Well it’s been another case of “nearly, not quite” in the furiously competitive world of wildlife photography this year…
My image of a red fox cub in car headlights (above) was shortlisted in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in the ‘Creative’ category, but progressed no further.
Driving home one night I encountered 3 cubs gamboling about in a narrow country lane without a care in the world. They were oblivious to the sound of car engines and headlights. I hope they survived to adulthood.
As any technically-fastidious wildlife photographer will tell you the term ‘creative’ is reserved for blurry, out-of-focus images, and this effort on my part made no attempt to challenge that prejudice!
In the domestic British Wildlife Photography Awards this year my image of a glow worm displaying against leaf litter was shortlisted in the ‘Hidden Britain’ category.
Glow worm (Lampyris noctiluca) displaying against leaf litter
Photographing glow worms is quite an adventure, and a frequently frustrating one, as my earlier blog post on the subject explains.
How short is ‘short’?
The BWPA shortlist comprises around 300 images we were informed, so the shortlist is not especially exclusive it seems! Winners have yet to be announced.
The sand digger wasp (Ammophila sabulosa) paralyses its prey
We encountered another variety of sand digger wasp on the heath recently – this time Ammophila sabulosa, which uses caterpillars to feed its larvae.
Sand digger wasps’ prey may be 10 times heavier than the wasp itself
Similarly to the spider-hunting wasp (Anoplius viaticus) it paralyses its victim with venom from its sting and buries it in a nest burrow. The caterpillar remains paralysed until the wasp larvae hatch out and eat it alive!
Female sand digger wasps excavate a short burrow in sand
The entire nest cycle from site location, through excavation and provisioning, to finally sealing the burrow, takes 8-10 hours to complete.
Many wasps have ingenious parasitic strategies, as these earlier blog posts illustrate:
The puss moth caterpillar’s ‘eyes’ are only for display
A colleague working for Surrey Wildlife Trust kindly guided me to the location of this wonderful puss moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) yesterday. A pair of them were contentedly grazing on aspen leaves.
Puss moth larvae feed on poplar, willow, or here on aspen
In adult form the furry grey and white moth flies at night between the months of May and July. The larval form looks much more exotic. The gawdy pink ring around its face gives the puss moth a very distinctive appearance.
Head end of puss moth caterpillar
If disturbed the puss moth caterpillar extends two whip-like appendages from its tail end and flails them around to deter attackers. It’s a bizarre and unexpected thing to witness.
Puss moth caterpillar with extended ‘tails’
‘Tail’ detail of puss moth larva
It also has the ability to squirt formic acid from its thorax if further provoked, but I didn’t try that!
Shortly before pupation the caterpillar will change to a fetching shade of orange, and then again to purple.
It spins a cocoon of silk around itself and uses bits of tree bark as camouflage to stay hidden for the winter. The resulting cocoon is one of the strongest constructed by any UK moth.
I will have to return to see if I can find it in its various rainbow stages of development.
The team at BBC’s ‘Springwatch Unsprung’ programme used a sequence of my photos to illustrate the intriguing behaviour of the spider-hunting wasp, Anoplius viaticus.
This solitary wasp targets spiders, which it paralyses with venom and then hauls back to its subterranean nest burrow. Once wrestled inside the female wasp will lay its eggs on the spider’s body for its larvae to eat when they hatch.
Bug expert Nick Baker explained that this species stores its prey before excavating the burrow and so the unattended spider often becomes the victim of a tug-of-war between Anoplius viaticus and other opportunistic wasps and ants.
Chris, Nick, Michaela, Martin and the Springwatch gang
Natural history superstar Mr. Chris Packham then related the curious fact that one of his first ever TV assignments was to film this invertebrate behaviour on nearby Studland Beach – this being made all the more awkward because it’s also frequented by enthusiastic naturists! Happily this particular site was a safe distance to the north on the peninsula. 🙂