I am not a great expert on bugs – that is true bugs, species of Hemiptera. This group of insects includes aphids, plant hoppers etc. However, I do like the shieldbugs – there are not too many British species, most of them are fairly big and they come in different colours. Sally likes taking photographs of them. I have seen the pied shieldbug before (left), but a few days ago, in a brief sunny period, I counted over 20 of these on a small patch of white-dead nettle in our front garden. Never seen so many! They were all adults so they must have just come out of hibernation. They are associated with white-dead nettle – I guess they must feed on the leaves but I really don’t know. When the sun comes out have a look for yourself.
But beware of Rambur’s pied shieldbug! (right) This is an invasive alien from Europe that was first spotted in Britain from Kent in 2011 but is becoming more common. It is usually associated with black horehound plants. I have seen this one too – but I can never remember the differences between the two species so I have to check every time I see a “pied” shieldbug. Can you see how they differ?
During the sunny spells I have also seen the male and female hairy footed bee. They are most commonly seen feeding on lungwort but they also like visiting white-dead nettle.
Sally has not yet managed a decent photograph of either the male or the all black female. So I caught a male – he was quite friendly and waved “hello”. Beeflies are about but all I am getting is blurred pictures!
Alan has been running his moth trap and a few days ago caught 10 species of moth. Quite a good total for March. He also caught a black burying beetle.
This is Nicrophorus humator, the only black species with brown chestnut tips on the antennae. “humator” has something to do with “to inter” – they bury small dead mammals. Alan’s photograph was not one of his best – sorry Alan, so I substituted one of Sally’s photographs. This one was also caught in a moth trap attracted to light -why come to light? We rarely see dead bodies in the garden! Several years ago I did find a dead bank vole and I have a photograph – but I substituted this for a very friendly live bank vole.
I put the dead vole in a seed tray with some compost and put a large cage over it to prevent foxes and cats from stealing the bait. It attracted lots of flies, which laid eggs, which turned into maggots, which turned into puparia. Needless to say this was nothing to do with me going fishing. I then collected the brown puparia and kept them in containers. I reared lots of flies. But I also reared a very interesting small parasitic wasp called Tachinaephagus zealandicus. Lots of them. Why interesting? The clue is in the name – they should be in New Zealand. In the last few years this species has spread all over the world, aided and abetted by humans. But my dead vole was the first time it had been found breeding in the wild in Britain!
What else? Two chiffchaffs paid a visit. And a first for this winter – a male blackcap. I think Barbara told us that she saw this species during her Big Garden BirdWatch, the only report I have had this year.
What have I missed?