Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: gearing up for London’s planthoppers

I visited the family home last week and, despite heavy rain most of the time, managed to spend an hour papping the inverts in the garden. The garden has good views of London’s ever-changing (and IMO, degrading) skyline, not that the inverts much care. The view is a bizarre localised battleground, with neighbours trying to annoy their nemeses by blocking the view where they can, usually with trees. My parents also received a letter once passively offering to pay for tree surgeons to cut their trees down so a neighbour could enjoy this view. Otherwise, London’s gardens are quickly become outdoor rooms, if all your indoor rooms contained plastic grass and a Porsche.

Smokebush looking lovely in the low evening light

The garden was quite aggressively rewilded in recent years (๐Ÿ‘€) and has become particularly rich in birdlife. It’s a mixture of small trees, hedges, shady and sunny areas, with ornamental plants like smokebush and the otherwise invasive snowberry, but also lots of self-seeded wildflowers.

Female hairy-footed flower bee having a bask

I find that early evening, on what has been a warm or sunny day is a really good time to look for inverts. Particularly if there’s a shrub or hedge with some of the low evening sun. All the life photographed here was on the combination of elder, bramble, snowberry and hawthorn that made up the garden’s boundary hedge. My first species was this female hairy-footed flower bee, often mistaken for a bumblebee. She is solitary, and she is usually being followed by a male bee. I haven’t seen any males in the past week, so I think their time has been and gone for 2021. It’s the work of the female bees to now finalise the chambers and food caches for next year’s brood.

Common carder bee

One of the most common bees in London is seen here, the common carder bee. This gingery bee was also basking and preening in the low-slung sun. They are fairly easy to identify if you can acquaint yourself with their ‘ginger’ thorax. Don’t quote me on that.

Marmalade hoverfly

The hawthorn was blossoming and a marmalade hoverfly was feeding on the flowers. It was nice to see, as English hawthorns appear to be falling silent, in comparison to those in Europe. This is a really very common hoverfly.

Here it is again, having stocked up on nectar. They get their name from the orange and yellow abdomen.

Gammoptera ruficornis, named after its red antennae

Though I was seeing mainly common species, I found one that I’d never seen before. It’s always nice to see a longhorn beetle and this species, Gammoptera ruficornis, was new to me. It was first feeding on the hawthorn flowers but then moved to bask on this leaf. It gets its name from its red antennae, hence the ‘rufi’ in the scientific name.

A planthopper in the Issus genus

This is a planthopper in a stage of metamorphosis, I think, before it becomes an adult. Having read about this genus, Issus, I’ve learned that this group have biological versions of gears. They are the only animals to use gears, other than those invented by us humans. Amazing! They use the gears to hop or propel themselves to such great distances:

This video gives an insight into the jumping prowess of these insects.

I’ve covered spiders (well, one) a lot in the past couple of weeks. I found a couple of spiders in the London garden with this one in the process of feeding on what appears to be a former caterpillar.

The magic of macro is of course its ability to ‘blow up’ something like an insect to a size far greater than that seen by the naked eye. This is a speckled bush cricket nymph and, I promise you, with that green on green was almost impossible to see. It reminded me again of the power of patience and of looking more closely.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: a hairy day in the hedge

We are at that point in British springtime that feels like a tipping point. The leaves of most deciduous trees are out in small, decorative versions of their summer selves.

The insect life has passed meaningful boundaries: mason bees have have hatched from the hotels and the early species are looking a little overwhelmed by the new life around them. Take the hairy footed flower bees. Now they will rest for a photo, after a month of never settling much at all.

I spent a five minute screen break in my garden observing the silent flight of a mourning bee, a bee that targets the hairy-feet. Its flight was deceptive, hard to know what kind of insect it was. That must be part of its success.

My small chunk of ornamental hedge was once again alive with insect action. There was a party of solitary wasps dancing at the edge of the hedge where I have had to cut back and replant. I will never be able to tell you their truest selves, such is their familial diversity.

A solitary bee that I see often but haven’t yet identified was flying in good numbers. It is such a hairy thing, with a flush of ‘facial’ hair and bristles jutting out from its abdomen. I think it’s an Andrena mining bee.

Hoverflies are always part of the picture. Droneflies flew in midair, legs akimbo, or else bathed with their motorbike helmet compound eyes monitoring my distance.

A brief visitor to the edge of a flower pot turned out to be something more interesting. Users on iNaturalist identified it as a species which is likely an accidental introduction to the United Kingdom, a species I haven’t knowingly seen before.

I spent some time with my camera-mounted face glued to the bee hotel. I am beyond caring what onlookers now think, simply because I’ve shared sightings with my neighbours and they are so keen to let me know what I’ve missed.

I’ve taken their advice on garden plants. Now a beautiful blue Lithodora sits in a pot on the patio, nectared on by hairy-footed flower bees. Lithodora is a borage relative, native to southern Europe.

Evening when the sun is softer can be a good time to check hedges for calmer insects at the end of a busy day. I found a non-biting midge with its punk-antennae. An expert on iNaturalist informed me that it is rare to identify these insects beyond family level, of which there are many! Whatever its acute identify was as a life form, this miniscule, barely visible to the naked eye. Its bottlebrush headpiece was the perfect way to see out a hairy day in the hedge.

Photos taken with an Olympus E-M5 MIII and 60mm f2.8 macro lens with 16mm extension tube

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Macro Monday: the macro ninja

Last year we installed a pond in our garden. It’s nothing special, just an old washbasin bought from an antique shop sitting on the patio. It has flag iris, some figwort and other aquatic plants bought from the garden centre. I noticed a couple of weeks ago the first resident of the pond, a water beetle zipping around the underwater vegetation. I didn’t get enough of a look to identify it, not that I would have done much there anyway.

One morning I spotted a downy feather resting on the pond’s surface with some drops of dew sitting on it. Looking closely the feather’s fibres were like lightning bolts or fungal hyphae spreading out across the surface of the water. I was crouched down over the pond to the point that the postman didn’t see me and got a fright:

‘You scared the living daylights out of me there, Dan, you’re like a ninja!’

New Instagram handle: Macro Ninja.

Hairy-footed flower bees have continued their territorial dominance of my garden. The male bees are a flippin’ nightmare to photograph, the image above took a lot of channeling my inner ‘macro ninja’ to approach before it flew away.

In the past two weeks the all-black females have appeared and are now being followed by the male bees as their pairing routines develop. Above is an archive image from a few years ago.

Another sign of my rustiness is this sighting of a queen wasp visiting the small hedge. She was nectaring on flowers of the-plant-I-can-never-remember-the-name-of. I have posted quote a lot in the past year about wasps, I love them. A user on iNaturalist identified this as a common wasp queen, Vespula vulgaris.
The same plant was supporting both more species and the non-sensical notion that non-native plants or animals have no place on These Great Isles. This was perhaps the second or third marmalade hoverfly I have seen in the garden this year. They are a nice entry into the world of hovers and are super common.

An example of why bright sunlight isn’t good for macro photography can be seen in Exhibit Z, above. This was fly does have an orange beard though which was something I hadn’t noticed until I drove up the shadows bar in the editing software.

The nursery web spiders were basking once more in their spring way. They are lovely spiders and I think could probably help more people to partially overcome any fears they may have. This was an interesting article (with a clickbait title) on spiders being pushed into civilisation by floods in Australia. And then there was this about the discovery of a depiction of a spider god in Peru. I wish people revered invertebrates in the way they did birds and mammals. Also, fungi.

Finally, a sign of spring’s imminent arrival is this bunch of guelder rose flower buds. Enjoy these spring days if you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere, they’re gone before you know it.

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with Olympus E-M5 MIII and 60mm f2.8 macro lens.

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