For the last couple of weeks I’ve been offering up what has been affectionately nicknamed ‘cave snot’ for identification:
The initial goop was a bit too difficult to identify from a photo, so I dug in and pulled out the critter responsible:
This proved much more identifiable, with Chris immediately recognising that it’s the larva of a Caddisfly (not really a fly, but a more moth-like insect in the Order Trichoptera – which means ‘hairy wings’ as palfreyman1414 mentioned). Natalia Maas went one better by alluding to the family – the Philopotamidae or Finger-net Caddis, explaining the goop, which is actually made up of little silk nets shaped like fingers (hence the common name for the family). These nets are used to collect organic detritus and diatoms from flowing water, which the larvae then feed on.
I provided a couple of extra images to help narrow down the identification, since there are only five species in three genera of Finger-net Caddis in Ireland (and England for that matter), which are able to be differentiated from the anterior margin of their frontoclypeus (see the diagram below if you’re not sure what that is).
There’s an excellent website looking at Trichoptera in Ireland, descriptively called TrichopteraIreland, where you can find the details of how to tell the larvae of different genera apart, but the short version is to look at the frontoclypeus and if it has a deep U-shaped notch in it you have a Chimarra marginata, if it has a shallow V-shaped notch in it then you have Philopotamus montanus and if it’s a smooth curve then you have a species in the genus Wormaldia (which could be W. subnigra, W. mediana or W. occipitalis).
Unfortunately you can’t readily tell Wormaldia species apart when they’re larvae, so unless I’m missing a well-hidden notch in the frontoclypeus, we can’t identify this to anything better than genus level – but that’s still a substantial improvement on simply calling it cave snot.
I’ll be taking the specimen to the previous Entomology curator of the Museum, since his area of specialist interest is Caddis, so I’m sure he’ll be able to confirm the identification and I expect there may be some interest in where it came from.
More mysteries next week!