Sunday 11 May 2014

Week 16, Extra: The Temptation of Brambles

What a difference a couple of months makes. The photos, left (14th March) & below (yesterday), are of the chalk-faced dell on the north side of Lower Roughdown. The transformative power of nature never ceases to amaze me. Colours, shapes and textures all living and breathing.

I hadn’t intended to write another post this week but, hey, here I am again.  It was a spur of the moment thing. With rain forecast all day and the sun blazing down, I concluded I wasn't hallucinating and headed out. My intention was to take a short, gentle stroll to see how the Green Hairstreaks were getting on but, well, one thing led to another, and instead of rummaging around in stinging nettles, I succumbed to the temptation of brambles.

However, before I made it up the slope, I noticed that the Common Twayblade orchids are just about to flower. I shall look forward to photographing them in the next week or two. There are also plenty of Common Spotted orchid plants around and they'll come into flower next month.

The south-west ridge of Lower Roughdown isn’t the most idillic spot, bordered as it is by the A41. However, it is a bountiful mass of brambles, nettles and all sorts of rough vegetation, which is perfect for invertebrates. I worked my way slowly and carefully along a small stretch of it. I didn’t come across any Green Hairstreaks but I was pleased to find 3 different species of Bug (with a capital “B”) all sitting on accessible (which makes a nice change) bramble leaves.

It is at this point that I confess that the ecology of bugs is not something I know anything about. However, I will share what I’ve gleaned from a little research. The 3 bugs I came across are all True Bugs (Hemiptera), which is, of course, a blessed relief. I wouldn’t want to be caught promoting Fake Bugs. I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not to delve deeper into the defining characteristics of a True Bug but, suffice to say, one feature they all possess is a proboscis which is “capable of piercing tissues (usually plant tissues) and sucking out the liquids – typically sap”. Mmmm...

             Common Green Shield Bug

    Dock Bug
    Dock Bug (showing proboscis)

The Common Green Shield Bug (part of the Superfamily Pentatomoidea [Shieldbugs]) and the Dock Bug (part of the family Coreidae [Squashbugs]) were both approximately 10-14mm long. They are both herbivorous, with the Dock Bug typically feeding on the leaves and seeds of docks and sorrels; and the Common Green Shield Bug being a lot less fussy. Neither of them cause particular harm to the plants or crops they frequent. Like the 7-spot Ladybird, when threatened, both Bugs possess the ability to release foul-smelling, irritating liquid from glands located on the thorax. So, like ladybirds, they don’t make for a tasty snack.

Harpocera thoracica
The third sap-sucking Bug I found was a Harpocera thoracica, part of the family Miridae [Plant bugs]. Plant bugs make up over 35% of all UK species of bug and is the largest in the True Bug order. This rather pretty little bug was just 6mm long and I found it in a deeply shady spot, under an oak tree, on a bramble leaf. It is a female and will have reached adulthood this month, with only 6-8 weeks to live. The male of the species only survives a month (sad, but true). Mating and egg-laying all take place during May and June. The egg stage lasts 10 months, with larval development only taking 2 weeks. It seems I should count myself lucky to have seen this short-lived bug yesterday.

Two hours and far too many blurry photographs later (note to self, don’t find interesting bugs, perched on delicate leaves, when there are 30 mph gusting winds blowing, especially if the bug is in the shade!), I made my way back through Lower Roughdown. The male Chiffchaff had been singing all morning and I must have walked into an area where a Mistle Thrush is nesting. Instead of flying away, the bird flew towards me, rattling at constant intervals, and insisted on staying in the tree nearest to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a clear view up into the canopy, to find a nest, but it would make sense of the defensive behaviour. I will keep an eye out for fledglings in the coming weeks.

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