A little bit of sunshine and a sheltered spot, plus a few blooming wildflowers – in this case, dandelions and Alexanders, alongside a south Wales coastal road – and out came the flying critters: solitary bees a’buzzing, various species of flies a’flying and hoverflies a’hovering. Spring is off to a flying start!
It may be late autumn, with shortening days, chill winds and cooling nights but, when the sun comes out as it did yesterday, the insects also come out to warm themselves and feed. During my walk around Cosmeston I spotted a late Red admiral butterfly and then, further on, where ivy was still flowering, a host of flying mini-beasties: hoverflies, various bees and wasps. And, near them, tucked away further down on a bramble leaf, even a caterpillar, probably a moth larva though I’m not sure which species.
At this time of year, the delicate lilac tinge of Devil’s-bit scabious casts its imperial purple shadow across the meadows at Cosmeston and at Lavernock. I love it, and I’m not the only one.
It’s proving extremely popular as a late-summer early-autumn source of nectar for all manner of bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Here are a few I’ve seen in recent days …
For the second day in a row, places in north Wales have posted record high winter temperatures and, though a chilly breeze has kept things a bit cooler here in the south, it’s still much warmer than it should be. And these unseasonable highs have been responsible for the early awakening of much insect life. On today’s wander I spotted several hoverflies and bumblebees, a Brimstone butterfly flew past my house earlier, and the cherry tree outside my window has been buzzing with bees all day. It’s wonderful to see all these critters out and about again but it’s also a worry as winter’s probably not finished with us yet.
What a difference a week makes! Seven days ago I was still seeing quite a few hoverflies, feeding on the remaining wildflowers and basking on leaves in the occasional sunshine.
Since then, we’ve had a couple of much cooler nights and the blast of wild, wet and windy weather that was Storm Callum, and the hoverflies seem mostly to have disappeared.
Is that the last I’ll see of them till 2019? Only time will tell.
Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) has a beautiful flower that paints the wildflower meadows at Lavernock Nature Reserve in shades of purple lusciousness and provides some very welcome late summer nectar and pollen to a host of insects, particularly bees, flies and butterflies.
And that name? Well, the story goes that the devil was not pleased that the plant’s medicinal properties were healing the skin conditions of people suffering from bubonic plague and scabies so, in a fit of rage, he tried to kill off the plant by biting off the ends of the plant’s roots. Ever the party pooper!
These are a couple of the Volucella species, the Chinooks of the hoverfly world and, if you live in the southern parts of Britain, they’ll be out there hovering along woodland paths and in local parks near you right now. Before you panic and get out your fly swat, these hoverflies may look a little menacing – and some of them even look a bit like Hornets – but, please rest assured, they are all completely harmless. And, if you take a little time for a closer look, you will soon see what incredibly handsome mini-beasties they are.
With a wing length between 15 and 20mm, Volucella zonaria is the largest British hoverfly and is sometimes known as the Hornet mimic. (There is a very similar species called Volucella inanis but we don’t see them very often in south Wales.) Since arriving in Britain, on England’s south coast, in the 1930s, V. zonaria has made itself at home and has spread west and northwards. During July and August, I’ve seen several of these beauties at Lavernock Nature Reserve and along our local rail trail, a former railway line now a tree-lined foot- and cycling path.
With its large size and black-and-white colouring, Volucella pellucens is a very distinctive hoverfly and easy to identify. You can see why it’s also known as the Great Pied hoverfly. When it’s not feasting on pollen and nectar, it can often be found defending its airspace by hovering around head height along paths and trails. If you stand still, it will sometimes approach to check you out but, once again, it will do you absolutely no harm and move out of your way when you carry on walking.
Last Sunday, on #WildflowerHour, the challenge was to find #plantsforpollinators, i.e. to find wildflowers that support a variety of the insects that act as pollinators. I had found several different insects on Bramble flowers last week so posted a series of photos that showed them. And that gave me the idea for day 13 of #30DaysWild, namely to see what insects I could find on the local Bramble bushes. It was overcast and a bit cooler today, so I didn’t see as many butterflies as last week, but there were bees and bumblebees, flies and hoverflies, one butterfly, and a number of bugs and beetles. Here they are …
‘If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.’
~ E. O. Wilson (1929 – ), American biologist, environmentalist, author