Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home

A number of people commented on the image of the beetle and I thought it might help to explain why I identified this differently from a ladybird.

Let us be quite clear. I am not an entomologist. Not even close. I take photos and I take greater delight in identifying the insects. Generally they are insects. Spiders are not insects of course but they often get a pink ticket to join the ugly bugs insect ball. There must be a benefit in having 8 legs and 8 eyes. You can do your own foursome reel for a start. So how does someone, who is a card-carrying member of the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” insect identification club come up with an answer?

My first principle is that before I ask someone else I do some research. To do otherwise would be lazy. And unfair on others, who have enough to do without fielding queries from me and dozens of other party members. We are a very large party. Now in this instance I knew it was a beetle and lo and behold as a member also of the HK Entomological Society I am entitled to its publications free, gratis and for nothing. So I turn to this:


HK$68 and you are almost there. I also started at the ladybird page.


Close but no cigar. The pattern was quite distinctive and so, importantly, was the shape.

Sphenoraia nebulosa

Sphenoraia nebulosa

There is no match to light that cigar. So I start to thumb through the book looking for red blobs. I hope this is not getting too scientific for you.

A mere 17 pages away I found Sphenoraia nebulosa and lit my Cohiba esplendido. Fabulous value for money. Total time about 5 minutes.

Example 2. This is a larva or caterpillar I found on the same walk.


Yes, this chap will turn into a moth. The question is, which one. Now I knew enough to think it would be a hawkmoth. So I trawled the Flickr group for Hong Kong Moths – yes it really exists – curated by Dr. Roger Kendrick. A few images matched but none carrying an ID. So I posted the image to Google + and shared it with David. L. Mohn, who breeds cats through to imago. Within a couple of hours he had come back with Marumba dryas. He also assured me it is affectionate and rarely nips you. David does not have an image on his website but Tony Pittaway does. Boxes ticked, ID validated and I can take another puff on the Cohiba (except I don’t smoke).

So there we are. Have the right books, know where to start looking and if needs be ask an expert. Get out there and make friends with an insect. You know it makes sense.




18 thoughts on “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home

  1. “You know it makes sense” ? – sounds like you’ve been watching old Sam Kekovich ad.s – EXTREMELY funny, most of ’em. 😀
    Why you show us Chinese magazines is beyond me. You must be showing off. [grin] X !

  2. Love the Hawk Moth caterpillar Andrew, but I do prefer the name Dull swirled hawkmoth to Marumba dryas (thanks to Google!!). Some of these insects are notoriously hard to ID, so it is great that you have all these contacts to call upon :0)

    • Indeed the vernaculars can be fun, notably the Death’s Head Hawkmoth. We get them here occasionally. We had a huge Lyssa zampa on the window today. Also good for scaring wives (or wife, anyway).

  3. We share the same basic method for identification search, Andrew. I sometimes have to turn to a few books though, as some contain certain species that others do not. Very time consuming, but once successful it gives a sense of accomplishment. The sense would be even greater were I to actually know how to use one of the massive insect keys rather than hunt and peck page turning. 🙂

    • Insect keys are ok up to a point. But many for HK are only in Chinese. Some of the micro Lepidoptera need a microscope and/or gen dissection. But yes, the sense of accomplishment is substantial when we finally crack it.

  4. I get a thrill when I can identify an insect, too. That’s half the fun for me.
    Very amusing post!

  5. Um, I’d better do a bit more research myself next time instead of just thinking, I don’t know what it is, but I know a man who does. Actually, I’m not quite that bad, I go to the Observers Book of… whatever, than I spend time on google, but I start from a very low base.

  6. Watching a video of a moth in action? I would like that on those nights I lay awake, pondering if I should heat some milk and with a dash of honey try and regain my sleep. Only kidding. I am sure that it would be rivetting experience. ( the hawk moth in action, I mean)

  7. It is very enjoyable to identify what we have been photographed and learn about the species. But yes, it can be a true pain in the ass – especially when you think you have taken a photo of a flower/insect with a distinctive pattern and then there are plenty options in the field guide 😮
    Very nice photos, too!

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