Amourobius ferox

Amourobius ferox
By Peter Byles

Monday, 14 May 2018

Tree Wasp nest Dolichovespula sylvestris 12 5 2018 near Witch's Cauldron

Today a friend who lives near The Witch's Cauldron brought me this
exquisite little wasp's nest. It was hanging like a bell from the lintel of
a garden shed door frame.

 It is incredibly light and fragile and only about an inch across. As you
can see the outer casing is made up of three concentric 'bells' with an air
space between them. Excellent insulation design. It seems that the first
three hexagonal cells in the centre were constructed first. This left each
cell with three outer walls which were shared by the next ring of nine
hexagonal cells.

  From what I've looked up about Tree Wasps they have a short life cycle
which is all over by early summer except for queens hibernating and starting
a new nest the following year. I think this nest was only half built and
would have become more round in shape with a little hole in the base.

   Peter Byles.

Monday, 7 May 2018

A 'Lek' of Speckled Woods.

 A 'Lek' of Speckled Woods.
 Between the showers I found a woodland clearing sheltered from the wind.
There were 5 Speckled Woods. A nice pristine female stayed in one spot while
4 males tumbled about in the air fighting it out. They mobbed a Meadow Brown
that appeared. One of them settled beside the female, but she obviously
wasn't impressd. She just sat there. I hoped she would lead him up to the
top of this little oak tree and mate. I waited and waited. Then my dog came
sniffing along and put them both up. Oh well.
   Peter Byles.

Wasp Nest

Back in the summer a neighbour was unable to dead-head her roses as a large
wasp nest had been constructed right in the middle of this rose bush. The
guard wasps would buzz her threateningly if she started snipping near the
nest. Otherwise they were no trouble, so they were left in peace. A few days
ago I was told that all activity had stopped and I could come and dissect
the nest.

What a wondrous design and what a feat of engineering. It was almost rugby
ball in size and shape. The lower end was more pointed ( to allow the Welsh
rain to drip off?) The radiating twigs of the rose bush were integrated. The
whole thing was as light as a feather (not a very scientific measurement).

The outer casing was made of thousands of small pieces of thin wood-pulp
paper stuck together like papier-mache. The wasps' home would have a very
high score for insulation properties. Inside there were 5 horizontal shelves
of brood comb, also made of wood-pulp paper. The hexagonal cells were not
quite as crisp and geometric as those of the honeybee, but then the material
is different. Some of the cells were much larger and would have housed the
larvae of a lot of new queen wasps.

What I'd like to know is how this all started back in the spring. The
queen would have been fertilised last autumn. She would have spent the
winter somewhere snug, such as my neighbour's garage. She would have looked
for a suitable spot, an attic, a vacant rabbit hole, a hollow tree or even a
rose bush. She would have thought 'Ha. This should do.' Somehow, on her own
she would have started building a nest and rearing larvae. Later there would
be a workforce to make the thing bigger and bigger.

It would be a good Ph D project for a biology or engineering graduate to
study what happens. Time-lapse photography might be useful.
Most of the info on Google is concerned with zapping wasps.

Peter Byles.

Tree Damsel Bug

This must be a creature from Hell if you are an aphid.

Peter Byles

Monday, 30 April 2018

Lurking crab spider.

Here is something I came across on Saturday at Poppit.

Dandelions are a good source of nectar this time of the year. I can't see
too well at the moment, so, if I spot something, I creep up with the camera
and shoot.

I was given a wonderful, but expensive book on British Spiders for
Christmas. This spider was a dead match for Xysticus cristatus,  though the
book says one has to examine its genitalia under a microscope to properly
identify it ( and I don't think it would really enjoy that). They are common
and widespread. Instead of making webs this group of spiders lurk (like
villains in a dark alley) and ambush their prey.

Peter Byles

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Reptiles coming out of hibernation at last

It is not often with wildlife that one sets out with a particular quarry in
mind and then actually nails it. This morning my dog and I went out onto our
headland specifically to look for basking adders. One has to walk in a
peculiar way, placing the feet silently so as to cause no vibrations. The
stalking dog does this naturally. In a clearing in the bracken and gorse at
the tip of the promontory there was the snake we were hoping to find. The
dog, who has a respect for adders gave it a wide berth, and I was able to
get close enough to snap it before it slowly slithered away under a gorse
bush. We also came across a Common Lizard.

Peter Byles, Ceibwr.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Spinning her magic

One of the best things about spiders at this time of the year is that they
have grown to a decent size. Even a bumbling old amateur naturalist can
point a digital camera in the right direction and try to work out how they
do things. If one is stealthy she will carry on weaving her web.

Her eight feet move from string to string with the nimbleness of a concert
pianist. It is like watching someone knitting at speed. She has already laid
down the 'warp' like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. The web is on a 45
degree slope and she is hanging on the underside with her eight feet. She
moves around in a clockwise direction paying out silk from her spinneret and
spot-welding this 'weft' to each of the radial spokes. She does this at
speed and, as far as I can see, blindly. Her eyes are on the front of her
head and she can't see her bottom.( Neither can we, thank goodness).

It seems that her rear pair of feet do a lot of the steadying and
positioning  of the warp threads so the spinneret hits the right spot.

The more one looks at things like this, the more questions one asks
oneself. How, for goodness sake, do an orb spider's delicate- looking feet
cling to the web so deftly? One false move and those incredibly spiny legs
will surely become fatally entangled. Well, look no further than Google.
Amongst all the stuff about spider bites etc. I eventually found an
excellent article by an Australian describing these special hook-like claws,
one to each foot, that are used to lock on to the silk threads. Question

Peter Byles

Monday, 11 September 2017

Manx shearwater chicks - a battle for survival!

These strong westerly winds that have been hitting the Pembrokeshire coast over the past week are a serious problem for this years Manx shearwater chicks who need to fledge from Skomer Island and head off out on their migration to South America. I was on the island last week and saw several bodies in the water at the Garland Stone.

Some youngsters were coming out in the open during daylight hours so strong was their desire to leave making them vulnerable to the large flocks of ravens that visit the island at this time of the year to benefit from the easy pickings that the chicks provide.

A report on the news tonight is that the RSPCA are collecting large numbers of birds that are washing up on Newgale beach today. Conditions will hopefully improve for them later in the week when the winds are forecast to change to a northerly direction.

Sunday, 10 September 2017


Years ago I was walking with some naturalists and spotted what could have
been an otter's spraint on a tussock near the marshes' edge. A mammalian
expert instantly got down on her knees and shoved her nose in it and
sniffed. 'No, I think a teen-ager had some chips and then too much lager.'
Was her verdict.

This offering is quite obvious. Fox, badger and various lovely dogs we've
had all go for blackberries this time of the year. This fox dropping is
about three times the size of one containing residues of Field Voles and
things. It appears that virtually no digestion has occurred. Where the
plastic came from is anybody's guess.

    Peter Byles

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Noisy Brats!

Noisy Brats

 This is the time of the year that Mr and Mrs Chough have a bit of a rest
from their demanding brats and leave them to jolly well look for their own
food. The juveniles persist in making this continual high-pitched squeaking
noise and making begging gestures with their wings. They are almost as
annoying as badly controlled kids in a supermarket. I hope they soon learn
where all the juicy invertebrates live.

  Peter Byles.