Friday, July 1, 2011

Animated cotton wool

A quickie.

Found this rather cute creature today.


It was very small (as you can see by the size of grains of sand in photo) and looked incredibly delicate; like an animated cotton-wool bud with dreads.



It was moving around like the clappers and on my first day with the new camera, neither grub not camera did as I wished. Drat.

Being entomologically rather less than competent, I had little idea what it was in the field, except I knew it was a larva of some sort, so Googled when I got home. The closest I could find was Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, the introduced Australian ladybird bioweapon, known to gardener's as The Mealybug Destroyer. 
Cryptolaemus larvae are sold for biological mealworm control and I see the going rate is about £7.99 for a 6 pack (of larvae, not lager).   

I put these pictures on ISpot and it was suggested, by an expert, that it might be Scymnus auritus, another ladybird larva, but a native this time. This species is also a mealybug chomper (as far as I can tell from online sources of info, which are sparse).

Hmm.

Whichever one it is, both larvae are interesting ecologically as they are not only mealybug munching specialists, they are also mealybug mimics. I don't know if mealybugs can recognise other mealybugs, but this larva could wander into a mealybug rave and none of the mealybugs would be any the wiser. A wolf in sheep's clothing. Cryptic aggressive mimicry. Cryptolaemus means 'hidden' 'throat'. Wonderful stuff.

I found 3 of these larvae zipping about on the ground at the side of a path, by a small pine plantation, near to a back garden, but also very close to agricultural land and some abandoned greenhouses in Beeston. Cryptolaemus was introduced to the UK in the 1890s, but, as far as I can tell, it doesn't survive harsh British winters, so isn't found much outside greenhouses and garden centres, where its warm. I checked on NBN for Scymnus in Bedfordshire and couldn't find any records. So I can't say which one it is really. Or it may be something completely different!

I doubt the id will get much further than this, but will update if I hear more.

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