Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Streaked Golden Hog (Small Skipper)

Today was very much a butterfly day so I felt I had to blog about them. I'll do three species over the next three days starting with this little beauty: the unimaginatively named Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris. An older name for it was the Streaked Golden Hog, which has a certain charm. 
On closer inspection this is a male. The curved black sex-band on the forewing is just about visible on the right in close-up. 
There is an almost identical diminutive skipper: the Essex Skipper. The difference is that the latter has a black underside to the antennae tips rather than orangey. You won't find any skippers in Scotland.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lesser Hawkbit

This is Lesser Hawkbit, Leontodon taraxacoides. It is one of those tricky dandelion lookalikes that often grow in profusion. Telling your Hawkbits from your Hawkweeds from your Hawk's beards from your Cat's ears can be confusing. Certainly I still have to look them up each year after getting in a muddle.
Apparently they're called 'hawkbits' because of a medieval belief that hawks ate them to improve their eyesight. Silly medieval people!

Sunday, June 28, 2015


It's nearly time for one of my favourite free foods to become available: blackberries. Also known as brambles, the Latin binomial is Rubus fructicosa agg. because there are many microspecies in much the same way as for Taraxacum or dandelions. This is because of polyploidy and apomixis (as you know).
The study of brambles is called batology.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

White or Dutch Clover

This is Trifolium repens or White/Dutch clover. The 'trifolium' bit means 'three-leaved' and 'repens' means creeping (the stems are stoloniferous). It is common in lawns and verges where soil fertility is reasonably high (and therefore species variety is low). Bees visit for nectar so don't rush out to mow them all off.
Being a member of the pea family they also fix nitrogen in their root nodules.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Common Broomrape

This little curiosity appears most years on the front lawn. It is Orobanche minor or Common Broomrape. A parasite of various plants which lacks chlorophyll of its own. 
There's something orchidish about Broomrapes, which come in a variety of species each specialising in a particular host.

Stinking Iris

Another late-night entry! 
This is Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima. It is so named because its leaves, when crushed, apparently smell like 'beef'. 
The flowers are short-lived, but the bright red berries that are eventually revealed in the autumn when the large green pods split open, are probably better-known.
It is the other native iris, the other having been previously covered in the blog!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

False Oat-grass

Just spent a while keying this one out. There's a small stand of it down in the orchard towering majestically above the Ox-eye daisies and other grasses.
Yesterday I failed to ID it, but today, using the key from the grass ID workshop I went on the other week (courtesy of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, BSBI and Reading University) and my stereomicroscope, I got it.
I must say how much easier it is using the x20 setting on the microscope compared with a x10 hand lens. The colours and details of the glumes; the fact that the lower floret was male and the upper bisexual; the scabrous nature of the rachis and the twist in the lower lemma's awn were as plain as day. 
There really is a whole world of beauty beyond our visual limits and I can't recommend a stereomicroscope enough. You can pick up some really good ones on eBay for under £100.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


This is a juvenile slow-worm, Anguis fragilis, discovered relaxing under a flowerpot moved for mowing the lawn this weekend. 
Although snaky, it is of course a lizard without legs. (You can tell it's not a snake because it blinks.) 
It gives birth to live young and if attacked can break off its tail (autotomy) as an escape strategy. 
Apparently they are one of our longest-lived lizards, living up to thirty years in the wild and over fifty in captivity!
They are, like most of our wildlife, declining. Domestic cats are a major cause of mortality. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Brown rat

Rat in a Flowerbox by David Shankbone Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I wasn't fast enough to get my own picture but at the weekend I saw a brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, hopping about outside the kitchen. Once it caught sight of me it hopped back into the bushes and was gone. 
There are many myths about rats but it is true to say that after humans they are the most widespread mammals on earth. In part they owe this success to their co-dependence on humans. 
Amazingly they have a 95% 1 year mortality, but they make up for this by being able to reproduce when only five weeks old. They can have up to five litters of seven to fourteen per year! Also they are misnamed, not coming from Norway as John Berkenhout thought.
Rattus Norvegicus is of course better known by many as being the title of a great album by The Stranglers. I'd rather have the album in my house than the rat in my garden.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prickly Sow-thistle

This is Prickly Sow-thistle, Sonchus asper. It differs from its smooth cousin in having a shiny, darker green upper surface to its leaves. Also, the bases of the leaves have spectacular lobes which clasp the stem and curve downwards. 
The flowers look very similar to those of Smooth Sow-thistle and the two plants can be difficult to tell apart. To really get the i.d. bulletproof you can count the vascular bundles in the stem or get the achenes (seeds) under a microscope, but I don't suppose many people would consider such lengths necessary or worthwhile. 

Smooth Sow-thistle

Apologies for missing yesterday: another case of having all day to do it and then rushing to go out and getting back after midnight. However I have two nicely linked plants.
The first is this one, Sonchus oleraceus, or Smooth Sow-thistle. It's a common annual 'weed' with flower heads in a loose umbel resembling a cross between a dandelion and a thistle. The fruits are dispersed by the wind like thistledown. 
Although it looks prickly, it isn't, and the five-angled stems contain latex sap.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Elephant Hawkmoth

One of the high points of last weekend's wedding was, of course, David's recently restored moth trap. I'd never seen a moth trap before so had no idea what to expect. 
It appeared to be a good haul, with some beautiful moths, but the highlight was the single Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor
It's caterpillar is equally as spectacular and prefers Epilobium and Galium species to munch on (though also eats fuschias). 
There are of course lots more moths than butterflies so catching them in moth traps ("mothing") is a popular pastime amongst pan-species listers.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wild Mignonette

It'has been out for a couple of weeks now and beginning to peak. Wild Mignonette or Reseda lutea grows in any marginal or ruderal areas, especially in the south east and especially on chalk. Hence it's common round these parts. 
It is a native but Geoffrey makes no mention of it. It's big sister, Weld, gets all the plaudits. I shall try to find some and blog it later.
This was growing by the path as I walked back to my car after work and I couldn't resist a few snaps.   

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Red Valerian

Another quickie tonight as it's late (again). Had to catch up with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on BBC iPlayer. It is superb.
This is a plant pictured at the weekend in Somerset but found throughout southern Britain. It is slightly weedlike in behaviour but really a stunning species. Always worth looking out for hummingbird hawkmoths when you find it as they appear particularly drawn to it. It is Centranthus ruber or Red Valerian, and is distinguished from Common Valerian and Marsh Valerian by the spur found at the base of the corolla. 
Always a pleasure.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Wild Thyme

Wild thyme, Thymus polytrichus

Unfortunately I've no time to give any more details.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Maidenhair Spleenwort

Delicate lovely little fern growing in the lean-to Victorian glass house at Stourhead National Trust property. I think this is Asplenium trichomanes ssp quadrivalens but I'm prepared to be corrected.
I find ferns tricky. Perhaps I should go on a fern course. Certainly the grass course has mitigated the fear of that group. In fact I collected around fifteen different grasses, sedges and rushes down at the reserve during my WeBS count this morning. (Watch this space.) 

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Hounds-tongue or Cynoglossum officinale. Also from the lizard walk. This is a striking plant with lovely crimson flowers. 
Most flowers with 'officinale' in their Latin binomial were important to herbalists. There's a great quote from the Wikipedia page for Hound's-tongue: "Herbalists use the plant as a treatment for piles, lung diseases and persistent coughs.[4] Houndstongue ointment is said to cure baldness and be used for sores and ulcers.[4] These uses are not supported by scientific evidence."

Horseshoe Vetch


No post yesterday (another missed day!) as we were up early and off to our friends' wedding at a lovely venue in Somerset. We returned this evening and it's now late with a WeBS survey beckoning early tomorrow!
This was taken on the same walk that the lizard was spotted on. It's horseshoe vetch, Hippocrepis comosa. It is an important foodplant for the Chalkhill, Adonis and Silver-studded blue butterflies.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Small Copper

In the magnificent butterfly book (see list of useful books) by Thomas and Lewington it states that "The adult Small Copper is unmistakable, and almost too familiar to merit description." I wonder how many people in the UK would agree with that statement! Certainly I had to look it up when I got home.
Its Latin name is Lycaena phlaeas which I suspect I will forget quite quickly. They are very lively and getting a picture can apparently be a challenge. Given this was taken with my phone it's not too bad. 
It is part of the Lycaenidae family along with other coppers, the hairstreaks and the blues. The female lays her eggs almost exclusively on Common Sorrel and Sheep's Sorrel. The caterpillars eat very distinctive grooves out of the leaf blade.

Common Lizard


Got home from work after midnight so no post yesterday. Two today to make up the numbers. 
Luckily a perfectly timed stroll, meteorologically speaking, from the top of Devil's Dyke down to the Shepherd and Dog in Fulking provided plenty of subject matter.
Ian spotted this fine beastie trying to look inconspicuous in the short chalk grassland. I was able to get much closer than expected before he (or she?) made a dash for it.
Apparently now re-assigned to its own genus, Zootoca vivipara is the only reptile native to Ireland. They can live up to 11 years and only mature sexually at 2 or 3. 
Having sleuthed around I think this is a female; the males tend to be darker. Note how long the tail is: much longer than the body.
This is the first reptile on the blog! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yellow Rattle

I meant to post this with the other yellow flowers at the end of May but somehow it got missed. However, although I really ought to be posting another grass (current area of interest!) this fits in nicely.
It's growing in 'the orchard' where we've been encouraging meadowy plants. In the past a lot of chickens inhabited the area and deposited perhaps more nitrogen than is good for a diverse meadow. 
The solution, in part, was to introduce yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, which is hemiparasitic on the roots of neighbouring grasses, reducing their vigour. This increases competition and diversity. It took me three years to get them going, last year being the first, and I was anxiously surveying the sward for signs of return this year.
It's a member of the Orobanchaceae or broomrape family which all share some degree of parasitism. Some are wholly parasitical, having no chlorophyll of their own.
The key to propagation once established is to cut the meadow after July once the seeds have set. You then need to 'make hay' by laying the cut vegetation out and turning it as it dries, before removing it. 
This year I've tried to get birdsfoot trefoil to grow, apparently without success.   

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Crab spider

It's not the flower or the fly but the spider eating the fly on the flower that's the subject of today's post.
At first glance I only noticed the fly and thought the centre of the flower looked a little misshapen. Closer inspection revealed the grizzly truth.
This is a crab spider, Misumena vatia. They are commonly found hunting in flowers and can change their body colour and markings to improve their camouflage.