Llandrindod Pomarium

Eich Perllan Gymunedol - Your Community Orchard

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A tortoise beetle, Cassida vibex

We had a good day at the Radnor Fringe Festival in June, taking people to see the orchard site and discussing the management of it... and looking for critters, of course! We didn't spend a lot of time on that, but it was certainly worthwhile, as we've added another species to the county list! Tortoise beetles are really, really cute: essentially little green tanks with shields over their heads. They feed on a variety of different native plants, but are never so abundant that they have much impact on them.
There are a few species of Cassida, including the common green C. viridis, and some rarer ones that are restricted to the southern parts of the UK. One of those is the rather lovely Cassida vibex, which has some brown markings, and a bronzy iridescence. It is previously known from southern England, and a few patches further north (including Shropshire, and a few records in northeast Wales). Until now, there have been no records from Powys or other central parts of Wales, so this is another species that's inching its way into the colder and wetter climate zones like ours. They feed mainly on thistles, and some other plants, and you'll need to look closely to spot it... but it's worth the effort!



Rathke's Woodlouse, Trachelipus rathkei

There are five widespread and common woodlouse species in the UK. This isn't one of them. Telling the species apart can take a bit of practice, and in some cases it's extremely difficult, but there are differences for those that spend time looking.
This is one of the species that can't really roll up into a ball (very few can do that perfectly), but makes up for it in other ways. The patterning is variable, but is normally very attractive, with marbling down the sides. For the purist who wants to check the identification, you can turn it over, and count its “lungs” (the white flaps underneath the tail). In Rathke's Woodlouse there are five pairs, but other common species that are similar have two or none.
The species was previously known from a broad area in southern and central England, and just crept into the extreme southeast of Wales. Turning up in Llandrindod was a bit of a surprise a couple of years ago, but it's now appeared at quite a few sites in the local area. You can find them underneath wood or stones, or deep inside grass tussocks.
Trachelipus rathkei

Ruby Tiger Moth, Phragmatobia fuliginosa

As an antidote to last week's uncalled-for and gratuitous spider, here's a pretty one! At least, the adult is rather splendid, with shades of pink or red highlighting an otherwise ordinary-looking moth (furry body, mostly brownish). However, it's still too early in the season for that (they might appear in late April), so for now you'll have to settle for a caterpillar.
But what a caterpillar! It's a fabulous thing with a coat of spine whorls covering the whole surface. Although there are other similar species out there, look for the black head as another indicator of its identity… if you can get it to unroll itself!
The caterpillars feed on a wide range of plants, including plantains and docks, of which there are clumps aplenty amongst the grass of the orchard. We've not yet run a moth trapping event at the orchard, but that's something I'd like to organise in the summer, if anyone is interested?
Phragmatobia fuliginosa caterpillar

Episinus angulatus – Common H-Weaver

It's always nice to see something you've never seen before, even if it's not a rarity. This little spider took a bit of tracking down, but is so distinctive, with its angular abdomen, that identification was actually pretty easy. I found him (definitely a 'him' – the boxing gloves are how you tell with spiders!) in the compost heap, amongst a riot of springtails and beetles.
Apparently this species is fairly common in southern England, but a lot more scattered further north. There seems to be one previous record from Radnorshire, right on the border, over on the edge of the Elan Valley. I've certainly never met it before, and it's quite a striking species, so I'm sure I'd remember… however, it's a rather shy creature, and so is very easy to overlook.  
The H-weavers are named because of how simple their web is: just a few strands, normally in the shape of an H, attached to twigs or plant stems, low to the ground. It's not an easy spider to find, but it is an easy one to recognise if you do. I'll certainly write about more obvious species in future, but it's going to be a mixture of the things that you might see, and the things that you probably won't but will be glad to know are there!
Episinus angulatus – Common H-Weaver



Katiannidae gen. nov. 1, sp. nov.

Spring is definitely trying to get its act together, so I want to start making some regular posts about the other things that share the orchard with us. Most of them are pretty small, it's true, but they're definitely worthy of our attention.
I'll start with a species new to science. Yes, you read that right. It doesn't yet have a name, although it's known quite widely in the UK, having settled in amazingly well since its unknown arrival from ('tis thought) Tasmania… although it's never yet been seen in its native country, so nobody is completely sure where it came from!
Springtails are extremely charismatic little things, related to insects, but more primitive; the main difference is that they don't have wings, and never have had. There are many species, but the globular ones are probably the most appealing, often with spectacular patterning and a bit of an overdose of cuteness. Most of them feed on fungi or rotting plant material, and they can be found in their billions in the orchard – mainly in the woodland edges, in deep tussocks, or around the compost heaps. This species seems to be most common around the little gorse bushes by the railway line, and unlike most springtails, is often found climbing the vegetation.
Finding one isn't difficult, providing you've got a beating tray, but you're definitely going to need a magnifying glass; they grow to a maximum of around half a millimetre long!
Photo of Katiannidae gen. nov. 1, sp. nov.
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