Beauty and the beast


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This Crab spider seems to have decided not to bother with camouflage as it sits on this gorgeous Japanese rose flower, or perhaps it can’t manage to colour itself bright pink.

An early Painted Lady


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It’s three weeks since I saw my first Painted lady of the year and I’ve not seen another since then. Apart from a sighting in early April some years ago, I don’t usually see them until the summer. Considering this beauty had flown across to south Wales from Europe, battling wind and weather along the way, it was looking remarkably good – a little faded on the wings perhaps, a couple of small snippets missing along the edges of its wings where birds had tried but failed to grab it. I’m looking forward to seeing many more Painted ladies as the summer progresses.

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Four orchid firsts


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Wherever I walk now, I find orchids beginning to appear, and it’s truly wonderful to see these beauties. Here are the latest …

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Common spotted orchid, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park

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Twayblade, Lavernock Nature Reserve

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Southern marsh orchid, Grangemoor Park

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Pyramidal orchid, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park

The dragon with the golden rings


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The dragon with the golden rings – that sounds like something out of The Lord of the Rings; reminds me of the dragon sleeping on its huge horde of gold under the mountain. But no, this particular dragon is a dragonfly, and the golden rings are the marks that encircle its body. Hence its name, the Golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii). This is not a dragonfly I see locally but was a stunning surprise during a recent visit to Parc Penallta, a park on a former coal tip in the Welsh Valleys.

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The Mallards


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I don’t often venture to the lakeside nearest the entrance to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park (too many people), which is perhaps why I didn’t see these two broods of Mallard ducklings when they were younger (or their mothers may, previously, have been keeping them safely hidden in the reeds). One mother and her three youngsters were enjoying a snooze in the sunshine. The other, with her six ducklings (well done that mother!), was being a little more adventurous, perhaps hoping visitors would sprinkle some seed in the water for them all to feed on.

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The mimics


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You may have seen on social media and, indeed, be experiencing for yourself our ‘silent spring’, where the lamentably small numbers of invertebrates are causing grave concern. I have also found this – places where I would normally be seeing good numbers of bees, flies, butterflies and bugs are almost empty of life. So, I was even more pleased than usual last Monday when I spotted two Volucella bombylans hoverflies, one of each of the two colour variations, in a corner of a local field. These are bumblebee mimics, deliberately imitating bumble species so as to enter the nests of bumblebees to lay their eggs within.

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Volucella bombylans var. plumata above mimics the White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum). I’ve included a photo of Bombus lucorum, above right, so you can see the two side by side. And, as you can see, the colouring of the second Volucella bombylans below is quite different. This is Volucella bombylans var. bombylans, which mimics the Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) shown lower right. The mimicry isn’t perfect but it obviously works – if it didn’t, these hoverflies wouldn’t exist.

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The chasers


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There are three common or locally common species of chaser dragonflies, the Libellula, in Britain – so far, I’ve only seen two of them, the two shown here, the Four-spotted chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) and the Broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa). I’ve just been checking the Welsh biodiversity database and found that the third species, the Scarce chaser (Libellula fulva), can be found at a couple of local sites, so I need to make finding that species a priority. Meantime, these other two chasers are active now around ponds and small lakes so do try and spot yourself a dragon or two if you’re out walking in your local countryside.

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Four-spotted chaser

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Broad-bodied chaser (male)

The illegals


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It’s happening again. Some idiot is fiddling with our local butterflies, illegally. This month, Marsh fritillaries have been spotted at Lavernock Nature Reserve, at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, and along one of the reens (streams) at Rumney, on the eastern outskirts of Cardiff.

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The sightings at Cosmeston and Rumney were of solitary butterflies and, though Cosmeston is not much more than a mile from Lavernock, Rumney is nowhere near any known site and Marsh fritillaries are not strong fliers so neither of these butterflies is likely to have arrived accidently. Also, though Cosmeston does have some areas of Devil’s-bit scabious, the butterfly’s larval food plant, Rumney has none. Hence my description of the person doing this as an idiot – the butterflies at Cosmeston and Rumney have no chance at all of establishing a colony.

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The situation at Lavernock is a little different, as at least three Marsh fritillaries were found there last year (see An illegal introduction, May 2022). There is a slim possibility those butterflies bred and this year’s fritillaries are the result, but the experts I’ve been in contact with believe it is much more likely these 2023 butterflies are more illegal introductions.

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The British population of Marsh fritillaries has been in steady decline for many years so these gorgeous butterflies definitely need help but these random releases in unsuitable locations are not the answer. In south Wales, a large-scale, properly managed and licensed conservation project is already underway. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out the project page and the more recent news page on the Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru (INCC) website.

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Figwort weevils and larva


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I love weevils! I’ve probably said that before; I’ll undoubtedly say it again. So, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat when I spotted these gorgeous mini-beasties.

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Perched on the tiny bundles of fruit of the plant they’re named for, these are Figwort weevils (Cionus scrophulariae). Their furry looking coats of beige and brown and light grey are pure decoration (imagine having a coat like that to wear!), and probably also good camouflage. And their impressive snouts are used for sucking the juices from their plant hosts (they can also be found on Mullein), though I don’t think these two weevils were feeding – I think they were egg-laying, as I noticed tiny blobs of yellow emerging from their rear ends, and I don’t think it was pooh.

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Amazingly, I managed to find a Figwort weevil larva, something I’ve never seen before. I’ve lightened this photo to show the detail a little more clearly but, as the UK Beetles website explains, they are actually dark brown, ‘almost black, and covered in a shiny and sticky secretion which makes them distasteful to predators and is thought to give some protection from parasites’. I actually find it quite difficult to comprehend that this slimy slug lookalike morphs into the complicated character that is the adult Figwort weevil.

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R.I.P. the Bees


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Overjoyed one day; saddened, depressed, and angry the next! That seems to be a recurring pattern for me, and probably for many of you who are passionate about our natural world. This week, the reason for my joy and pain was a beautiful colony of Bee orchids growing on a road verge in Cardiff.

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I’d been watching the area for months, not sure what the grey-green rosettes of leaves would produce. They’d already had their tops cut once but were persisting and, on Wednesday’s walk, I was overjoyed to see that in little more than a week of warm, dry weather they’d sprouted flower stems and many were already open – they were Bee orchids, at least 30, probably more. I was so excited to see them – posted a rubbish phone photo on Twitter, better images later. Other people loved them too.

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The very next morning they were obliterated by a contractor working for the land owner (in this case, the verge is privately owned, not council property). That same contractor has previously left areas of planted Daffodils, even after they’d finished flowering, so he recognised those planted bulbs but failed to recognise the Bee orchids. Such ignorance is part of the reason our planet is in trouble, I think – people don’t see the beauty of the natural world, nor do they have the knowledge to make informed decisions. In an ideal world, he would’ve recognised the Bees, phoned his manager, arranged a stay of execution until the orchids had had time to flower and seed.

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A modicum of hope: the person who sent me the sad news about the Bees is endeavouring to find out who owns the land so we can try to prevent this happening in future.