In the jungle – Mediterranean insects

Written by Lucy Brzoska

It’s the month of May and plants are fighting for space. In the dense, overgrown jungle roams a large yellow beast (well, 2-3 cm long). It has the silhouette of an anteater, except for those antennae sprouting out of the snout.  The Yellow Weevil eats plant matter with mouthparts at the end of its “nose”.  The length of the snout allows it to bore where other insects can’t reach.

yellow-weevil-in-thistle-lixus-pulverulentus

Two Longhorned beetles mate, antennae mingling.  They look a bit like chamois, except their “horns” are flexible and longer than their own bodies.

longhorn-beetles-mating-agapantia-cardui-suturalis

Flowers are for eating – this pollen-consuming jewel beetle (Anthaxia hungarica) is attracted to Compositae . . . .

anthaxia-hungarica-jewel-beetle

. . . . or for lurking in.  A napoleon crab spider, sprinkled with pollen, waits to ambush its prey.  It’s common to see the lifeless form of  a bee hanging from a flower, as the spider sucks it dry.  Sometimes the venom takes a while to work, and the spider clings on, going for a flight with its victim, not knowing where it will land.

napolon-crab-spider-synaema-globosum-covered-in-pollen

The vibrancy of this Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma) reminded me of a tiger. On this windless cloudy day, the butterfly remained motionless.

spotted-fritillary-melitaea-didyma

Zooming in on Montjuic (iv): early insects

Written by Lucy Brzoska

It was the first really warm day in February and quantities of Hummingbird Hawkmoths (Macroglossum stellatarum) were restlessly hovering in front of the castle wall, as if searching for something. They engage in this mysterious activity every year when they reappear at the end of winter. I spotted one sitting quietly, something apparently rare, but who knows how many others there were, flattened on the wall, blending in with beige-grey wings and just a hint of iridescence.

hummingbird-hawkmoth-sunbathing-on-wall

When a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeds, it slings in its lengthy proboscis from a distance.  Not so the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea), who hugs the flower close. These gentle giants were also out in numbers, bumping into each other around the Common Borage. Their wings are brown like old film negatives, until the light catches them and they turn blue. The males signal their sex with orange antennae tips.

carpenter-bee-xylocopa-violacea-showing-blue-wings

Judging by the constant rustle of Chiffchaffs in the small evergreen oaks by the castle, there were plenty of small bugs to feast on.  They were being deftly picked off the leaves or snapped up mid-flight as the restless birds forayed out of the trees to retrieve them.

chiffchaff-picking-off-bugs

Natur-al-Andalus has an interesting post on Chiffchaffs, whose hovering skills allow them to exploit the nectar of extensions of introduced South African aloe that bloom in the mild Gibraltan winters.

Mediterranean autumn

Written by Lucy Brzoska

A Praying Mantis was ensconced in the Sticky Fleabane with a bee in its claws.  It was delicately eating a leg, still sprinkled with fresh pollen, before neatly detaching a wing.  Instead of bright green, like all the mantises I’ve ever seen, this one was a dull khaki colour.  As it chewed, its plump, segmented abdomen pulsed in a rippling movement.  The whole of the body seemed to be concentrated on digesting the bee.

praying-mantis-eats-bee

While watching the Mantis, I could hear the liquid notes of robin song.  The woods and parks fill up with migrating robins in the autumn.  As the season moves on, they seem to disperse, but for a while the whole of Collserola vibrates with robins tic-ticking from every bush.

Bee eaten, the Mantis fastidiously cleaned its weapons.  Suspended between the Sticky Fleabane on one side and gorse on the other, it faced the sky as if lying in a hammock.  When I left, it was still absorbed in polishing its spiky forelegs.

praying-mantis-grooming-after-meal

Inside the woods, it was warm and humid.  After weeks of drought, a typically intense two-day downpour had washed away the summer dust. Seizing the moment, plants were regenerating their leaves. Boar mud-baths were restored. Bark had turned velvety with moss.  Stones at the side of the path were covered in lichen: a mass of goblets if you looked close.

lichen-in-collserola

A fresh crop of puffballs had sprouted in the middle of the path, tender, fragrant and good to eat.  Soon they will age, turn brown and let out a puff of spores.  They’ve been given some great names: the Devil’s Snuffbox and Wolf’s Fart.

common-puffball-lycoperdon-perlatum

Coming down the hill at dusk, the Praying Mantis was still in the same spot, eating the last bee of the day.

Autumn Bugs: hide and seek

At the road side near Vallvidrera, a cellulose gymnast was swinging through the stems. If you’ve grown up thinking of Stick insects as exotic pets kept in glass containers, it’s a thrill to find them ranging free. They look fragile, but can re-grow a damaged limb after a moult.

Another plant imitator, the Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa), is quite visible in Collserola in October. Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, this elegant specimen couldn’t take its eyes away from the camera.

The black spots, which look eerily like pupils, are an effect of light reflecting from the compound eyes. The mantis also has three “simple” eyes between the antennae that act as an auxilliary light metre. With its swivelling neck and stereoscopic vision, there’s not much that goes on unnoticed around a Praying mantis.

From camouflage to aposematism – currently every Wild carrot nest has a Striped shieldbug (Graphosoma lineatum) inside. Experiments have confirmed that the colouring of these bugs helps predators remember their bad taste. As if testing out the theory themselves, they are often in prominent positions on the top of plants.

Its vivid red and black colouring probably saved this Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus) in Palau de Pedralbes park. Climbing up the rocks, it stumbled onto a sunbathing Wall lizard. After assessing the situation, it hurriedly changed direction. The lizard watched, but made no move.