Some Difficult Specimens

June 11, 2021

Yesterday was pretty wet and windy but in a short dry interlude I walked a stretch of the nearby Arish Burn. One plant of Angelica sylvestris (Wild Angelica) was covered in a downy mildew which I didn’t expect to identify but it turns out that it was not difficult. It is Plasmopara angelicae, descibed by Ray Woods as “widespread but not at all common”.

Plasmopara angelicae on Angelica sylvestris

The day before, I found this little barkfly in the garden. It is a Mesopsocus sp. and I have sent it away for expert determination.

Mesopsocus sp

And before that, on Ben Chracaig near Portree, I spotted several items whose identity may never be resolved. This fungus on Rosa caesia subsp. vosagiaca (Glaucous Dog-rose) is probably Phragmidium mucronatum or P. tuberculatum: but even microscopically they are tricky to tell apart.

Phragmidium tuberculatum/mucronatum

This mine on Teucrium scorodonia (Wood Sage) is caused by a beetle of the genus Apteropeda. However, the larva had gone and it could be A. globosa or A. orbiculata as both use this plant as host. According to bladmineerders re the former “As far as known neither mine nor larva can be discriminated from that of related species. A. globosa is much less polyphagous than orbiculata” but Teucrium is a known host.

Mine on Teucrium scorodonia

And finally, the jury is out on what causes this on Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed). I shall go back and open up one of the “galls” if that is what they are, and see what I can see.

Centaurea nigra “galls”

Early June

June 9, 2021

A trip up Beinn Edra with Neil, Seth and two of his friends allowed us to show them, and refresh records for, Epilobium alsinifolium (Chickweed Willowherb), Gnaphalium supinum (Dwarf Cudweed), Juncus triglumis (Three-flowered Rush), Koenigia islandica (Iceland-purslane), Salix herbacea (Dwarf Willow) and Sibbaldia procumbens (Sibbaldia).

Steve has been productive in the Broadford area with the first vice-county record of Buddleja globosa (Orange-ball-tree) and the second for Ornithogalum umbellatum (Star-of-Bethlehem), while Seth has the third VC record for Viola x wittrockiana (Garden Pansy).

Neil, Debbie and I went to investigate the clumping of leaves on Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) in a garden at Dunan, but this was inconclusive, so we walked a stretch of the Broadford River. We found second VC records for Euphorbia griffithii (Griffith’s Spurge) and Rodgersia podophylla (Rodgersia). The previous records for both are near Armadale Castle and both are grown within those grounds. There are lots of garden escapes/throw-outs/planted species between the Broadford River and the road including at least one I must go back for when it is in flower.

Back in April I collected a sample of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry) where some leaves had been spun together and a few days ago I discovered that I have successfully reared Argyroploce arbutella (Bearberry Marble). The only previous record in the vice-county was from 1937, which I dug out of the literature a couple of years ago and sent to the County Moth Recorder. Like this one, that was from Raasay, though over 9 km away to the south.

I also have a determination for a Long-horn Moth from the garden in May: Nematopogon schwarziellus (Sandy Long-horn), a first for the vice-county. The arrow shows the pale tornal spot typical of schwarziellus.

Nematopogon schwarziellus (Sandy Long-horn)
Nematopogon schwarziellus (Sandy Long-horn)

As ever, I am grateful to Nigel Richards for identifying micro-moths for me.

Actually, Make that Six

June 2, 2021

I had another look at images of this moth from the same period as those shown in my last post:

Udea decrepitalis

I realised it looked like Udea decrepitalis (Scotch Pearl) and this was confirmed by Mark Young. Another local rarity!

Five New Moths

May 30, 2021

In the past couple of days I have found five moths that I have not knowingly seen before. All were on Raasay but only one here at home to add to my list of West Suisnish moths.

The Clouded Silver came to light at home and the Striped Twin-spot Carpet to light when I took my trap to Leac. The other three were caught on the way to or from putting the trap out. Both the Clouded Silver and the Small Argent and Sable are pretty rare locally. There are not that many records for Striped Twin-spot Carpet or Heather Groundling either, but at least in the latter case this is probably down to under-recording – it is small and fast moving and found on the moor.

Mid-May

May 23, 2021

It is still cold so plants are late in flowering and insects on the wing are few in number much of the time. However, it has still been possible to find interesting things…..

A single leaf of Dryas octopetala (Mountain Avens) from Gualann na Leac on Raasay had a gall and leaf spots.

Dryas gall and leafspot

The leafspots are caused by the fungus Isothea rhytismoides but the gall causer is less certain. Following the key on Plant Parasites of Europe leads one to the chytrid Synchytrium cupulatum but a paper on nematode infections of Dryas in Perthshire has some similar looking galls caused by nematodes:

Nematode galls on Dryas

I shall have to go and get the leaf and dig into the gall.

New 10 km square records have been made for Hedera hibernica (Atlantic Ivy), Hyacinthoides x massartiana (Hybrid Bluebell), Prunus avium (Wild Cherry or Gean) and, by David H, Scutellaria galericulata (Skullcap).

I seem to have an aphids day yesterday. Following a lead from Murdo of HBRG I went to check for aphids on Viburnum opulus (Guelder-rose). He had found the aphid Ceruraphis eriophor at Strathpeffer and noticed that there was only one dot on the NBN Atlas for this species. I have often registered that on Skye V. opulus is infested with aphids and indeed the first plant I looked at had these on it (awaiting final confirmation). Later: Confirmed

Ceruraphis eriophor on Viburnum opulus

Meanwhile, Neil had spotted some clumping of leaves on Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) in a garden at Dunan.

I suspect that this is caused by maple leaf-nest aphid Mimeuria ulmiphila, a taxon that appears on NBN but with no records. Someone is going to have to knock on the door and say “Please can we get a ladder to look at your rare aphids?”. Hope that goes well.

Elsewhere, this leaf spot on Epilobium montanum (Broad-leaved Willowherb) appears to be Venturia maculiformis which is probably common but if so, very under-recorded.

Venturia maculiformis on Epilobium montanum

I have converted my moth trap so that it can be battery-operated.

Moth trap at Brae, Raasay

Its first outing at Brae produced several moths I haven’t seen yet this year at home such as Early Thorn:

Early Thorn

Without the aid of a trap, I found a nice Scalloped Hook-tip at Fearns:

Scalloped Hook=tip

Dance Flies and Missing Moths

May 5, 2021

On Skye last week I spotted some impressive flies which turn out to be Empis borealis, a species of Dance Fly or Dagger Fly. Thanks to Tony and Seth for i.d. This particular species of fly exhibits sex-role reversal in its mating process, with female flies aggregating in swarms to compete for male choice. Female fly swarms change their flying behaviour in the presence of males, who present nuptial gifts to females before mating. The name Dagger Fly comes from the long downward-pointing probosis used for spearing other insects.

Empis borealis

Prior to this year Pammene giganteana (Early Oak Piercer) was known in Scotland from just four VC’s and a handful of records. However, it is known that it comes to lures for Grapholita molesta (MOL), Grapholita lobarzewskii (SKI) and Grapholita funebrana (FUN).  Use of these lures has resulted in many new records in England and southern Scotland.

The larvae feed on spongy oak galls but oak trees are scarce on Raasay. There are a few near Eyre and some near Dun Borodale and in both places I have had a go with a MOL lure. The weather has been irritatingly cold, only reaching 6 or 7 C most days – the absolute minimum for these micromoths to fly, and I have not succeeded. Maybe next year I will try in Sleat where there is a lot more oak.

Lure on oak at Eyre

Late April – Insects

May 1, 2021

Micromoths have continued to provide interest though it has turned cold in recent days which is limiting what’s about -not just in terms of micromoths. This one is Philedonides lunana (Heath Twist), not a rare moth but one with very few records locally. I spotted two in the Manish area of Raasay.

Philedonides lunana (Heath Twist)

More interesting was this little female Heringocrania (Eriocrania) unimaculella (White-spot Purple) with a forewing length of just 5 mm found near Kinloch on Skye

Heringocrania (Eriocrania) unimaculella (White-spot Purple)

As ever I am grateful to NIgel Richards for i.d.s.

I have a variety of larvae that I am trying to rear so that their identification can be confirmed. My Bucculatrix nigricomella is now a pupa, so I wait with bated breath for this rather smart little moth to emerge.

I have been checking numerous stands of Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry) on Raasay and Skye in the hope of finding lepidopterous leaf mines, but with no luck so far.

Butterflies seen so far this year are Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green-veined White and Green Hairstreak.

Green Hairstreak

I spotted a Common Groundhopper and a Common Green Grasshopper nymph at Fearns on Raasay, the former being something I have seen very rarely hereabouts.

Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata)

I also have a number of bugs that I hope to get help with e.g.:

Bugs from Kinloch

Mid-April

April 19, 2021

Last time I said I would write a separate entry about spiders, but I realise that I have already covered two of the three recent interesting finds. The third may be Philodromus emarginatus which would be an excellent record for the west coast of Scotland. However, it was immature when captured and so I have been rearing it. It has moulted once but is still not mature enough for a definitive i.d.

Philodromus emarginatus maybe

Some shore-work with two grandsons led to two useful fish records, Eelpout (Zoarces viviparus) which is unusual in producing live young, and Shore Rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus). Both, but particularly the latter, are very useful additions to the local marine list.

Whilst on the shore we found a number of small flatworms that are probably Procerodes littoralis, which according to MARLIN: “Unlike similar species….moves like a leech when disturbed, rather than moving smoothly”. I actually thought they were leeches initially, but that didn’t seem likely in a salty pool at the top of the shore.

Procerodes littoralis Probably

Some interesting micromoth larvae have turned up – probable Eupoecilia angustana f. fasciella (Marbled Conch) swept off heather (Calluna vulgaris) and almost definitely Stictea mygindiana (Cowberry Marble) mines and larvae on Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). The former has very few records locally; the latter is new to the vice-county. I am trying to rear adults from both.

This springtail may be Tomocerus sp. and this water cricket is Velia caprai:

Velia caprai is quite common on Skye & Raasay but the other species known in the Highlands, Velia saulii, has no records on NBN for this area. This picture from Bernard Nau’s draft Keys to Aquatic & Semi-aquatic Heteroptera shows how to tell them apart easily enough.

Thanks are due to Nigel Richards, Seth Gibson and Stephen Morean for help with identifications.

Early April

April 8, 2021

This sort of weather is not very conducive to field work.

However, some things are afoot. Through the Skye Naturalists’ Network on Facebook and with the help of Skye Gardening Society, I have had a number of people locating and inspecting Quercus ilex (Evergreen/Holm/Holly Oak) and Pyracantha coccinea in the hope of finding leaf mines caused by moth larvae.

The firethorn leaf miner Phyllonorycter leucographella invaded the UK 30 or so years ago and has spread north rapidly. It is found up to the Highlands but there are still vice-counties where it hasn’t reached or hasn’t been noticed, such as ours.  It makes rather silvery blister mines on the upperside of Pyracantha (Firethorn) leaves and no other species is known to use this foodplant.

The European oak leaf-miner or Zeller’s midget Phyllonorycter messaniella makes blister mines on oak leaves (and also on beech).  Unfortunately, on our native oaks, there are a number of other Phyllonorycter species that can be confusing, but P. messaniella is a specialist species on the evergreen oak, Quercus ilex.  On Q. ilex in Scotland, this is the only Phyllonorycter mine to be found. 

It turns out that both host species are pretty rare on Skye/Raasay and so far no mines have been found.

Gall on gall:

This is Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia (Rusty Sallow/Willow). I think the rosette, which is a common gall locally, is caused by a dipteran of the Rabdophaga strobilina/rosaria agg. However, there is another gall on the leaf midrib, upper surface, which is probably caused by a sawfly – Euura pedunculi or similar. The divisions shown are millimetres.

I have sent away a couple of stoneflies and Seth is kindly looking at a scuttle fly for me using a new key to the genus Triphleba provided by Henry Disney at Cambridge who is “King of Scuttle Flies”. Henry says this is the right genus and sent the key. Even then, quite a few of the outcomes are “possibly the unknown (fe)male of…..” so Good Luck Seth.

Scuttle Fly

I will write a separate entry about spiders.

On the plant side, I have found a large colony of Tussilago farfara (Colt’s-foot) on disturbed ground not very far from home. There really isn’t very much of this on Raasay:

The resin glands on Abies alba (European Silver-fir) are apparent at the moment and contain a rich red resin.

Moth News

March 24, 2021

At Nigel’s suggestion I went and had a look at young leaves of Leucanthemum vulgare (Oxeye Daisy) and successfully completed my mission by finding the larva of the micro-moth Bucculatrix nigricomella, sometimes given the name Daisy Bent-wing.

This is new to the vice-county. Map from eastscotland-butterflies:

The next day I found this chap flitting about in the conservatory:

Depressaria daucella

Sometimes known as Dingy Flat-body (poor thing), I found larvae last year on Oenanthe crocata (Hemlock Water-dropwort) on the shore just along from the house:

Depressaria daucella larva on Oenothera crocata

However, the adult marks the 200th species of adult moth I have recorded here at West Suisnish.