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Sunday, 19 July 2015

A first record for Rainham Marshes?

When I got to Rainham Marshes on Saturday for a day as a "visitor" rather than my usual "volunteer", I planned to spend the day doing my own thing making images of insects. I didn't have a firm plan, just that I would explore the wildlife garden, the woodland and the grassland beyond to see what I could find.

One of the advantages of being a volunteer, however, is that you sometimes get an opportunity to explore away from the public trails. So it was on Saturday. A member of staff asked if I would take some photos of insects on and around an old pile of sand next to one of the service roads. A researcher working at Rainham had been studying this pile of sand and was excited about the species he saw there, but didn't have a camera with him to take pictures.
Here was a good focus (pun intended) for my day, so of course I said yes.

I had seen this sand pile before, so I knew that it had several species of solitary wasps and bees digging burrows in it.
I wasn't trying for beautiful images - that wasn't the brief. Most of the time I was getting images like these - a bit out of focus here, a bit of motion blur there, and always pieces of untidy vegetation all over the place!

(tentative IDs added later...)
Pantaloon Bee (Dasypoda hirtipes)

Ammophila sp.

Ornate-tailed Digger Wasp (Cerceris rybyensis)

One insect in particular, though,  posed perfectly and luckily this turned out to be the most interesting one. I got several dozen shots at various exposure settings while it cleaned it's abdomen.

Beewolf - Philanthus triangulum

If, unlike me, you know about solitary wasps, you'll know that this is a Beewolf (Philanthus triangulum). I didn't know this at the time, but found out later when I posted an image on Facebook. Howard didn't know what it was either (an unusual occurrence!), but Matt Smith in the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants group quickly helped me out with an ID.
Now knowing what it was, Howard was able to tell me that it might well be the first record for Rainham Marshes - excellent!

This was the only individual of P. triangulum that I saw. It didn't stay around for long, and I only saw it on this grass stem, not on the sand. Now that we know that at least one has been seen, we can be alert to the possibility of finding more. Hopefully, it won't be long before we have more records.

Adult Beewolfs (beewolves?) are vegetarian, feeding on nectar and pollen (I guess that this is why my picture above shows lots of pollen grains on the insect's thorax), but it lays it's eggs in paralysed honeybees, which it stores in a burrow in the sand. The egg hatches and the larva has a nice honeybee to eat!

Check those sand piles!