More Leaf-Litter Lurkers

01st November 2012
I must admit to having developed something of an obsession with the underside of leaves. You may have read in recent Blog posts, about my recent interest in Collembola (springtails) and my attempts to photograph them. All that I've seen have been on the underside of fallen leaves. I've taken recently to always carrying a hand-lens with me and weather permitting, can be seen scrambling around in the leaf-litter looking for wildlife!

I've been pleased with what I've found. Left is a rather attractive psocid (barkfly), possibly Graphopsocus cruciatus. There are only around 100 recorded species in the UK and this species is widespread and common. This one shows the domed postclypeus (the area at the front of the head, above the mouth-parts) and the obvious "neck"; two of the characteristic features of psocids. They are good to photograph because they tend to run, rather than fly. They can run rather fast though!

My primary photographic interest is in our solitary bees and wasps. I really hadn't expected to find anything much in this category, but have been pleasantly surprised. One morning at the local churchyard, I picked up and examined a few (less than 10) random leaves. Two had parasitic wasps on them! The Parasitica is the most diverse of all Hymenopteran groups and includes ichneumons, braconids and chalcid wasps. There's a bewildering assortment of thousands of species and few "accessible" resources for the casual observer who wants to identify them. I went back with my camera and after a lot of chasing about, managed a shot of this small (3-4mm) wasp with a pleasant bronzey/green colouration. Insects that hide under leaves aren't too comfortable once exposed the daylight and these wasps provided just a few secods for photography, before flying off.

I posted the image on Flickr, iSpot and on the Natural History Museum forum. An iSpot contributor reckons that it's a chalcid wasp, in the Pteromalidae. If I get more information, I'll update the Blog post.

Ladybirds don't seem to have had a particularly good year this year. I remember seeing loads of over-wintering 7-spots (Coccinella 7-punctata) earlier in the year, but not much during the summer except harlequins (Harmonia axyridis). I was therefore quite surprised to find this lovely Orange Ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata).

It's the first time I've photographed this species, which has an overall bright yellow/orange colour (including the legs) and a translucent border to the wing casings and pronotum (the area between the head and wing casings). Typically is has 16 creamy white spots, but 12 and 14-spot varieties can occur. It is known to overwinter in leaf-litter.

For me, looking in new environments provides an opportunity for finding insects that I don't usually see and in some instances, know virtually nothing about. I assumed this leaf-litter dweller was a shieldbug. I was walking back from the postbox and checking fallen leaves (as you do), when I found it. I took the leaf back home to photograph and soon realised that this didn't look "right" for a shieldbug. Again, I posted the image on iSpot and soon got a suggestion; a leaf bug, possible Lygus pratensis.

Leaf bugs are included in the Miridae (Mirid Bugs). There are five species in the genus Lygus and according to the British Bugs website, they are very difficult to differentiate. Lets just say then that this is a Lygus Leaf Bug, a "new" type of insect for me and confirmation that scrabbling around in leaf-litter can be a worthwhile and rewarding exercise for the keen (obsessive!) insect photographer during the "off season".

[Click on any image for a larger version]

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