Poppies 1

Just two poppy flowers actually. Standing out as bright red jewels beside two tall thistles in a field of ripening rape seeds. Rather battered poppies flapping this way and that in the wind. Somehow, minute beetles still managing to cling on tight, and hoverflies quickly darting within whenever they could. The petals looked like crumpled tissue paper, sometimes with angular folds reflecting light like the fragmented patterns of a kaleidoscope.

Bumblebee or Humblebee ?

I think this is a Buff-tailed Humblebee (Bombus terrestris) but I could be wrong. The slightly larger White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) looks very similar. Perhaps you know the difference and can put me right? Anyway, there were several of them busy getting nectar and covering themselves with pollen in the Charlton Down Nature Reserve last evening.

Red Admiral

A beautiful Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly, basking in a shaft of sunlight on the tall hogweed flowers to the south of Greenwood House yesterday evening.

Tiger Cranefly

I saw this odd insect on a hogweed flowerhead. It is something new to me. It is rather magnificently named the Tiger Cranefly (Nephrotoma flavescens) because of the colouring and pattern if not for any behavioural characteristics. It is harmless enough, and feeds on pollen and nectar.

Pellucid Hoverfly

It is undeniable that there are fewer insects around than there used to be even ten or twenty years ago. The change is dramatic when compared with my youth and childhood which is a very long time ago. On a warm summer afternoon like yesterday there was hardly a creature on the wing in the village nature reserve. There are currently swathes of flowering plants and grasses. Nothing really remarkable – most obvious are the tall stands of various umbellifera, like hog weed and cow parsley with their large flattened flowerheads, providing hundreds of thousands of tiny white flowers full of nectar and pollen. A potential feast for insects. The creamy white background of the blooms makes it easy to see any feeding insects. There were only or two noticeable.

The first one I saw was this unusual insect that looked at first like a bee but had markings on the one pair of true wings. The second pair were reduced and these are called halteres – that signalled it as a type of fly (Dipteran, not Hymenopteran). Looking up the identification back home, I found out it was a Pellucid or Great Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) which is more characteristic on bramble flowers although it is also seen on others like the umbellifers. Pellucid means translucently clear; and you can see that there is a band of segments on the abdomen nearest to the thorax that looks a cream colour – because you can actually see the intestines through the clear integument. Why does it mimic a bee? Well the adult female needs to be in disguise when laying her eggs inside the nests of wasps and bumble bees. The hoverfly larvae feed on waste matter and bee/wasp larvae when they hatch out.

Weathered Peacock Butterfly

I have been surprised to notice a couple of Peacock (Inachis io) butterflies around lately. One was in the Community Orchard and the other on Higher Charlton Down. It’s fairly early for them to be out I would have thought. They looked a bit sad and weather-beaten so I guess they may have been overwintering somewhere and have been tempted out on sunnier, warmer days. The recent sharp frosts will have been a bit of a shock to them. I wonder if they will have survived.

The Butterfly Conservation Trust has a lot of information about moth and butterfly identifications, reserves, and the state of their conservation in a beautifully illustrated site.

Free Bee ID Guide

Does any one of my Greenwood House neighbours want a Field Studies Council foldout guide to identifying bumblebees? Contact me if you want to put your name in the hat for a chance to have this free guide. I will need a flat number to post it through your letterbox if you are the lucky one.

Attracting Bees

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are lots of ways that you can encourage bumble bees to thrive. All our British pollinating insects seem to be in decline, especially the bees which are so important for ensuring the fertilisation of all our fruit, vegetable, and cereal crops.

One way to attract bumble bees is by planting the right flowers and paying attention to the kinds of places that they like to nest. The new Great Sunflower Project which is discussed on the Science Friday site gives some hints and tips on what you can do, no matter whether you have a garden, a small patch of ground, window box or outdoor planters. You can listen to a podcast [or I can let you read a transcript of the conversation if you are one of my neighbours in Greenwood House – let me know].