Fox moth cat wasp spider? (Purple haze)

August 17, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

It might appear from the title of this post that I have suddenly developed an incurable case of zoological tourettes.

Not so. You'll understand more if you take the time to read on...


Yesterday as Anna went to the school where she teaches biology (to see how her pupils had fared in their "A levels"), I dropped her off and had a wee walk around our local lowland boggy heath. Sadly I have missed the nightjars this year and the emperor moths, but I dont want to miss the annual pink bloom of heather nor the dragonflies - so I set off, cameras charged to see wat g'wan in the bog.

Heather and pine

I primarily had adders in mind as I tiptoed through the pink heather and pine cones - but saw none. Even lifting up the herpe homes (corrugated iron pieces scattered on the edge of the birch and bracken) provided a handful of slow worms - no grass snakes or adders anywhere (but I KNOW they're there somewhere!)

Fox moth caterpillars were around though. Easy to identify - large black hairy caterpillars with gold/orange coloures stripes and a grey fringe. They do like heather and I guess August is a good month to see them.

Whilst taking photographs (above) of the fox moth cat, I also spied the largest fly I've ever seen - so large at first I thought it was either a carpenter bee (those of you that have taken hot foreign holidays will know all about huge black carpenter bees!) or a huge bald, shiny queen bumblebee.

It was neither of course, it was in fact a huge Tachinid fly - the largest parasitic fly we have in Blighty by all accounts - double the size of a large blue bottle blowfly. It lays its eggs in the soft, yielding bodies of oak eggar moth caterpillars AND fox moth caterpillars - you can guess the rest (see photo and explanatory text under Saturday 25th July 2009 at this website).

The heather was beginning its late summer show in some style as I continued around the heath and as I was very careful about where and how I put my feet down - it wasn't long before I saw a wasp spider on a web made between clumps of shocking pink bell heather.

The wasp spider is one of the spiders in the world that incorporates stabilimenta in its web - now there's a word to remember for all you balderdash fans. Debate rages on as to the purpose of such web decorations - if you feel the urge to find out more - please read this!

There were odonates flitting over the peaty waters of course and a lovely large female sparrowhawk chasing an unfortunate young (speckled) green woodpecker across the sea of pink  - it was a real pleasure to spend a few hours on the heath, in the summer holidays - and see not a soul. Pretty well the only sounds I could hear were the indignant chats of the fledgling stonechat families, the odd green woodpecker yaffle (they love their heathland ants do the woodpeckers) and the crackle of the electricity pylons.

Purple haze




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