Little Assynt: 2023 insect meeting.

September 11th 2023

Little Assynt: 2023 insect meeting

Eight members of the Field Club met up with entomologist Stephen Moran at Little Assynt on Sunday 13th August 2023 for the annual field meeting focussed on insects.  And, for once, we were blessed with sunshine.

Old road

We started at the small riverside parking place opposite Blar nam Fear Mora (NC142251) at 1030 hrs.  Here we checked a sheet of corrugated iron for slow-worms, finding an adult female (photo 1).   We then made our way slowly along the old road to the south-east (photo 2).  Stephen deployed sweep net, beating tray and ‘bug hoover’ and introduced us to a wealth of insect life, mainly small, over a wide range of groups.  He was able to name many species on sight, but specimens of others were collected for later microscopic examination.

Butterflies included a female dark green fritillary (photo 3) and numerous scotch argus between the road and the river in one place. Beating birch produced colourful examples of both adult and nymphal parent bugs Elasmucha grisea (photos 4-5); they are scarce in the north and this appears to be a first record for Assynt.  We also found an immature slowworm in another place and two stands of field gentian Gentianella campestris, just coming into flower.

Quarry

After nearly a couple of hours we had covered just over 0.5 km and reached the old quarry (NC148248).  Here lunch was taken on a bank at the edge (photo 6), amongst scattered pink-flowered plants of common centaury Centaurium pulchellum in its only Assynt locality(photo 7).   Two land-phase palmate newts were found under a baulk of timber nearby (photo 8); they breed in numbers in nearby shallow pools.

After lunch, we took a closer look at some of the larger plants typical of such open and disturbed ground, which is not common in Assynt.  A stand of creeping thistle Cirsium arvense was being devoured by spiky larvae of the thistle tortoise beetle Cassida rubiginosa, which hide themselves under heaps of their frass (photo 9). There are few records in the Highlands north of Inverness and they have not previously been noted in Assynt. David Haines has posted an account of their natural history  (New beetle in an old quarry, August 19th 2023). Stephen took one specimen home; it pupated (photo 10) and the adult has since emerged and been liberated.

Pools

Stephen continued to deploy his ‘bug hoover’ on stony areas around the edge of pools higher up the quarry, yielding amongst other things his best find for the day, the stiltbug Berytinus signoreti (photo 11).  There are only two other records of this species from the Highlands and both are down to Stephen.  He first discovered the species on the east dunes at Nairn (NH897575) on 4th September 1989.  It then turned up at Doire Cuilinn in Assynt (NC2025) on the Field Club insect meeting there on 21st August 2022.  It is rare in Scotland as a whole and has an association with bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, which certainly occurs in the vicinity.

Diversity and beauty

The log for the visit, which is appended to this account, includes records of 49 species of insects and other arthropods, from 14 groups.  Most diverse were the plant bugs (14), plant hoppers and lace hoppers (9), which are amongst Stephen’s particular interests. Others include 7 beetles and smaller numbers of barkflies, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, earwigs, flies, grasshoppers, harvestmen, spiders and springtails.  We also found 5 assorted gall-formers (including the jumping plant louse Livia junci, which galls jointed rush).

A selection of images (photos 12-19) gives some idea of the variety encountered, and also the challenges of photographing small highly-mobile organisms.  They are arranged in the order in which they appear in the log.

What entertained us as much, however, was the sheer beauty of many of the smaller creatures when examined through a x10 hand lens. As always, we should like to thank Stephen for making his annual journey over from Inverness to give us the benefit of his enthusiasm and considerable expertise.

Ian M. Evans

 

 

 

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