Southern Marsh Orchids

Southern Marsh Orchids

Thursday 18 February 2016

Shooting Fungi

On Sunday I collected a Scarlet /Ruby Elfcup for  identification and on examination of the tomentum and spores it tuned out to be Scarlet Elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca), which is what I expected.

While I was examining the "squash" of a tiny part of the cup, to check the tomentum, I came across one of the Asci which had been separated from the flesh of the fungus. I had a few spores inside it and looked interesting enough to encourage me to photograph it, which, lacking a photomicrography adaptor, I did by hand holding my digital compact up to the eyepiece of my microscope, resulting in the unremarkable photo below.

The ascus, with contents prior to discharge, with distal end downwards.
Incidentally an ascopsore with buds, typical of S. austriaca can be seen
bottom right.

I decided to measure it, so swapped the eyepiece for my measuring eyepiece and lined the graticule up along the length of the ascus. Having duly measured it, I looked away for a second or two to reach for my camera to take another photo, but when I lined it up with the eyepiece for the photo, I realised that something had changed. I took a couple of shots and then had a look through the eyepieces to see what had happened. The ascus had moved and was now along the top of the field of view, the top of it torn open and empty, while at the bottom of the field, there were a couple of ascospores lying about, looking shifty.

The empty ascus is now at the top. the distal end facing right. The torn nature of
 it can't really be seen in this image. The ascus is 90 microns long.

In the five seconds or so between me looking away to get my camera and lining it up with the eyepiece, the ascus had performed its purpose, which is to shoot its cargo of ascospores into the world outside, probably encouraged by the heat from the microscope's illumination.

Miffed at missing the event and in the hope of witnessing another ascus shooting its spores, I cut a couple of sections and squashed them under the cover slip. This resulted in lots of asci being visible, but I never did see any of them shoot.

The spore bearing inner surface of the cup, showing the spore filled asci embedded
in the mass of red fibres.
The Ascospores show up well when stained; in this case, with Methyl Green.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Stenophylax permistus query

Found this in last night's moth trap. Has the appearance of Stenophylax permistus .... but in February? Are any caddisflies on the wing at this time of year?

Sunday 7 February 2016

flies in garage

These were/are in the garage at the moment, both roughly 8-10mm. I think the first (two images) may be a Banded Mosquito but not sure .... and I can't find the other one at all - obviously missing something because it's quite distinct.

mosquito ?

Any help appreciated.

Friday 5 February 2016

As if one vine weevil isn't bad enough

In July last year I found what looked like an unusually fat Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus sitting on a Dogwood bush by Coryton roundabout. This all-too-familiar garden pest is a regular in my Cardiff garden, but this one looked a bit too plump in the body so I took it home for closer inspection.

It keyed out using Morris' Royal Entomological Society key as Otiorhychus aurifer, a very rare non-native species in the UK.  As this seemed unlikely I posted a photo on the Beetles of Britain and Ireland Facebook group, and after some discussions the correct identification was arrived at by Max Barclay of the Natural History Museum. Adrian Fowles also suspected the same species when I emailed him a photo.

My beetle was in fact the Armadillo Weevil Otiorhynchus armadillo. This is one of several vine weevils which has arrived in the UK in recent decades and is already doing serious damage to ornamental shrubs in the London area. In Wales, there was just one other record shown on the LRC Data Tool (a fantastic resource, see here if you haven't tried it) - also in Cardiff. Since then the beetle has also been found in Swansea (see Gower Wildlife blog) and it seems destined to spread further, at least in urban areas.

A rather unwelcome addition to our Welsh beetle fauna!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Scarlet or Ruby?

Last weekend, I finally got around to confirming the identity of an Elf Cup; or to be precise, two Elf Cups. The first was the Green Elfcup, featured in my previous post, because under the common name of Green Elfcup, there are two species; Chlorociboria aeruginascens and C. aeruginosa. In the field, they can't be reliably separated, but fortunately, the spores of the two species are sufficiently different in size, to make a determination based on measurements taken through a microscope at high power.

Obtaining a spore sample without the cup drying out was a bit tricky, as it was very thin fleshed and insubstantial, but I managed it by placing a clean microscope slide on a 100cm square (approximate) of kitchen foil, placing the fresh cup (apothecia) upside down (cup opening down) in the middle of the slide, covering it with a piece of moistened kitchen towel, just large enough to cover the cup itself, and then carefully folding the foil over the whole, taking care not to crush the cup in the process. It was left overnight and by the following morning there was a thin white spore print on the slide, which I gathered together a little, with a razor blade, before adding a drop of water and a cover slip.

The measurement was straightforward and several spores were measured, both in length and width. The result was that all the spores measured fell comfortably into the size range of the spores of C. aeruginascens. Result!

Next was a specimen of the Scarlet/Ruby Elfcup duo. Since finding out that there were two species: Sarcoscypha austriaca (Scarlet Elfcup) and S. coccinea (Ruby Elfcup), which cannot be reliably determined in the field, I have wondered which one we have, if not both. I initially learned that they could be told apart by the examination of the hairs that make up the whit tomentum, which coats the outside of the cups (apothecia), austriaca having distinctly curly hairs and  coccinea having straight or wavy hairs; visible only under the microscope. However, over the years, I have examined the broken edges of pieces taken from the apothecia, using just a x20 hand lens and have seen unmistakably curly hairs. I have since found out that to be absolutely sure, the spores also have to be examined, so as with the Chlorociboria, I placed the cup I had collected upside down on the centre of a microscope slide and wrapped it in foil, but omitting the moistened kitchen towel, as the cup was far more fleshy.

It was left overnight and by the morning a plainly visible white spore print was visible on the slide, when the cup was removed.

The cup inverted on the slide.

The spore print.

Once more, I concentrated the spores into a smaller area of the slide, with the aid of a razor blade and added a drop of water and a cover slip.

Before examining the spores, I scraped off a small specimen of the tomentum and placing it in a drop of water, stained with Gentian Violet, on a slide, I teased it apart, before placing a cover slip on it and examining it under the microscope. Even at x40, the curly nature of the hairs was obvious.

The curled tomentum. x200

I next turned to the spores and under the microscope, the spores were fairly large and easily seen, even at x100.

A few of the square ended spores can be seen amongst the round ended majority.

Immediately noticeable was the shape of the ends of the spores, most of which were rounded, but many of which had characteristically squarish ends. Of the two species, only austriaca has these square ended spores, coccinea having only rounded ends. The square ends made it almost certainly austriaca, but the clincher was the presence of a small handful of spores from the ends of which were budding more spores. Only S. austriaca does this, so in this instance I could record Scarlet Elfcup.

A crop from a photo taken at x400, showing one of the budding spores.