Sally and I like to keep an eye open for animals (and plants) that arrive in our garden. In some shape or form we have records going back for almost 40 years! Birds and insects (especially moths) form the bulk of our garden sightings. But last Sunday was rather special and very interesting too.
It was a another very warm and sunny day and the first insect that I found on a walk around the garden was a Willow Emerald Damselfly, Lestes viridis. It was a female and it was initially found hanging from a twig of our birch tree. It is in a group of damselfly sometimes called “spreadwings” because of the unusual way they hold their wings at rest. Many of you will, perhaps, have never heard of this species of damselfly. Not surprising really, as it is a very recent colonist from Europe. There is an early record from Cliffe Pools for 1992 but it not until 2009 that the Willow Emerald became establised in Suffolk. It has now spread to Norfolk, Essex, North Kent and now our garden! Last week we also found a male and female on the marshes at Chalk were we live. (You may need to click on the image to see it!) As its name suggests it lays its eggs in willow twigs that are overhanging water. When it hatches the young nymph falls into the water and continues its development. Very strange.
We had only just started to look at the photographs that Sally had taken when a Jersey Tiger moth, Euplagia quadripunctaria, flew into the house and settled on the patio door. As you can see from the photograph this is a spectacular moth – and it often flies in the sunshine. It is, however, a European species that in the past was a great rarity in the UK. However its range started to expand and the Jersey Tiger became well establised in our area in about 2010. We have seen it in our garden most years since then.
I started to think about seeing these two species and decided to check out our Purple Toadflax plants. I knew that I would find caterpillars of the Toadflax Brocade Moth, Calophasia lunula, feeding on the leaves and stems. The caterpillar is quite splendid. It was first found in the UK in 1950, and was regarded as rare, but since about 2002 has moved on from the rather specialised habitats (such as shingle beaches) that it had colonised. In our area this moth is now very common as the plant itself is quite invasive and seems to grow anywhere in urban neglected areas (like our garden!).
Finally, we could not resist going in search of the Southern Oak Bush-cricket, Meconema meridionale, in our front garden. Yes, it is a recent colonist from Europe, with the first UK record in 2001 from Surrey and Berkshire. The first Kent record was from our garden in September 2005! We have seen it in our garden every year since and it is now widespread in the UK. On Sunday it only took us a few seconds to find this male Southern Oak Bush-cricket in our Pyracantha bush.
These species are all southern species spreading their range northwards from Europe. Their range limit in the UK is moving northwards year after year. It may be coincidence, but we have not seen our native Oak Bush-cricket in the garden since the arrival of its European cousin. So what’s going on in our garden?