Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Aphid New to Scotland?

I took myself down to the woods after work, intent on undertaking a spot of sweep-netting through the undergrowth. I also need to get my eye back in regards Celtic Rainforest lichen ID - Mark Telfer plus Kev and Debs Rylands are dropping in to say hello in little over a week from now, there's a big fat fistful of lifers for each of them up here and I don't want to let them down. So yeah...I ignored the lichens and swished my net through the carpets of Ramsons, Meadowsweet and Nettles instead.

Doli flies are just coming into season up here, I saw several sitting on low vegetation and swiped a couple for (hopeful) later ID. I was quite taken by the almost luminous green eyes on this beast - what an absolute stunner! 

Probably something near Dolichopus popularis - note the adorned middle feet
Eye-catching though these Doli flies are, I did a proper double-take when I spotted a dark green soldierfly hunkered low over a nettle leaf. I thought I knew what it was, once it was in the tube I could at least confirm the genus. Took a bit of microscopy to nail the species though; it's one I've recorded from here before

Beris chalybata - a female with smoky wing membrane and wide frons
Also sitting out in the open was this large Tipula species. I didn't have a pot big enough for it, so took a pic on the vague offchance it's do-able by wing venation/patterning. Anyway, it's female, so I'd never manage to ID it even if I did have a large enough pot. 

Mystery Tipula - sensible suggestions welcomed
Edit - Tipula luna looks a likely candidate
I noticed that quite a few of the Bluebells had an opaque whitish bloom on the flowering stems, I don't know if this is usual or if it's fungal. I need to investigate further (and grab a sample next time too!)

Probably nothing, but it caught my eye nonetheless
The river is quite ridiculously low at the moment, we've had very little in the way of meaningful rainfall for a few weeks now. It was child's play to hop my way from rock to rock onto the opposite bank, where there was a wet rockface that I was keen to explore. 

There are a little under 4100 species of beetle in Britain, of these over a quarter are in the family Staphylinidae. There's a small, but highly distinctive, group of staphylinids that belong to the genus Stenus, around 75 species in all. They're characterful and distinctive and I'm quite fond of them. In this part of the world, waterfall-splashed rocks provide a good hunting ground for Stenus so I figured the wet rockface was worth a few minutes attention. As is my wont, I was immediately distracted by something else and Stenus went straight out of my mind...

Just above head height was a rather battered-looking Hart's-tongue Fern. Out of habit, I gave it a cursory glance for Psychoides larval cases amongst the sori on the underside (Psychoides don't occur on Skye - but I still keep checking) and for the mine of Chromatomyia scolopendri on the upperside (also unknown from Skye...yet still I check) What I did find hit me like a complete curveball - I love it when this happens, reinforces how little I actually know about nature!!!

Aphids! Aphids on a fern! I had no idea aphids utilised ferns, none at all :) 
Ordinarily I would walk away from aphids, but last year I treated myself to the RES key to Aphids which has an extremely helpful aphid-hostplant association table. If you know the hostplant, the battle is almost won. Sometimes. Anyway, I took part of the leaf blade away with me and soon found myself in an unexpected pickle. 

The key states that there are only TWO species of aphid that feed on Asplenium. Wow, this was going to be a doddle! I Google Imaged the first (a pale green thing - nope) and then the second (oval black thing with rows of pale tubercules), a perfect match. Happy days - that was easy! Better just check a few facts about my new lifer, just in case there are other possibilities. I mean, it's not like I even keyed the damn thing through properly...

Distinctive beasts!
First thing I did was read the species account in the RES key: "The genus has only one species" (sweet!), "It's almost cosmopolitan in distribution, but in Britain, Ireland and the rest of northern Europe* it is only found in glasshouses or other indoor situations"....bugger, so much for that. 

*plate tectonics, I guess?

Yet I persevered. So what was it I had found? 

Now I've never tried keying out an aphid. Never. The very first couplet in the family key requires some serious magnification, talk about being thrown in at the deep end! It also requires the specimen to be immobile (ie dead). Ho hum, here we go... There are exactly 100 couplets in the family key. Mine took just six couplets to drop out at Idiopterus. I feel I was let off lightly. But...dilemma, because this backed up one of the two suggested species that feed on Asplenium and yet took me to a species not known from outdoors in Britain. I did some internet trawling and, rather reassuringly, came across Dave Appletan's blog whereby he discovers an outdoor colony of Idiopterus, high fives, then discovers that they don't occur outdoors and reaches for the literature. Basically, he followed the exact same route as I did, but a few months earlier. I also found a detailed description of the species on a New Zealand site, complete with high quality images (better than mine for sure) which can be viewed by clicking here.

After all of this, I felt quietly confident that I had, in fact, stumbled across a naturally occurring population of Idiopterus nephrelepidis, the Black Fern Aphid - something that shouldn't occur in Britain yet seemingly does. Coolness!!! I took a barrage of videos, most of which would leave the most stalwart sailor suffering seasickness. Here's one of the steadier versions for you to gawp at...

And one more, you lucky people you... 

I whacked a few pics and video clips on the catchily named Aphids, psyllids, scales & allies (Hemiptera, Sternorrhyncha)

Facebook Group and hoped a grown up would see my post and put me right. Couple of comments and Likes, but no corrections thus far.

As far as I can see, Idiopterus nephrelepidis would be 'new' to Scotland and just one of a handful (possibly just two) occurrences of it being found thriving outdoors and well away from any indoor/artificial habitats. For once, I'm glad my OCD-ness forced me to check that Hart's-tongue frond. In my memory, I seem to recall half a dozen pale green aphids huddled together on a different frond. Ooh heck, the first option on Hart's-tongue was a pale green jobbie...

Guess where I'll be heading back to tomorrow.

I've been listening to some fairly aggressive-sounding stuff lately. It all started with hed(p.e.) and somehow morphed into American Head Charge via several other bands you're possibly not overly familiar with. hed(p.e.) have been through the mill a few times, changing band members, scene and sound, but their early stuff is simply sublime - in a noisy kinda way. I've certainly played this a few times this week!

plus a bit of this, if hed(p.e.) tickled your fancy

rounded off, after over two hours of noise, with this gem

All of these albums come with Parental Advisory stickers, so be warned. Personally I think they're amazing. (Next week I'll probably be heavily into jazz...)


  1. Nice work :) Half way through first Soulfly song I ended up listening to Sepultura.

    1. Yeah, that Brazilian sound is rather...'infective', huh? :D \m/

    2. Roooooots, bloody rooooooots