The Running Total

So far, the grand total of identified species on the property stands at 1101.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Wing wavers

Hawthorn Fruit Fly (Anomoia purmunda)

While I was weeding in the garden the other afternoon, my eye was caught by subtle motion on a spike of vegetation nearby. Looking more closely, I found a group of small flies waggling their patterned wings at each other and occasionally engaging in a bit of spirited head-butting, trying hard to shove each other off the leaf. I've never seen a behaviour like it! It's a Hawthorn Fruit Fly (Anomoia purmunda), one of the so-called "picture-winged flies". These little insects measure a mere 4.5 mm (less than 1/4-inch) in length, but their frenzied wing-waving makes them pretty noticeable despite their tiny size. Those wings are distinctively marked too, with a big black splotch near the base and a couple of thinner lines further out. Their eyes, green with two pink stripes, are characteristic as well. Females lay their eggs in hawthorn fruits (though they'll use a variety of other species if hawthorns aren't available). Interestingly, though they were displaying on a shoot of Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major), that isn't one of the known larval host plants. These little flies are reasonably common in the southern half of England and Wales, and from Europe right across the Palearctic to countries bordering the Pacific. Adults are seen between July and October, so we may get the chance to watch them do their wing-waggling/head-butting thing again.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Spotty one

Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata)

This year has seen an absolute explosion of ladybirds in the garden. The vast majority have been the near-ubiquitous Seven-spot Ladybirds, but a few other species have made an appearance. Last Friday, we added a new one to the list. This eye-catching little beastie is an Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata). Its pale orangey-brown elytra (the hard cases that protect the membraneous wings) are covered with 14–16 creamy-white spots. Like the 22-spot Ladybird I profiled few weeks ago, this one is a mildew specialist. However, unlike that smaller ladybird, which feeds on umbellifer mildews, the Orange Ladybird feeds primarily on mildews that attack trees — especially those that attack sycamores and ash. From April to October, it's widespread in woodland, towns and gardens across England and Wales, but uncommon in Scotland. Beyond the UK, it's found from Europe right across northern Asia to Siberia, northern China and Japan. Apparently, it's attracted to bright lights at night, and is regularly found in moth traps. That's where we found this one, trundling around among the moths. Interestingly, this species used to be associated only with ancient woodland, and was quite rare in Britain. Within the past few decades, however, it made the jump to the mildews of sycamores and ash, and its numbers have increased dramatically. It's nice to learn of a success story, for a change!

Friday, 31 July 2020


Everybody knows the rules: butterflies fly during the day and moths at night. Except sometimes they don't! This is a Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata), and it's a species that flies by day as well as by night. It's also known as "Small Purple and Gold", which is a good description of both its size and its principal colours. The trio of small, rather indistinct spots at the dorsal edge of the forewing (the side closest to the moth's body) help to distinguish this species from the similar, closely related Common Purple and Gold (Pyrausta purpuralis). When it's not flying (or feeding), the Mint Moth often perches on the scented leaves of mint plants or related species. Its caterpillars feed on various members of the mint family, and the species is common in meadows and gardens where those host plants are found. It's also found in marshland, woodland and quarries. Though regular across England, Wales and southern Scotland, the Mint Moth has a fairly patchy distribution. Elsewhere, it's widespread across much of Europe, North Africa and northern Asia. It's a double-brooded species, with one generation emerging from mid-April to June with a second generation from mid-July to September, so we should be seeing increasing numbers over the next few weeks. And there's plenty of mint plants scattered around to feed the youngsters!

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Rusty thistles

Thistle Rust (Puccinia punctiformis)

When it comes to our ongoing battle with thistles — and our attempts to control them — we may have a new ally. While wandering around the garden recently, I noticed a Creeping Thistle plant that was looking a bit peaked — pale compared to its neighbours, but showing some dark rusty-red patches as well. A closer look showed it to be heavily infected with Thistle Rust (Puccinia punctiformis), a fungus that is specific to Creeping Thistle. So far, it's only the single plant that has been impacted; the nearby thistle plants all appear to be healthy. However, that may not remain the case. Thistle Rust is now found around the world and is widely used in some places as a biological control agent. Its spores spread on the wind, and either infect new shoots or enter a plant through its roots. Some species of weevil may also spread the spores while feeding. The rust affects the plant's ability to both photosynthise and reproduce, and can eventually kill it. Our bare toes aren't sorry to hear that!

This whole plant is affected

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Green veins

Green-veined White (Pieris napi)

Over the past few weeks, we've begun to see increasing numbers of Green-veined Whites (Pieris napi) in the garden. Some, like this pair, have even been stuck together, busily making more Green-veined Whites. It's not hard to see how they got their common name. From the top, they can look bewilderingly similar to Small Whites (which are known as "Cabbage Whites" in the US), but the green lines on their undersides are gratifyingly distinctive. Unlike the other butterflies I've profiled so far, this one is double-brooded. The offspring of one brood overwinters as pupae (no longer caterpillars, but not yet butterflies), emerging as adults from early April through June. These mate and lay eggs, and a second brood emerges as adults from mid-July into September. This second brood lays the eggs that hatch and develop as far as pupae, which then overwinter. Green-veined Whites are common and widespread across the British Isles, found everywhere except the highest peaks. They're drawn to damp areas with lush vegetation, where the larval food plants — a variety of wild crucifers — can be found. In our garden, the patches of Garlic Mustard likely fit the bill, at least for the first brood. These butterflies are most common in wetlands and damp meadows, along water courses, and in damper hedgerows and wood edges, but they clearly venture beyond those areas. Maybe, once we've put our pond in, they'll even stick around!

Friday, 24 July 2020

Heal Thyself

Common Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)

Right now, our back lawn is dotted with the small purple flowerheads of Common Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), a bee-friendly perennial that loves the full sun of that part of the garden. Common and widespread in grassland, farmland and gardens across the British Isles, it's also found throughout the temperate zone in much of the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, it's a plant I remember from my childhood, when my wildflower-loving mother identified it in growing on the stony soil of the Canadian island where we spent our summer vacations. Thanks to accidental introduction, it's now also found elsewhere in the world, including Australia, New Zealand and several Pacific islands; unfortunately, it's considered invasive in all of those areas. In our garden, it's a relatively tiny plant, kept small by the regular mowing that Mike does on that part of the property. Unmowed, it can grow to about 30 cm (a foot or so), with its purple flowers growing in a dense cluster at the top of the stem. Its square stems are quite hairy, as are its lance-shaped leaves. It blooms from June to October. As its name suggests, this plant has long been important in herbal medicine, used to treat everything from wounds and bleeding to heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and sore throats. Here, we'll keep it for its splash of colour — and for the fact that the pollinators love it.

Sunday, 19 July 2020


Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we've been doing battle with thistles in the garden since moving in two and a half years ago. So far, it's a battle we're losing! While some of our foes are the big (and prickly) Spear Thistles, by far the larger number are the tenacious, perennial Creeping Thistles (Cirsium arvense). These plants are somewhat smaller and less robust than their Spear Thistle cousins, with smaller, paler pink flowerheads. The capitula (the wine glass shaped purple bit under the flowers) isn't as viciously spiked as is the capitula on the Spear Thistle, though the rest of the plant is certainly well protected with sharp spines. Unlike the Spear Thistle, which spreads only by seed, this one spreads by underground runners as well — and that makes it very hard to eliminate. The roots break easily into sections when we try to pull them up, and sections as small as 1/4-inch (3mm) can grow into a new plant. I expect we'll still be grubbing bits up in 20 years. Its propensity to regenerate from root fragments, and its ability to produce upwards of 5300 seeds per plant (and for those seeds to remain viable for as long as 20 years) makes Creeping Thistle a real problem for farmers. And since it has been accidentally introduced from its native Europe across much of the globe, it's impact is being felt worldwide. In many places, including its native range, it's considered to be invasive. However, from a wildlife point of view, it's not all bad news. Its seeds are an important food source for farmland birds, which are rapidly declining across Europe. European Goldfinches and Linnets are said particularly fond of them, and the two pairs of goldfinches we've had nesting in the garden this summer may have been at least partly attracted by them. The flowers are visited by a host of pollinators, and the foliage is the larval food for at least 20 species of butterflies and moths, including the Painted Lady. We will need to be vigilant though, if we don't want it to take over the rest of the garden.

Friday, 17 July 2020


22-spot Ladybird (Psyllobora 22-punctata)

While out exploring the garden during my lunch break the other day, I came across a few of these little beetles scurrying up and down grass stems near our raptor viewpoint. It's a 22-spot Ladybird (Psyllobora 22-punctata), one of Britain's more common ladybird species. The bright yellow colour is a warning to potential predators that this ladybird tastes nastily bitter, so had best be avoided. Its discrete spots, which never merge into each other, help to distinguish it from the larger 14-spot Ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata). Widespread across much of the British Isles (though scarce in the north), it's common in grassy places, including hedgerows, wood edges and roadsides — and pocket meadows. Like other ladybirds, it overwinters as a dormant adult, with eggs laid in early spring and new adults appearing in early summer. However, unlike most of its cousins, this one feeds on mildews rather than aphids, and is particularly fond of mildew on umbellifers. Given the amount of mildew growing on Common Hogweed plants scattered around the property, our little visitors should have plenty to nibble on for the remainder of the season.

Monday, 13 July 2020


Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus fuscus)

That's quite the racing stripe!
While we were out enjoying the sunshine this past weekend, Mike found a nymph of a grasshopper species new to the garden. This little lady, with her dark "racing stripe", is a Long-winged Conehead. The triangular shape of her head, her ridiculously long antennae, and her long, straight ovipositor (the brownish appendage sticking out her back end; she'll use it to lay her eggs) help to clinch her ID. When we looked her up in our copy of "Grasshoppers and Allied Insects of Norfolk" — yes, we're nerds — we discovered a single dot on the map for the entire county, located well along the coast from where we are. Understandably, that led to considerable excitement on our part. However, a bit of nosing around on the internet revealed that things have changed since 2000, when the book was published. There are now records for virtually all corners of the county, and the species is widespread across much of southern England and Wales. Given that it was first reported in Great Britain in 1931, that's quite a range expansion.

Some conehead species are tied to wetlands, but the Long-winged Conehead isn't one of them. Though it's certainly found in reed beds, bogs, and marshes, it also occurs in dry heaths and rough grassland, so it's apparently right at home in our pocket meadow. Nymphs emerge in late May and June, and reach adulthood by August. If she reaches maturity and mates, our little nymph will deposit her eggs in grass stems (after first chewing a hole to make it easier to stick her ovipositor into position). Adults will be around until early winter. These coneheads are primarily herbivores, but will also munch on aphids and small caterpillars. As with other grasshoppers, males "sing" by rubbing their legs together. The song is similar to that of the Common Green Grasshopper, but somewhat higher pitched and more "metallic"; I'll have to work on getting a recording.

Friday, 10 July 2020


Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)

Probably the most common bee in the garden at the moment is the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) — and that's been the case for much of the summer. They're easy to identify: a furry all-black body with a distinctively eye-catching red backside. Queens, which we saw early in the season, are quite large, with some measuring more than an inch in length. Workers are considerably smaller. Mated queens emerge from hibernation in April and set about establishing a new colony. They nest underground, typically choosing an abandoned mammal tunnel (voles are a favourite) for their nest site. We've found a few colonies scattered around the garden, some in Short-tailed Vole tunnels and others in holes left by uprooted Alexanders plants. The queen's worker daughters provide food and care for the colony for the summer, and the colony will remain active as late as November. Later in the season, newly emerged queen and drones will emerge for mating flights. Once the frosts come, all but the newly-mated queens will die; the new queens hibernate overwinter. 

This is one of Britain's most widespread and abundant bumblebees, found across much of England and Wales, though less common in Scotland (where it's found only in the lowlands) and Northern Ireland (where it's largely restricted to the east). It's found virtually anywhere there are flowers to feed on, and is very regularly seen in gardens. Elsewhere in the world, it is also widespread across much of Europe. Studies have found it to be more likely to forage in higher temperatures than other species of bumblebee, which makes it important for pollination of some plants. Its long tongue also allows it to pollinate species unavailable to shorter-tongued bees. Workers are known to travel more than a mile from their colony to food sources. Like its Buff-tailed Bumblebee cousin, the Red-tailed Bumblebee is parasitised by a species of cuckoo bee. In this case, it's by the very similar-looking Red-tailed Cuckoo Bumblebee; the cuckoo queens differ only in having black, rather than translucent, wings. So far, we haven't knowingly seen any of those parasites here.

Check out that pollen basket — packed with pollen!