Where are all the insects?

New year, new lease of life for this online album of insect critters. I’ve been absent for many years, in no small part due to the lack of many-legged-and-winged friends that I have seen in this time. One reason may be moving from Warwickshire to Buckinghamshire, but both counties have their fair share of wildlife – I’ve seen countless woodpeckers and a few dragonflies – and the insect ‘dry season’ began for me about a year before the move.

This ‘disappearing insect’ phenomenon is noticeable in many ways. For example, remember when windscreens would be splattered by moths and bugs caught in the headlights of your car as you drove in the dark? This barely happens now. And although I live in a flat that’s high up, visible for miles, with glazed doors and the lights on after dark, during summer there were almost no insects drawn by the glow of my light.

Don’t just take my word for it. I was intrigued to see this article earlier in the year, confirming what I’d been thinking:

Science magazine – Where have all the insects gone?

Here are a couple of others:

The Guardian – A giant insect ecosystem is collapsing due to humans. It’s a catastrophe

The Telegraph – The windscreen phenomenon: why your car is no longer covered in dead insects

Yale Environment 360 – What’s causing the sharp decline in insects, and why it matters

Quoted from the Yale article:

“Scientists cite many factors in the fall-off of the world’s insect populations, but chief among them are the ubiquitous use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization, and habitat destruction. ”

With this in mind, the photos I will be sharing will, for a little while and no longer, I hope, only be those I took some years ago.

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Thick-legged flower beetle

Although the oedemera nobilis beetle is supposedly quite common in the UK, this is the first (and only) one I have seen, so I was thrilled when it landed on me in the garden last June. It’s an interesting-looking insect – alien-like, I think, with its long, shiny green body and hairy, bulbous ‘thighs’. Those distinctive legs (femora/femur) show that this one is a male.

Thick-legged flower bug (Oedemera nobilis)

Thick-legged flower bug (oedemera nobilis)

As its name suggests, it feeds on pollen from flowers, including umbels, chamomile, ox-eye daisy and yarrow (but they visit a wide range). Found from April until August/September in England and Wales, they are particularly prevalent in May. Another name for them is the False Oil Beetle, but I don’t know why – can anyone shed some light?

Late summer highlights

It has been a long time since my last post, but, while I haven’t seen many insects – or much wildlife – these last few cold months (partly because I’ve been hibernating myself), I still have lots of photos from the tail end of last summer to share.

Here are a couple of my favourites, with no real theme to them…

A bumblebee and a honey bee share a drink from eryngium bourgatii (I think), otherwise known as Sea Holly

A bumblebee and a honey bee share a drink from eryngium bourgatii (I think), otherwise known as Sea Holly

 

Possibly a hoverfly (eupeodes luniger) on a dahlia

Possibly a hoverfly (eupeodes luniger) on a dahlia

 

Silver Y (autographa gamma) moth resting on clothing pegged on a clothesline

Silver Y (autographa gamma) moth resting on clothing pegged on a clothesline

 

A 7-spot ladybird (coccinella septempunctata) eating aphids, while Cabbage White caterpillars feast on a nasturtium leaf

A 7-spot ladybird (coccinella septempunctata) eating aphids, while Cabbage White caterpillars feast on a nasturtium leaf

 

Picture-winged fly

Finding a bug I’ve never seen before always excites me, but I’ve been fairly ambivalent towards flies up until now. While I have many photos of various different flies, this ‘picture-winged’ euleia heraclei – if that’s what it is – is the first one to really intrigue me (well, except for the behaviour of some – but that’s for another post).

Euleia heraclei picture-winged fly

Euleia heraclei picture-winged fly

The euleia heraclei is also known as the celery (or hogweed) picture-winged fly. Its penchant for celery makes me think I’ve identified it correctly, as I found it on a lovage plant. Lovage is a herb with a celery-like taste, so it could have confused the fly…or it simply likes the smell. It is, as with most insects, it seems, a pest – especially on celery and parsnips.

I love its expressive face, as a lot of flies seem to have. I’ve not seen many photos of this species with an all-yellow face such as this one though.

It’s easy to guess why it’s called a ‘picture-winged’ fly, with its dappled markings, too. There doesn’t appear to be much information about the celery fly (well, not that I can find), but similar species have garnered enough interest to warrant column inches:

Gardener’s World – Picture-winged flies

Picture-winged fly quenches thirst on sperm

A fly that seems to have appeared en masse last weekend is the crane fly, commonly known as ‘daddy long legs’, although it doesn’t resemble the insect that I’ve always called this. The ones I’m seeing a lot of now have quite a squishy, fat, pointed grey body – but when I used to live elsewhere in the UK they had a slimmer body with a square end. (NB: Thanks to the informative Bugsandweeds.co.uk I now believe the former to be the female common crane fly and the latter to be the male!)

To confuse matters, harvestmen or opiliones (such as the one below) are also referred to as ‘daddy long legs’. This one only has six legs, rather than eight, but apparently they often deliberately lose a leg if caught by a predator, and this loss is permanent.

Harvestman

Cabbage White caterpillars

I haven’t been on here for a while, but I still have plenty of photos to share, even as we go into the dark depths of winter, when it may become difficult to even find any insects to snap. I’m intrigued to see whether it will be the case that insects hibernate as the weather turns cold. It’s not something I’ve pondered before. I suppose a lot of species do lie dormant, such as the queen wasp, who battens down for the winter after the worker wasps, drones and the old queens die off (unless there is enough food for a nest to keep going).

Butterflies are another insect that likes to lie low over winter, hibernating either as an adult or an egg, caterpillar or chrysalis! Has anyone ever found any of these over winter? They obviously hide well.

One butterfly I’ve seen in abundance this summer is the Cabbage White. It probably gets plenty of food from people’s gardens, if the devastation the caterpillars caused our nasturtiums is anything to go by. I saw some of the butterflies hover over the area where the nasturtium plant used to be, when it was overrun by caterpillars, and then fly away suddenly. I wonder if they had been some of the caterpillars that had fed on that plant…

These pictures were taken in July:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cabbage White butterfly caterpillars

And this is another nasturtium, with another batch of caterpillars, in August:

Cabbage White butterfly caterpillars

Cabbage White butterfly caterpillars

As you can see, they’re not great if you want your nasturtiums to last!

http://www.britishbutterflies.co.uk/winter.asp

Rosemary beetle

I realise that rosemary beetles are a pest, but they’re such a beautiful colour! You can almost see my camera’s reflection in this one.

Rosemary beetle

Rosemary beetle

The rosemary beetle (chrysolina americana), as you might expect from the name, likes to eat the leaves of the rosemary plant. It’s also fond of a host of other herbs, including thyme, lavender (not strictly a herb, I know) and sage, which this one is sitting on. It’s a huge sage plant, so there’s plenty to go around! I’d prefer it to leave the rosemary alone, however.

I may not be quite so happy to see it in a few weeks, as apparently it’s around now (September) that they start to become active, after being fairly dormant in July and August. The beetle feeds on new plant growth, and causes die back. From southern Europe originally, it has only become particularly prevalent in the UK in the last couple of decades. In fact, the BBC says they first appeared in the UK in 1994, which isn’t that long ago.

Well, I’m still excited about finding it, because it’s the first I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Hear no weevil, see no weevil

When I picked up a candle in my house to smell it, I did not expect to see this on the other side:

Vine weevil

Vine weevil

Apologies for the blurry picture – my camera doesn’t seem to like indoor lighting. Or, at least, that’s what I’m blaming it on.

Perhaps it was trying to avoid being tracked with one of these transmitters: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-shropshire-23784135

Sorry to say, I let it free in the garden before I knew what it was! Farmers and gardeners alike are desperate to kill it, and I could have reduced the vine weevil population by one. But I didn’t. I just hope I don’t end up regretting it. One of our dahlias is looking particularly tragic, thanks to being eaten by something – and possibly this.

Why are they such a pest? As well as the extent of the damage they do to plants (primulas, fuchsias, begonias, evergreen plants, strawberry and raspberry plants and plants in pots are most at risk, apparently), they are difficult to spot until it’s too late. When the plant starts to wilt, this is the first visible sign of attack by its larvae, which feed on plant roots. The adults take a bite out of the leaves.

Forgetting all this evil behaviour, I quite like the way it looks! Its long, pointed snout is unusual, so I was happy to see it and take a photo. Interestingly, it can’t fly.

Hope there’s not an infestation of them in here though, as I’ve just read something saying they breed all year round when indoors, so the pest is always present…

Onto a cheerier topic, here’s a familiar face from the garden – the corizus hyoscyami nymph, but older now:

Corizus hyoscyami nymph, but older

Corizus hyoscyami nymph, but older