apparently using Leptothorax acervorum as slaves, though it also enslaves L. muscorum and L. gredleri.
Describing ants as slave-makers is generally a misuse of the term, as it's only possible to enslave members of the same species. Instead, myrmecologists have given this form of social parasitism its own name: dulosis.
H. sublaevis conducts raids on Leptothorax colonies, carrying larvae and pupae away to rear as slaves. This can be quite drawn out process, as H. sublaevis recruits through tandem running, so it can take quite a while until there are enough H. sublaevis workers to conduct the raid. During the raid, H. sublaevis produces a propaganda pheromone, which causes the Leptothorax workers to attack one another, rather than the intruders. Nevertheless, H. sublaevis is heavily built, with antennal scrobes into which antennae can be drawn and straight edged mandibles that can be used for shearing through the appendages of attacking Leptothorax.
The evolutionary origins of dulosis in ants still has a lot of questions that need answering. There are three main hypotheses for the origin of slave-making:
- Predation: This was the only possible origin for slave-making suggested by Darwin in the Origin of Species. In essence, he suggested that slave-making emerged when one colony raids another colony and steals brood to be used as food. If any of the brood were allowed to survive then these would be adopted as slaves within the host colony. There is currently no evidence for this as the prime mover leading to slavery.
- Territoriality: This hypothesis suggests that territorial aggression between neighbouring colonies, and the stealing of rival brood for food, led to some captured brood to be allowed to survive to adulthood and be accepted as nestmates. There is some evidence in support of this hypothesis.
- Transport: This was originally suggested by Buschinger. He suggested that slave-making may originate from transporting brood between nests in polydomous (multi-nest) colonies. If this was extended to other colonies then it could lead to an early version of slave-raiding. Again, there is little evidence in support of this theory.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Myrmecos does a good summary of the story, with some nice photos. Other good coverage is at ScienceDaily, Nature News and Discover. The paper is available from PNAS, at a cost, though the abstract is available for free.
Sunday, 7 September 2008
Lasius niger and Lasius platythorax are undoubtedly hard to separate. This becomes particularly difficult when you find specimens that seem to be somewhere in between. However, it is always possible to assign them to one species or another, with a bit of work.
First of all, L. niger and L. platythorax are small dark brown Lasius with outstanding hairs on their antennal scapes. In the UK there are no other species that have these characteristics, though in Europe it gets a little more complicated1.
Some people seem to base identification of the workers of these species on one or two characteristics. However, experience has taught me that it is usually more reliable to use all of the following:
- Density of pubescence on the clypeus
- Shape of propodeum in profile
- Setae length on the mesosoma
- Shape of clypeus in profile
Probably the most useful character is the clypeal pubescence. Quite often this can be visually assessed, with practice, though on occasions an entire nest series will have moderate clypeal pubescence and have to be assessed morphometrically. To do this you use a measuring line, as shown below. Measure the length of this line in µm (l) and then count the number of hairs that intersect it (n). Seifert (2007) gives the average distance between the hairs (l/n) for L. niger as <16µm and for L. platythorax as >19µm.
Whilst you're looking at the clypeus it's worth noting its shape in profile. Typically, L. niger has a rather curved clypeus, whilst in L. platythorax it is comparatively straight. The idea that they differ has been floating around in BWARS for a couple years now, though I must admit I'm one of the last to accept that this is probably a good character. I feel like I've now seen enough and have not been able to dispute it - plus Barry Bolton is apparently using it, so it must be good!
Check the shape of the propodeum in profile. In L. niger the propodeum tends to be a smoothly rounded dome, whilst in L. platythorax it tends to be more conical in shape.
Finally, look at the relative length of the setae on the mesosoma, especially the pronotum. In L. platythorax these setae tend to be distinctly longer. Seifert (2007) gives figures for the length of the longest setae on the pronotum divided by the length of the head as 0.119±0.009 in L. niger and 0.159±0.010 in L. platythorax.
The two species have distinct ecological preferences. L. niger prefers drier habitats and has synanthropic tendencies - this is the species that sometimes invades houses. L. platythorax prefers wetter conditions, and is usually the species found in woodland and wet grasslands.
I've also started noticing that the larvae in L. platythorax seem to be more slender than in L. niger. Of course, this is based wholly on my subjective observations, but might be a good indicative field character.
NB: The photomontages are of British specimens2 that show generally typical characteristics. However, both specimens show setae on the propodeum that curve forward, which is not typical. In the Scottish L. platythorax, which were collected in atypical habitat at their most northern known location in the UK, the entire series had curved forward propodeal setae.
1 American L. niger are most likely a different species again, as the images I have seen do not have the dense clypeal pubescence of L. niger, but do not appear to be L. platythorax either.
2 To be honest, I don't think that them being British matters - if anything I find the characteristics of these species to overlap more in the UK than in mainland Europe. However, I know some British myrmecologists who get funny about such things!
For those who care, the species used for the mugshots are, from left to right:
Saturday, 6 September 2008
The big issue for me is the cost, as the technology involved is pricey. The photographs that I take at the moment are done in a very low-tech way with what is now a rather dated camera, but it seems to work without costing the earth.
I recently read an article on tardigrades in British Wildlife, in which the author discussed briefly the technology he uses for photographing these tiny beasts. It turns out that you can focus stack images on the cheap, with two software packages freely available: Helicon Focus (for Macs) and CombineZP (for Windows).
I've had a bash at producing some stacked ant images in CombineZP. It's fair to say that the process involved is incredibly fiddly, time consuming and computer memory hungry, with the images produced rather variable. However, it does work fairly well, once you've learnt to keep the camera completely still whilst taking the images.
I know some people dislike focus stacking, because it makes images appear flat, so I thought I'd put CombineZP to the test.
The following photographs are of British Lasius niger (it's worth clicking on the images to view larger versions). Image 1 is the best of the original images used to create the composites below:
CombineZP produced two images (from nine original images), using different stacking techniques, that were of reasonable quality. Image 2 is perhaps the closest to the original and was produced using Pyramid Maximum Contrast methodology:
Image 3 uses Pyramid Weighted Average methodology:
I have my own thoughts on which I prefer, but I thought I'd put it to the vote:
Sunday, 31 August 2008
The first time I encountered Hygrocybe intermedia was in 2000, on the sand dunes just a few metres from Sizewell nuclear power station in Suffolk. At the time, the species was listed on the provisional UK red data list for fungi. Although it has since been removed, it's evidently not that common, with only 410 records on the Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland.
This specimen was found at Brown Robin, a Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve near Grange over Sands, where H. intermedia was the most abundant fruiting fungus present. As fungi go, it is an unmistakable waxcap, in the Northern Europe at least, due to it's colour, squamulose pileus (cap) and fibrillose stipe (stem).
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
It wouldn't be surprising if over 99% of visitors go to Leighton Moss for birds, with the remainder going for dragonflies, but I'm afraid I tend to find this sort of birding boring. On the whole, I'd much rather have the birds up close and personal, even if it is just European starlings on a bird feeder. The one exception to the general reserve experience was when I visited Inner Marsh Farm for work on a day when it was closed to the public. On this day I ate my lunch in the hide in the absence of birders (who are a funny bunch) and had water rail and other waders literally metres away.
What excited me about Leighton Moss was the flora and the invertebrates.
The other rather special observation was the bug Pictomerus bidens feeding on a caterpillar. I had seen this species before in Cornwall, but had never found it feeding. It actually came as quite a surprise, as I had not realised that it was carnivorous!
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Researchers at Texas A&M University used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to map a colony of Atta texana, producing a 3D model of the tunnels and chambers. It's all very clever and has the advantage of being non-invasive.
I've seen some of the models that Walter Tschinkel has produced and they are very attractive (and scientifically valuable). However, these models do result in the destruction of the colony and can be very time consuming to produce. By using GPR the colony is not destroyed.
Whilst I think that this is a great step forward, I doubt how well it can be implemented in the short term. The trouble is, whilst A. texana colonies are big, most ant colonies are small with narrow tunnels, and I doubt that the GPR would be sensitive to pick up all the finer details. Maybe in the future, if the sensitivity of the equipment improves, this technique will become more valuable. It's also much harder to visualise the colony without an actual physical model, though no doubt these could be created at additional cost if needed.
It will be interesting to see how this develops (and how the technology can be used in other fields - mapping European badger Meles meles setts for a start). More information is available on the project website.
I also followed a link from the BBC web page this was reported on and discovered that a friend of mine has made the news, again... (Show off.)
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Monday, 21 July 2008
I don't make a habit of collecting Lasius queens to rear colonies from - they are two-a-penny in the UK (only slightly more expensive than a-dime-a-dozen at todays exchange rate) and the workers are marvellous escapologists, making them difficult to keep.
However, this queen looked like a Lasius flavus queen, so I thought she might be something more interesting since woodland is not the normal habitat for L. flavus. I collected the queen and the soil of the cell surrounding her and placed everything in a tube.
She had remained in that tube until yesterday, when I decided it was time to investigate why I hadn't seen any activity for about three weeks. Of course, this meant that when I discovered the queen and brood and two callow workers it was too late to get them back in the tube, so I had to find them some alternative accommodation in a plaster nest.
I left them to settle into the plaster nest, checking on them every couple of hours. Then in the early evening I counted not two but three workers, so I decided that I would take them into work today, so that I could keep an eye on them.
I'm glad I did. Not a lot happened until 16:00 when, as I was moving to get a drink, I spotted activity. The queen was licking what was obviously an emerging adult ant. The other workers were also showing an above normal level of excitement (i.e. they were moving, rather than just standing over the brood). The queen continued to lick this fourth worker for about 30 minutes, until she left it, twitching, presumably to harden its cuticle.
This was very exciting for me, as in ten years of studying ants it was something I had never before witnessed. To be fair, I've only been keeping ants for about a year and it's the sort of thing that you need to be in the right place at the right time to see.
Once I got them home, at around about 18:00, there was a fifth ant! They are yellow, so I'm becoming more convinced that they are just the common L. flavus, but they're entertaining me.
Saturday, 12 July 2008
The slug was described by specialists at the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff University, who named it Selenochlamys ysbryda, after ysbryd, the Welsh word for ghost. The beast is subterranean, lacking pigmentation and blind. It spends its time eating earthworms.
Sadly though, S. ysbryda is probably not native to the UK, as its nearest relatives live in the mountains of eastern Europe, Georgia and eastern Turkey. Because it may have invaded British shores, the National Museum of Wales are seeking any additional records, to see how widespread it is, and have provided an identification guide.
More information can be found at the National Museum of Wales website and BBC News.
Instead it is Temnothorax saxonicus and I'm feeling quite sheepish. What's especially silly is that I collected T. saxonicus again just down the road from this specimen and had no problem with the identification.
I had taken these photographs and was sorting them out when I realised that the head was the wrong shape for T. nylanderi. On checking my measurements I discovered that I had originally incorrectly measured the head width. Thus, instead of the head length being less than 1.090 times the head width, the head was longer, which clearly made this T. saxonicus.
T. saxonicus is a rarity in Germany and is listed as 'highly endangered' (RLD2). The only place I collected it was just west of Poikham, Bavaria, though there is a slim chance that I may have other specimens unidentified. Seifert has told me that he expects this species in any comparable habitat along the river Donau (Danube).
Sunday, 22 June 2008
It didn't take much tracking down. Many fungi are host specific, so if you can tell what the fungus is growing on you stand a chance of identifying it. This rises to a good chance when the fungus is as distinctive as this. In this case the host was maize Zea mays and the fungus is maize smut Ustilago maydis. The fungus was growing on the cobs.
Though U. maydis is common in North America, it's very rare in the UK. This was only the ninth time that it had been recorded. It's unlikely to be overlooked, so it's probably genuinely rare. The field it was found in had Z. mays growing with other exotic grasses that had obviously been sown for game cover. As a result, I suspect that the field had not been sprayed with fungicides that would ordinarily prevent U. maydis from growing.
Apparently, in North America U. maydis has traditionally been, and is still considered by some, to be a good edible fungus. In fact I read that some cultures prize the fungus more than the sweetcorn. Would you eat this?
Saturday, 21 June 2008
Not long after I first encountered morphometrics I found myself working on tricky Lasius sp., which meant that I had to try to make sense of Seifert (1992). Seifert seems to be the Master of Morphometrics, in Europe at least, and the measurements and indices he uses are much more complicated than I had encountered up until that point. At first I really hated them. I couldn't understand why identification of Lasius needed to be so complicated - couldn't the species be better described and thus made easier to identify?
Over time morphometrics have grown on me and I've come to really appreciate them. I now even understand most of what Seifert does, though I will admit to being lost by some of the discriminants that he uses!
The most recent and one of the cleverest morphometric tools that I've encountered is from Seifert (2007), for separating the Formica picea/gagatoides/gagates group from the F. fusca/lemani group. I had already decided that the specimen that I was working on was F. fusca and knew that it definitely wasn't from the picea/gagatoides/gagates group, as these are all much shinier. However, in the couplet for separating the two groups I spotted an index that I had not encountered before: sqPDF.
Translating as best I can from the German, sqPDF is the square root of the distance between individual pubescence hairs within the triangle formed by the ocelli. PDF = l/n; where n = number of the pubescence hairs that intersect three transverse measuring lines of overall length l. The position of these measuring lines is shown in red in the picture below.
The thing that I found so intriguing about this is the pubescence hairs are extremely small, so I decided to see if I could make sqPDF work. I measured the length of the three lines combined to be 663µm and counted 68 hairs intersecting the three lines. This gave a PDF of 9.75µm, so the sqPDF was 3.12µm. This is within the range given for F. fusca/lemani (sqPDF 2.4-3.5µm) and outside of the range given for F. picea/gagatoides/gagates (spPDF 3.6-10.8µm), so the calculation worked!
This might seem like a lot of work, but it's not. Morphometrics are indisputable. I know from experience that you can get to the end of a key based on descriptions alone and be less than convinced that you've got the right answer. You then spend hours checking the other 'possibilities' had you taken different routes through the key. Morphometrics eliminate much of the doubt, give you a nice, neat, believable answer and ultimately save time.
If and when I finally write my first key, expect to see lots of numbers in the couplets!
Saturday, 14 June 2008
Another place visited; another list of ants collected. This time the area covered is a small part of Bavaria, as a result of a visit to the University of Regensburg. This list will develop over the next few weeks, as I have numerous specimens to look at. Once I have identified everthing I will send a full list of the records to the university and to any other interested parties.
It is possible to accurately identify some of the species listed in the field, so not all were actually collected. Some of them were collected by Marion Füßl, who found many species before I did and thus proved to be a very useful person to have around! Others were collected with a group of researchers from the university, who very kindly spent their public holiday showing me around. Yet more were collected by Christiane Wanke over the past few years and passed to me to identify.
Though I was not aiming specifically to collect rare species, the letters in red relate to species the German Red Data List (from: Seifert, 2007).
1 Colony found containing the myrmecophilous woodlouse Platyarthrus hoffmannseggi.
Friday, 13 June 2008
I thought I knew Myrmica well, especially M. scabrinodis, which is one of the species I most regularly encounter. This Bavarian specimen really has caused me to do a disproportionate amount of work to resolve it's identity.
First of all I wasn't even 100% certain that it was a Myrmica. It has unusually large mandibles and, particularly, it appears to be covered with rather strange clavate hairs. I had to get my BIG eyepieces out to check the tibial spurs on the middle and hind legs (which were dubiously pectinate) and then count the palp segments, which always takes a lot of effort to get the position and lighting good enough to see anything. The result was that it is definitely a Myrmica.
By this stage I had already decided that it had the antennal scape and overall shape of M. scabrinodis, but those hairs were peculiar. I worked my mounted specimen through Seifert (1988) and his new book (2007), both of which suggested clearly that the specimen is M. scabrinodis1.
I then really started asking questions about those hairs and, once I had thought of fungi as a possibility, I quickly found was seems to be the most likely answer: Rickia wasmannii. This was described from Germany, though I've no idea how common recorded it is. It was only recently collected from Hungary and Romania (Tartally, et al, 2007), and does not appear to be known from the UK. All five specimens in this collection are covered in these little growths on almost every part of their bodies.
I haven't actually confirmed this, but I suspect that species of Rickia are host specific and that R. wasmannii is the only one that is known from Myrmica sp. However, if anyone has any additional information on Rickia sp. I'd be very grateful to hear about it. In the meantime I will spend a lot more time looking at British Myrmica in the hope that I can get the first UK record of R. wasmannii!
I sure know how to have fun on a Friday evening.
1 For those who are interested in such things, the standard measurements and indices used to make the identification were as follows:
Head length (HL) = 996 µm
Head width (HW) = 952 µm
HL/HW = 1.047
Scape length (SL) = 763 µm
SL/HL = 0.767
Minimum distance between frontal carinae (FR) = 310 µm
HW/FR = 3.071
Maximum distance between frontal lobes (FL) = 443 µm
FL/FR = 1.428
Length of propodeal spines (SP) = 310 µm
SP/HW = 0.311
Petiole width (PE) = 266 µm
PE/HW = 0.279
Postpetiole width (PP) = 376 µm
PP/HW = 0.395
Thursday, 12 June 2008
I found out about this research when I was at college, but for a long time assumed that it was just an urban myth. However, there is now the following video, which explains what actually happened:
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
I thought that in the meantime I might present some photographs of other things. I have an online gallery that I kept running for about 3 years and then neglected, so I'm letting the subscription run out. The photos, including some interesting ones, will go with it, so I think it will be nice to save some of them by publishing them here.
X Dactyloglossum mixtum is the hybrid between frog orchid Coeloglossum viride and common spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii. Other images can be found at the UK Hardy Orchid Society's website.
The parent species are both fairly common in the UK and their habitats overlap, so X Dactyloglossum mixtum is widespread, but uncommon and rarely found. This specimen was found near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire in 2004 and was only the fifth record for the county. However, the really interesting thing is that the last time it was recorded in Gloucestershire was on the same site in 1966, so it's easy to speculate that this could be a very old plant.
I've looked for this plant subsequently in the same place, but have not found it since. It is likely that, like most orchids, X Dactyloglossum mixtum flowers only sporadically.
Incidentally, recent work by Professor Richard Bateman and colleagues on a phylogeny of orchids based on DNA has shown that Coeloglossum viride is actually a Dactylorhiza. This means that a new combination needs to be published for the hybrid, which should make it Dactylorhiza x mixta.
I should acknowledge Simon Harrap for originally suggesting the identity, and Mark and Clare Kitchen, BSBI Vice County Recorders for Gloucestershire, for verifying the specimen.
1 Like most British properties, my flat does not have air conditioning. What it does have is a very large south-facing window.
Monday, 2 June 2008
Last month I was surveying a site in Surrey, just outside of Greater London, and had found a nice south facing slope with a thermophilic invertebrate community present. This included mining bees Andrena sp., plus the cleptoparasitic nomad bees Nomada sp. and bee-flies Bombylius sp., and the wasp Dolichovespula media. Also present were the ants Formica fusca, so I spent a bit of time on my knees seeing what other species were present (only Lasius niger s. str. and Myrmica scabrinodis as it turned out).
Whilst I was on the ground a solitary bee flew by, followed closely by this fairly nondescript looking fly. The bee stopped, and the fly stopped a few centimetres behind. The bee flew a little further and stopped, and the fly did likewise. It slowly dawned on me that the fly was actually stalking the bee!
The bee started to move down amongst some grass whilst the fly waited around, so I took the opportunity to take the photographs below. Okay, so they will win no prizes, but they were the only two I could take before I got too close and scared the fly away.
It's taken me a while to work out what this thing was, but I'm now pretty certain it was a satellite fly Leucophora sp. Like Nomada and Bombylius, Leucophora are cleptoparasitic, laying their eggs in the burrows of the bees they hunt. According to the Society for the study of flies there are only eight species of Leucophora in the UK, none of which have been commonly recorded if their maps are any judge (though these are likely to be very incomplete).
However, other than this I've been unable to find out any information. Remarkably, none of the British species of Leucophora have conservation status, which implies that they were missed or ignored the last time these flies were reviewed, as some of the eight species must be rare. Perhaps too little was known about them to make an accurate judgement of their status. Honestly, if it hadn't been behaving so unusually I'd have ignored this individual.
If anyone else has any useful information on these beasts I'd be very interested to hear, even if it is to say that they are actually really common!
Sunday, 18 May 2008
To make up for the lack of posting I decided to post something rather neat. The specimen in the picture is Myopias tenius. It wasn't collected by me; that honour goes to Catherine L. Parr, who also attended the Ant Course in 2007. Catherine found a number of interesting species during the two weeks and kindly let me have this specimen. I've only now got around to identifying it.
According the Shattuck (1999), Myopias are infrequently collected and are found from Sri Lanka to southeast Australia. Within Australia, M. tenuis is only known from north Queensland, but is also known from New Guinea, including the Indonesian part, and the Solomon Islands (Willey & Brown, 1983). This specimen was collected from Smithfield Conservation Park, an area of rainforest about 10 minutes walk from James Cook University, Cairns campus.
Sunday, 27 April 2008
I only had a small amount of contact with Roy, so I won't say too much. I met him on the Ant Course in Cairns, 2006 and had some email contact with him afterwards. He was a brilliant man with a wicked sense of humour, so I liked him right away, as I expect most people did.
He was also very generous with his expertise: he resolved the identity of some problem Rhoptromyrmex from Queensland and also provided some useful, and sometimes entertaining discussion on North American Lasius. His initial reaction to my query was, 'I detest Lasius!', a sentiment I suspect most people can sympathise with!
It is a sad loss, all the more so for his family and those close to him, to whom my thoughts go out.
Eulogies are at Myrmecos Blog and The Ant Farm and Myrmecology Forum.
Friday, 25 April 2008
Thursday, 24 April 2008
The last of the boring but possibly useful lists.
This covers those counties where I only have a few species recorded or in my collection. Those from Ireland and Senegal were collected by me. My parents have been good enough to collect ants for me, including from Mallorca and Austria. Specimens collected by David M. King were passed to me for identification; these came from Italy, Kuwait, Macedonia, Qatar, Turkey and the Canary Isles (not yet included). Claes-Göran Magnusson sent me a specimen from Sweden. Finally, Sabine Frohschammer passed on a few specimens from a live colony she had collected in Malasia.
1 I know this seems unlikely, but it's the best fit. I've had a paper half written for two years now. My problem is that I can't make my head measurements match those of Seifert's - on any Lasius. I've spoken to others and this is not a problem restricted to me! Oh, and Ireland also has L. psammophilus, with no evidence for L. alienus.
3 Introduced and apparently one of the dominant species on Mallorca now: my parents only collected the two species above, despite searching hard.
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
This is the most incomplete of the lists I'm going to present. There are two main reasons for this: the taxonomy of the Australian ant fauna is incredibly difficult, making identification hard, and I was interrupted by my work on the Gambian fauna. Eventually I will get back to these collections.
They are the result of my attendance on the Ant Course 2006, plus an extra week that I stayed. This was held at James Cook University (JCU) Cairns Campus. If you are interested in ants then I can't recommend the Ant Course strongly enough.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Australian ant fauna is quite special. Groups that are rare elsewhere, such as Iridomyrmex and Polyrhachis have diversified into many different forms. Others, such as Leptomyrmex, Turneria, Melophorus and the famous bulldog ants Myrmecia are limited to the Australasian region. I should also make mention of possibly the most famous Australian ant, Nothomyrmecia macrops.
There is a lot of work still to be done on these specimens. Iridomyrmex, Camponotus, Polyrhachis, Crematogaster and Pheidole are all common and diverse in Australia, so I collected a lot of different species. A key now exists for Camponotus, but I've only just started trying to sort through all the specimens I have. Iridomyrmex in particular is well-nigh impossible, as there are many species that differ very little. Many of the smaller groups also lack keys, so identification is not easy.
For further coverage check Australian Ants Online.
I should say that the specimens actually belong to JCU and that I have them as part of a loan to Cardiff Museum. Once I've finished with them they will go to Cardiff or back to JCU.
varians subsp. ruficeps
pictus subsp. bimaculatus
wroughtoni sp. 1
wroughtoni sp. 26
1 Introduced and collected in many situations, from wash-blocks to rainforest.
2 I only collected one specimen of this rarity, which is usually found in the canopy. I found it on my clothes in the room I was staying in at (JCU) Cairns Campus. I suspect that someone had shaken the tree it was on as I was beneath.
4 A bit of a rarity, especially in Queensland, where it is otherwise unknown (Shattuck & Barnett, 2007).
5 Introduced, found once crawling across the desk in the room I was staying in at JCU.
6 Considered to be rare, but I found it frequently enough in the rainforest that by the time I left I could recognise it on sight. Following a chat with Barry Bolton (who last reviewed the genus), I feel confident in saying that what I have belongs to two species.
7 Introduced around Cairns and apparently presenting quite a serious threat. Found abundantly in one place near JCU.
Monday, 21 April 2008
This list of ants in my collection was the result of a two week 'holiday' in the Dordogne and Massif Central areas of France. It was the first time I had ever collected ants outside of the UK and forecast the end of 'normal' holidays for me!
More information on the ants of France can be found at Fourmis, the French ant forum.
1 Two alate queens, one found in the Salignac-Eyvigues, Dordogne, the other on Causse Noir in the Massif Central. The latter was found in association with C. lateralis. This species is not supposed to occur in mainland France, but after a lot of debate they were eventually confirmed by Cedric Collingwood.
2 A rarely recorded species in France. This collection was from the edge of a woodland near Nant, Massif Central. This has also been confirmed by Cedric Collingwood and matches the morphometrics given in Seifert (1992).
3 An introduced species in France, found alongside P. pallidula on the château walls at Castelnaud, Dordogne.
Sunday, 20 April 2008
The other day I had a request from Professor James K. Wetterer at Florida Atlantic University. He had seen the invasive species listed as present in The Gambia and wanted further details of those and others that I had collected.
This lead to two surprises. The first was that someone was paying attention and cared what I get up to. The second was the large number of invasive ants I have collected, despite few collection forays outside of the UK. It has, however, made me wonder if it's worth highlighting the other species that I have in my collection or have records for, in case they are of use to anyone.
I've decided to kick this off with the shortest and simplest list: the paltry fauna of the UK (I'm going to upset some British myrmecologists with this description, but it doesn't make it any less true). A complete list of the 67 native and regularly recorded introduced ants can be found in the checklist available on the BWARS website. The few species that I have in my collection are listed below.
1 Alate queen collected in Yorkshire. Despite a lot of searching no colonies have been located in the area.
2 Two males collected by David Baldock.
3 Present only as a rare introduction, these specimens from the Eden Project.