Monday, May 20, 2013

A lucky find

The white clover (Trifolium repens) is doing well again this year and, while surveying the plant yesterday, I discovered one four-leaved version.


Four-leaved clovers have been an acknowledged bringer of good luck across much of Europe, and now America, for a very long time.  Written references date back almost to the 14th century so it is likely that its powers were acknowledged long before that.

The reason seems to be that the quatrefoil more closely resembles a cross, than the normal trefoil version (on the left of the picture above).  Indeed, many Celtic crosses have four arms arranged in a similar way to the quatrefoil.  Perhaps this is also a reflection of the fact that St Patrick is reputed to have explained the Holy Trinity, the Three in One and One in Three, by reference to the normal three-leaved clover indicating that the four-leaved version also had a special significance.

The four-leaved variant is thought to be caused by genetic or chemical disturbance (what else could it be - physical damage perhaps?)

It is difficult to say how abundant four-leaved clovers are in any particular area.  If people spend time looking for them in areas where clover is common they usually seem to find a few, but part of their mystique obviously derives from their relative scarcity.  So far as the window box is concerned, I have only found this first one ever among the several hundred leaves currently present.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Minim ants

For the last week or so there have been a few small, dark ants running about on the rim of the window box and scrambling about in the sallow coppice.

20130518 WBX Lasius niger minim 1

Through many iterations in different books and web sites they persistently ran down to the very common Lasius niger, variously known as the black ant, the black garden ant, the small black ant etc.

The trouble was all the examples I saw were half to three quarters the size of L. niger, with which I am very familiar from elsewhere in the garden.

An enquiry on the Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society discussion group quickly produced an undoubtedly correct explanation from Mike Fox.  He wrote "What you are probably looking at here are 'minims'. These are first, or at least early, generation workers from a new colony. It is likely that a new queen of Lasius niger, after mating during last years nuptial flight, has spent the winter in your window box and has, this spring, started a new colony. Her first batch of workers will be much smaller than normal and once the colony becomes properly established normal size workers will be produced."

Apparently it helps a colony to increase more rapidly in size and become firmly established if there are a larger numbers of small workers initially, rather than a smaller number of large ones.

I found these minims enjoyed a drop of golden syrup painted on one of the sallow stalks - makes them easier to photograph too.

20130518 WBX Lasius niger minim

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Epiphragma emerges

I was studying the window box yesterday evening and noticed a small bump on the top of the sallow log.

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 01

I thought this might be a deposit left by a passing bird but, on closer inspection it seemed to be the head of an insect.

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 02

The creature continued to grow like toothpaste extruding from a tube.  At first I thought it might be a moth.

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 04

Having reached its full extent, it tilted backwards and pulled its long legs out indicating that it was a small cranefly (Limoniidae).

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 06

Once its legs were free it removed its rear end from the pupal exuvia and strode delicately across the top of the log .

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 07

It proceeded down the side and turned round and hung by its legs to continue the metamorphosis.

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 08

When the wings had expanded, the fly could be identified as Epiphragma ocellare, a quite common woodland species known to spend its early stages feeding in various kinds of dead wood.

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 09

I took one last picture as the light faded.  The insect was still not fully developed but he had folded his wings into their normal resting position and was beautifully camouflaged against the mossy bark.

20130515 WBX Epiphragma 10

This morning he had, of course, gone and I wish him well.  As always when witnessing something like this I remain astonished at the complexity of insect metamorphosis and the way in which it proceeds with such unerring precision.