The extraordinary story of the hoverfly, the aphid and the ant

Yesterday at Parke in the wet meadows by the River Bovey I found this hoverfly Chrysotoxum bicinctum. I have never see this species before and it is new for Parke. It is characterised by the two distinct yellow bands on its abdomen.
Chrysotoxum bicinctumIt is a pretty fly with long antennae – they are usually found in grassy places near to trees and scrub – textbook!

Chrysotoxum bicinctumIt has a distribution which is rather misleading – this is the map from the National Biodiversity Network which makes it look rather common – it is better described as having a good geographic southern distribution but nowhere is it common i.e. it is very thin on the ground

The larvae of this species of hoverfly lives in the ground and feeds on aphids – so it is a predatory maggot. The aphids feed on the roots of various meadow plants. The aphids are ‘tended’ by a colony of ants who help protect and build the aphid nesting structures. In return for their work the ants feed on the honey dew produced by the aphids. Who would have thought that all of this was going on in a little water meadow on the edge of Dartmoor!

What a tangled web they weave. For more details on the relationship between aphids and ants see here and here.

Never seen so many butterflies in one place before

I had an all day meeting at Killerton yesterday and after the meeting finished and as the sun was shining I popped into Ashclyst Forest again to look for white admirals. What a success – never seen so many butterflies in one place before. Counted them all up and then submitted them to Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. 123 individuals in 15 minutes!

Silver washed fritillary 5
There were 15 silver-washed fritillaries including this male

Silver washed fritillary 6
This is the female

Silver washed fritillary 4
This is the characteristic underwing pattern

Silver washed fritillary 3
Love the eyes

White admiralAnd I did see 4 white admirals – only got this photo which is poor but at least proves the species is there!

If you haven’t tried the Big Butterfly Count – have a go it’s very easy and you will also make David Attenborough happy – see here

Wasp spiders in the meadows at Parke

In the parkland at Parke there is a large fenced meadow which has been under grazed for a number of years. It is a species rich grassland and contains a number of wet meadow species such as marsh thistle, meadowsweet, sneezewort and the corky fruited water dropwort. The aim is to graze the meadow next year with cattle to improve the wildlife in it.

I was doing a survey in the meadow yesterday in advance of the new grazing project and found a large population of the wasp spider Argiope bruennichi. I found another population of wasp spiders at Parke last year in the water meadows – see here.

Wasp spider 1
Wasp spiders are large and very distinctive spiders – first recorded in Britain in the 1920s – they are gradually spreading

Wasp spider 2
Their webs are very characteristic  too – note the zig zag pattern

Wasp spider 3
Wasp spiders specialise in catching grasshoppers which they inject with poison and then wrap in their silk

Meadow grasshopper
The meadow grasshopper – the major prey of wasp spiders at Parke

Cicadella viridis
The wet meadows at Parke are also full of the very common green leafhopper Cicadella viridis

Parkland meadowThe meadow in the parkland  – once the cattle arrive I will write about it.

Wasp spiders flourish in places where there is no grazing so they won’t be a permanent feature of these meadows but  there are other places at Parke where they will survive

Ashclyst Forest in between the rain

Sunday was a pretty bad day weather wise – it poured with rain all morning but finally the skies cleared at 2 o clock – I ventured out to Ashclyst Forest on the Killerton Estate in search of some white admiral butterflies – I failed but I did see a few other insects before the rain came back in again at 4.30pm.

Silver Washed Fritillary-Ashclyst
Silver washed fritillaries are hardy beasts

A gatekeeper catching the fleeting sun

A battered Ringlet

Meliscaeva cinctella 2
The tiny hoverfly Meliscaeva cinctella – you can  see the halteres – the pale white blobs just below where the wings join the body – all insects have two pairs of wings – in flies the second pair are modified and are called halteres. These act as mini gyroscopes to help flies buzz around!

Rutpela maculata-Ashclyst
The common longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata – the black and yellow longhorn

Dark bush cricket-AshclystA female Dark bush cricket – you can see the sabre shaped ovipositor at the rear of the insect

So no white admirals …. I will try again during August if and when the promised heatwave returns!


A potter wasp at Parke

I photographed this little wasp at Parke last week. A quick email conversation with John Walters confirmed it as one of the ‘potter wasps’ probably an Ancistrocerus species – these make mud nests in cavities in walls and fences. There are several species of Ancistrocerus and they are rather hard to tell apart …

Ancistrocerus 2
Pretty little insect

Ancistrocerus 1Hoping to go out with John in August and see the Heath Potter Wasp on Bovey Heath – will report back then

New interpretation at Lydford Gorge

We have recently installed some new interpretation for our visitors at Lydford Gorge – I really like it.

LG iinterpretation 4
Bright new map showing you the routes and things you might see on your walk

LG iinterpretation 7
Banner at the entrance  – lots for kids to do over the summer holidays

LG iinterpretation 6
Where else can you go on Dartmoor?

LG iinterpretation 2
Information about the ancient village of Lydford – lots to see in the village too -including a Norman motte and bailey castle

LG iinterpretation 1And the infamous Lydford Castle

LG iinterpretation 3
Thank you for your support – it costs a lot every year to keep the paths open and safe

LG iinterpretation 5
And finally a thank you to our members – without you it wouldn’t be possible

LG works1
Here is where we spend some of the money – the Ranger team (staff and volunteers) repairing a flood damaged path and river bank

LG worksIt takes time and a lot of muscle power – we can’t get vehicles into the Gorge ….