Attracted to Yellow

When the sun shines the number of insects on the flowers goes up. The current batch of pollinating insects seem to like yellow and orange best; the Goldenrod (which is just opening up) being hands down the most popular with many species.

Long hoverflies are one of the commonest species at this time, along with marmalade and white-footed hoverflies. I’ve also seen a few Thick-legged Hoverflies (Syritta pipiens), a species that I didn’t record last year.

The small bee is I believe a collettes, Colletes daviesanus. These are plasterer bees and nest, sometimes in large colonies, in the mortar on old walls. I’m sure they will like the soft lime mortar on my walls and apparently a big colony can eventually damage the fabric of the wall. The bristly, orange-marked fly is Eriothrix rufomaculata. The adults of this species are attracted to flowers, while their larvae are parasites of moth larvae.

May Bugs

Finally a few new bugs in the garden these last few days. Tipula vernalis is a cranefly that emerges in the spring, unlike many of the Genus that appear in numbers in the late summer and autumn. Common Flower Bug (Anthocoris nemorum) was new to the list, as was a hoverfly Syrphus ribesii (separated from the very similar Syrphus vitripennis by leg colour). Representing the insectivores, the first Harlequin Ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) were back, as was a Turf-running Spider ( Philodromus cespitum) and Brown Lacewing (Micromus variegatus) - all seen for the first time this year. Moths are not yet plentiful, so this Common Pug moth (Eupithecia vulgata) was a welcome addition to the list.

Finally a true “May Bug”, the Common Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha), that was found legs-in-the-air by friends on their bathroom floor. These big bugs were formerly very common in UK and regarded as a pest (the larvae particularly), but insecticides in the 1960’s decimated the population. They are now making something of a comeback, so hopefully I’ll find one on my own patch one day.

Away from the bugs, the skies now have Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and the first Common Pipistrelle bats. A hunting Hobby (Falco Subbuteo) was new for the garden - I’ll be happy if it sticks around; the local hirundines less so.

Thousands of Aphids

I’m not sure if it’s the cold spell weather we’re having or the season. but after all the activity around the early bees and butterflies there’s a noticeable lull in activity around the garden. One family of insects that is bucking this trend though are the aphids; there’s thousands of them everywhere and the predator species like ladybirds are not around in any kind of numbers sufficient to keep the numbers down. Who knows, maybe that’s by design - to let the numbers get up so that there’s plenty to eat for the rest of the summer. It’s very well organised if that’s the case.

The aphids I found lately are Gooseberry Willowherb Aphid (Aphis grossulariae) scrunching up the new grown leaves on the gooseberry bushes, Silver Birch Aphid (Euceraphis betulae) in amazing numbers on the undersides of the silver birch leaves, Geranium Aphid (Acyrthosiphon malvae) on the lower leaves of the wild geranium plants in the flowerbed and Herb Bennet Aphid (Macrosiphum gei) on the Herb Bennet that grows wherever it can.

One thing i learned about aphids is that certain species have a life-cycle involving two plants - the Gooseberry Willowherb Aphid being an example. It spends the winter and spring in the woody gooseberry bush, in the spring curling over the young leaves at the ends of each branch as the first generations of young grow. Presumably this is for protection against things like the blue tits and wren that I have seen feeding in the same bush. In the summer they decamp, at least partially, to willowherb plants, before returning to the gooseberry to pass the winter. Apparently several aphid species have a similar strategy; while it makes sense in terms of surviving the winter it seems incredible that a species would evolve to be dependent on two specific yet so different species of plant.

Freeing the Pond Olive Mayfly

Once again the brown wheelie bin for garden waste came up trumps with a new species for the backyard - this time my first mayfly, a Pond Olive (#301) with its lovely long tail streamers.  Mayflies are usually found by ponds and streams, so God knows how it got in my compost bin, as I'd only been pulling up some potato plants and a few weeds; certainly nothing from any pond.  Apparently it's a myth that mayflies only live for a day - even so, spending a large proportion of your life shut in a dark wheelie bin is a bit tragic.  I was happy to liberate it.

301 Pond Olive mayfly.jpg

300 Species in my Backyard in 2 months

More or less on the 2 month mark, I added a handful of species to achieve a total of 300 species in the microEden backyard.  The fennel seems to be the most attractive pollen source for flies, hoverflies and wasps,  The population of wasps is really taking off right now, with them all around us as soon as we sit outside for a meal.

The new species in the last couple of days include #297 common orange legionnaire fly, #298 pied hoverfly and #300 a solitary bee Ectemnius continuus.  The solitary bee is a predator, digging a nest hole in wood and taking flies, etc back for its larvae - it has strong looking legs, perhaps for all that digging.  On the fennel though it was more interested in the flowers than any of its fellow insects.

Stinkbugs Emerging

These two were the first shield bugs of the season.  On the left the Birch Shieldbug (#282), several of which have been blown out of the trees around the garden by the strong winds of the last couple of days.  On the right a Red-legged Shieldbug (#292), this one saved from drowning in the paddling pool.  These shield shaped bugs are also often called stink bugs as the smell bad when you squash them, and presumably they taste bad to birds as well.  They're pretty bugs, but not especially a gardeners friend as they live by sucking the sap from plants and hence can become a pest, but I don't mind them...

Orthoptera in the Paddling Pool

A whole run of interesting insects being fished out of the kids paddling pool.  An adult Oak Bush Cricket with very impressive antennae - maybe it was the same one I rescued as a nymph from the brown wheelie bin earlier in the summer!  We don't have much in the way of long grass, so this grasshopper was a first for the garden.  Judging from its colour and wing length, I identified it as Lesser Marsh Grasshopper, a species which has been extending its range north in UK.  It's nice to find interesting insects like this on my patch.

Leaf Miners

I like the crazy patterns leaf miners make in the leaves. The traces are made by larvae, mostly of flies or moths, that live between the top and bottom surfaces of the leaf, eating their way around the interior in different ways until they eventually are ready to transform.  By the plant species involved and the pattern left by the larvae you can mostly identify which the species.  I've recorded mines on sugar snap peas, chard and aquilegia; also on weeds such as sow thistles, herb bennett & willowherb.  Mostly they're fairly harmless, though I'm not so happy about the damage to my chard - not that I can do much about it, if I don't want to use insecticide.