Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Fungal Mayhem

Uig Wood is currently absolutely brimming with Ramsons that are just starting to come into flower. As long as we don't get frosts or snow or any other stupid weather it should look amazing in about a week's time. The smell of garlic lays heavy in the gorge where the broad leaves have formed a huge dense carpet. Not a single square foot of soil is visible upstream of the weir, just brilliant!

I've already recorded the Ramsons Hoverfly Portevinia maculata, and I've found the Ramsons Rust Puccinia sessilis (which was a lifer for me) plus I've swept a couple of scatophagid flies from Ramsons leaves. I'm assuming these flies are somehow associated with the Ramsons as there are so many of them sitting on the leaves, often in sunlit patches but also in shaded areas, so they aren't just utilising the plants as basking sites. I'll get around to keying them through at some point. Also on the leaves were several of these weevils, sorry the pic is blurry - it looked alright on the back of the camera. Anyone care to save me many hours at the keys and 'scope and suggest a species?

At maybe a centimetre in length could this be the lesser of two weevils?
I've been looking out for another fungus associated with Ramsons and finally, after quite a lot of scanning of leaves, I found it. Not much to look at, in fact I wondered if it was just a damaged leaf at first, but through the 10x handlens I was happy that there was a fungal infection. Here's the leaf in question

Pretty manky looking huh? It's not much nicer up close either
I had a cunning plan which involved sealing the leaf in an airtight container for a couple of days to allow the fungus to spread and produce lots of lovely spores, hopefully allowing me to identify it. For once my plan worked, two days later and it looked like this

Check out that sexy fungal scuzz...
I chopped it up, added water, applied pressure to squeeze out the spores and whacked it all under the microscope, this is what I could see

Grey scuzz at 200x mag - weird or what?
And the spores, squeezed out for easy access!
Turns out to be just what I've been looking for, Botryotinia globosa which affects various members of the Allium (onion/garlic) family turning the leaf into a watery dark pulp. Not very nice for the plant. There's another related fungus that rots the bulbs, but I don't plan on digging them up to check. Maybe if a plant is obviously sickly/discoloured I might, but not just randomly. Too destructive. Plus it's Woodland Trust land and I probably shouldn't be digging up plants without a good reason and permission. Unless it's a Rhododendron, I show little mercy to that bugger.

With apologies to any dipterists reading this, there's been lots of 'bluebottles' and 'greenbottles' sunning themselves on tree trunks this week. Blowflies is probably a better term to use. One spectacularly burnished green-copper looking beast immediately caught my eye. It kept buzzing away and returning to the same patch of trunk, so I waited with my net poised and pretty soon it was in a tube. The strong bristles hanging off the arse end and thorax led me to believe this was a Tachinid and so it proved to be. After years of looking for one, I had finally found Gymnocheta viridis, a common Tachinid and a very, very smart lifer for me. Unfortunately I was too busy concentrating on netting it to think about taking it's picture, but here's a microscope pic of the four rows of dorso-central bristles that confirms the species

Count the big bristles just left of the reflected light patch on its back
It was whilst furtively creeping about the woods, net in hand, that I suddenly noticed a couple of birders walking along the path and staring in my general direction. Then I saw a couple more, and another! What the heck? I surreptitiously collapsed my net and replaced it with my binoculars and warily approached the group. One tall chap was wearing a Heatherlea fleece, ah I've heard of them! I casually ambled up and said hello to which he replied, "Hello, you must be Seth"...ha! You could say I was a little bit dumbfounded! Surely my 'first for Britain garden-escapee plant fame' hadn't spread that far already had it? Turns out I was chatting with Phil Knott, we're both on a couple of Skye Facebook groups and he figured I'd be the only person in Uig Woods sneaking around with a net. Good guess! We chatted for a while before I quit...with a pocketful of potted moffs...

Epinotia immundana - a variably patterned Tortrix moth and swarming at the moment
Only a few additions to the 1000 target, I'm up to 553 species from NG3963 so far this year. Need to get my insect books back - soon!


  1. You certainly are dedicated to this lark, where I would see a rotting leaf you see fungal infection and then cultivate it and check with a microscope!

    I remember some years back having access to private woodland and finding a huge area covered by ramsons and the smell was amazing.

    553 species from your patch is quite something, and it's only early May. Nicely done, keep up the good work.

    1. Ramsons is a fantastic plant! I've been adding it to my dinner for weeks now (just in case the midge mesh across my window doesn't keep the vampires out...) Rather have seen that Spectacled Warbler that was at the Bill yesterday though, did you see it at all?

    2. No Spectacled Warbler for me, I'm not a fan of even a modest sized twitch. Much prefer to see whatever I see when I'm out and away from people.
      Reading that makes me sound very antisocial but I just don't do well when there's lots of people around.

    3. No, I get that. I used to thoroughly enjoy twitching but nowadays it seems that most twitchers have never heard of fieldcraft, have little in the way of birding skills and the incessant clicking of the big lenses drives me absolutely nuts! (big lenses and parakeets are my two pet hates). My days of willingly joining a crowd of twitchers is over. But I'd love to have seen that warbler, I'll just have to find my own :)

  2. Still to see Gymnocheta this year yet. Quite surprised, though maybe cold east winds factor in. Usually not hard to find sunning themselves on tree trunks

    1. I always assumed the 'bottles' (like most flies) were beyond me and haven't ever paid them any attention. But I've a key now figured I ought to try a few. I've almost certainly seen Gymnocheta before and just walked away from it, though it's a truly stunning beast up close.

  3. Hi Seth, your weevil is one of the Barynotus I'm sure. There's only three and it looks like yours is B. moerens but check for yourself.