Spider hunting wasp with spider

Spider hunting wasp with paralysed arachnid prey

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.

BBC Springwatch studio broadcast

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. 🙂

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Hornet cleaning leg

Male hornet cleaning its front legs.

The hornet (Vespa crabro) is Britain’s largest wasp species.

They prey on other wasps, honey bees, flies, butterflies, moths and spiders.

Hornet predating solitary wasp

Hornet disassembles solitary wasp prey

Saplings are ring-barked to encourage sap flow, which is then collected.

Hornets drinking birch sap

Hornets drinking sap from stripped birch sapling.

Nests are usually in aerial situations, particularly inside hollow trees, but also in attics and outhouses.

Hornets returning to nest

Hornets entering and exiting nest in trunk of hollow pine tree (composite)

Hornets' nest

Abandoned hornets’ nest in outside toilet.

Despite their fearsome reputation hornets are actually remarkably docile creatures and I found them much less intimidating to photograph than their common wasp (“yellow jacket”) relatives.

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Buglife: Glow Worm Survey

Buglife are using my image in their postcard campaign to publicise a glow worm survey in Scotland this summer:

Glow worm postcard

Scottish Glow Worm Survey postcard

Glow worms are widely distributed in the UK, with records from the south of England up to the north of Scotland, but there have been very few Scottish records in recent years.

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Dorset Life: Hunters

A selection of my images illustrates an article about predatory animals and plants in the May edition of Dorset Life magazine, out this month.

Dorset Life magazine

Dorset Life: Dorset Hunters. Double spread I

Dorset Life magazine

Dorset Life: Dorset Hunters. Double spread II

Featured flora and fauna include: the kestrel, adder, red fox, otter, sundew, kingfisher and hornet robberfly. Words by Joël Lacey.

Available now at all good newsagents and supermarkets in the Dorset area!

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Adder Ecdysis

Complete adder skin

Complete sloughed skin of adder (Vipera berus)

Periodically snakes and other animals shed their entire skins, in a process known as ecdysis (or sloughing, or moulting).

Moulting takes up to 14 days to complete. The inner surface of the old skin liquefies, which causes it to separate from the new skin beneath it. By rubbing its skin on hard objects the end nearest the head begins to peel back on itself, until the snake is able to crawl out of its skin, turning it inside-out like a sock.

Head of adder skin

Head end of moulted adder skin

The ocular scale, or ‘brille’, is discarded along with the rest of the skin. This is essential for maintaining the snake’s quality of vision.

Ocular scale of adder

Adder skin showing ocular scale detail

The visually striking process of renewal exhibited by these animals is one reason why serpents have historically been symbolic of healing and medicine in our culture.

Adder skin

Adder skin with side illumination

Snake skin is formed from the remarkably adaptable substance keratin. Some of its properties are best appreciated in close-up:

Adder skin closeup

Backlit adder skin detail

Underside of adder skin

Underside of adder skin showing transparent keratin scales

This particular skin was found on heathland, woven in amongst some dried grasses. We later stumbled across a stunning, newly sloughed, caramel-coloured female sunning herself nearby.

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Butterfly Conservation Moth Report

Butterfly Conservation: Moth Report 2013

Butterfly Conservation: Moth Report 2013

Butterfly Conservation used my image of a nocturnal moth trapping event to illustrate their latest report:

Unsurprisingly the report concludes that UK moth numbers are in decline, documenting a 40% drop in total abundance in the south of England over the last 40 years.

On the bright side many more moth species have colonised Britain in recent decades than have become extinct.

This photograph was taken at a recent moth trapping event on Chatley Heath organised by Surrey Wildlife Trust. The original image below:

Moth Trap Assembly

Skinner Trap on Surrey heathland at night

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Suburban Oak

Suburban Oak

The ancient Crouch Oak in Addlestone, Surrey, UK

The Crouch Oak once marked the perimeter of Windsor Great Park and is thought to date from the 11th Century, making it in excess of 900 years old.

This ancient tree now looks a little incongruous as a modern residential estate has grown up around it.

Night Oak

The Crouch Oak at night with passing traffic

It’s interesting to compare depictions of this tree from the 19th Century and in 1904 as wooden fences are replaced with metal railings and a dusty track becomes a surfaced road. The oak also enjoyed an additional limb in those days.

In more recent times the Crouch Oak survived an arson attempt in 2007 and is now fitted with metal grilles across its hollow openings to prevent a repeat.

Oak Urban Effects I

Metal grille stops burning objects being thrown inside

To see the Crouch Oak for yourself follow the map below to the bend in Crouch Oak Lane:

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Dartford Warbler Winter

Dartford Warbler Snow Drift

Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) foraging on snow covered heathland

In the severe winter of 1962/63 the Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) was almost wiped out in Britain. The national population dropped to just 10 pairs.

But in good breeding seasons, and with suitable habitat, its numbers are capable of bouncing back, thanks to repeated nesting and high survival rates among its offspring.

On the Surrey lowland heaths Dartfords have been doing well, re-colonising Thursley Common last year for the first time since a devastating fire in 2006.

During the recent freezing winter weather I photographed this Dartford warbler foraging in the snow on Chobham Common:

Dartford Snow Flurry

Dartford Snow Dipper

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Bioluminescence 2014

The University of Uppsala in Sweden chose to use my image of a glow worm (Lampyris noctiluca) to promote their upcoming academic conference on bioluminescence and chemiluminescence to be held in 2014:

The 18th International Symposium on Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence

The original image below:

Glow worm

Glow Worm Rays

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year (NOT)

Raft spider hatchlings

My image of a nursery web of raft spiderlings (Dolomedes fimbriatus) was shortlisted in the ‘Behaviour: Cold-blooded Animals’ category of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 competition, run by London’s Natural History Museum, but failed to make it through to the final rounds.

It was fascinating to observe these tiny hatchlings at the edge of a boggy pond as they reacted in unison to potential threats, expanding and contracting in their protective ball.

It would have been interesting to understand a little more about the judging process involved in such a major competition, but feedback was sadly lacking.

Congratulations to The Winners.

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