Fly of the day: Conopid fly

Conopid fly - Physocephala rufipesThe park is looking rather brown after all the recent sun. There are very few flowers apart from yarrow and a scattering of mallow, and the last remnants of thistles have seeded and spewing fluffy spores all over the place. The brambles are heavy with fruit and the hawthorn berries are slowly ripening a deep red colour. But there is a flash of yellow that stands out in the middle of all the brown – ragwort. Its only a small patch, just nine plants, and it is a feast of pollen for flies and bees.

The conopid fly is a regular visitor to this patch. It’s more commonly known as a thick-headed fly and is rather ugly looking. It is a parasitic fly and lays its eggs in bees and wasps. This one – Physocephala rufipes – parasites bumblebeesThe eggs are often inserted by the female fly between the bumblebees’s body segments while in flight, and they hatch out soon afterwards. The larvae eat the bee from the inside.

Peckham leafhopper nymphs

Halfway through the first year of my survey I photographed a leafhopper. As I didn’t know what it was I posted it on Flickr. An excited entomologist, Tristan Bantock, got back to me to say it looked like Orientus ishidae, the first sighting of this species of leafhopper in the UK. It originated in Japan and had made its way to Germany and had been expected to arrive at some point in the UK. He was somewhat astounded that it could be living in Warwick Gardens. My first reaction was “blimey”. I really wasn’t expecting to find something this momentous in my little park. Tristan arranged to visit the park where we found another specimen which he took away to formally identify. The find caused a stir in the leafhopper community and the next two weeks saw a flurry of entomologists visiting the park with sweepnets much to the amusement of the park users. It was even reported in Southwark News – I felt proud I had put Peckham on the entomological map.

Orientus ishidae is a beautiful looking leafhopper with an orange mosaic pattern on the wings. It has now been given the common name Mosaic leafhopper. The railway line that runs along the other side of the park is a possible explanation of how it landed in Peckham, having been swept in by the passing trains. I found a couple more in the following weeks sitting on the lilac. But we didn’t know what the host plant was – what it was feeding on.

Two years later and I am deep amongst the bushes looking for Parent bugs on the birch catkins. Having got used to spying really tiny insects, a strange little dot on the underside of a birch leaf caught my eye. A few snaps with my camera revealed a rather funky looking creature with a red striped body and pink knees. I had a sneaking suspicion I had found the Orientus ishidae nymph. It was cocky – raising itself on its legs and swaying from side to side and squirting a clear liquid from its abdomen in defiance at being disturbed. It was so cute. I fell in love! An email to the leafhopper community confirmed the ID. My leafhopper is breeding and happily living in Peckham. And it looks like we have established it is feeding on birch. I visit them everyday to check they are doing ok and notice they change colour as they grow older – moving from a deep red to a sandy colour but with the same distinguishing markings. Exciting!

Peckham Moth Night #1

Of all the insects I have photographed in Warwick Gardens moths have been sadly lacking in my species count. Most moths are nocturnal. I have photographed daytime fliers –  everything from grass moths, clearwings and the ubiquitous Jersey Tiger moth. I needed to sit in the park at night time with a light which somewhat scared me in the middle of Peckham. The solution was to hold a social event – I advertised a Moth Night. So with help from my friends Lou, who came along with lights and a structure to hold a white sheet, and Simon who allowed a long extension lead from his kitchen, we hunkered down with a crate of beer, some books on moths and a camera, and waited for the skies to darken. The turnout was surprising… about 20 of us humans enjoying a balmy evening, sitting on the logs drinking beer and staring at a white sheet waiting to see what arrived. We initially got the lighting wrong and replaced the white lights with a light used for screen printing. Then all hell broke loose – we were bombarded with everything! Bugs, ladybirds, mosquitoes, flies…. and some moths. The moths were mainly small and spectacularly brown, except for the beautiful yellow Brimstone moth. It was hilarious watching everyone scrabble around trying to catch them in jars. Thanks to Mike, who knew something about moths, we were able to identify a few of our finds and I was adding to my species count. We were also visited by a rather gorgeous leafhopper Ledra aurita, which was so bizarre to look at it had us all laughing, and a funky Acorn weevil popped by to bask in the light. And just as we were packing up at midnight a lovely Broad-bordered yellow underwing landed. Moths rock!

We all had a great time. We all learned something new and we all want to do it again. Peckham Moth Night #2 will happen in September.

Photos from the night can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pennymetal/sets/72157634898865081/