The girls playing out on the cul de sac on a September evening were huddled together, excited. One of them had found this enormous caterpillar crossing the road – around two inches long. it was the biggest caterpillar any of us had ever seen, even the parents.
What on earth was it? It took some time to identify as the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth, which received its name courtesy of the characteristics of its caterpillar phase. The fake eyes are said to frighten predators off.
This picture from Wikimedia Commons shows what the adult looks like.
Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Gail Hampshire, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s getting towards late summer in England,and the small tortoiseshell butterflies have arrived in our garden, at much the same time as they did last year. One sunny morning, the first after a period of rain, there were an incredible 12 basking on our awning and roof, probably newly hatched. They really are rather pretty butterflies.
The feeding proboscis is particularly evident in the following.
Click to see more detail.
Populations are said to be declining, possibly related to habitat loss, pesticides, global warming…
It’s been a bad summer for butterflies in England. Most common are the whites, small and large. Occasionally we come across the green veined white, seen here at the National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire. With wings spread out it is similar to the small white, but the underside shows clear green veins.
Hidcote also gave the bonus of a nice fresh peacock butterfly.
This beautiful emperor dragonfly was ceaselessly patrolling the pond at Denzell Gardens, Altrincham. He never stopped for an instant, but hovered from time to time at a particular corner. The only photography option was to shoot him in flight, a challenge for my Panasonic ZX200 superzoom.
According the the British Dragonfly Society, they rarely settle, but there is a stunning photograph on their website. The blue abdomen indicates a male.
These are Britain’s bulkiest dragonflies, common in southern England, but their range is said to be moving northward, probably due to global warming.
During a recent short, sun-blessed visit to the Wales/Shropshire/Cheshire border area near Whitchurch, we saw lots of gatekeeper butterflies. Although typified as ‘browns’, and with the alternative name of ‘hedge brown’, the upper wings include a colourful orange.
Gatekeepers are more typically associated with southern England, but their range is extending northward, no doubt related to climate change.
Last week’s hot spell gave me the gift of quite a few minutes spent watching and photographing these magical banded demoiselle damselflies, by the lake outflow stream in Tatton Park. These are larger than the average damselfly, almost of a size more typical of dragonflies.
Click to see closer.
Their colours are startling blues and greens in bright sunlight. According to the British Dragonfly Society, the two genders are distinguished as follows:
Male: metallic blue body with broad dark blue-black spots across outer parts of wings.
Female: metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. (Wikipedia suggests there may also be a white patch near the tip of the female’s wings).
We haven’t seen many butterflies so far this summer, but there were plenty of these brown ringlets in the woodland during our recent visit to the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden, North Wales. Fortuitously, one paused on a neaby leaf allowing this shot.
In my experience, dragonflies are difficult to photograph because they are constantly on the move, often patrolling their territory. I was probably lucky to catch these male black tailed skimmers basking in the sun, by the lake at the National Trust’s Ickworth House in Suffolk.
UK dragonflies tend to be so active that they are difficult to photograph. But these North American green darners at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, March 2019, were just basking on the footpath in the sun.
They are so-called because of the supposed resemblance to a darning needle. Any young readers will probably say ‘What the heck is that?’.
Here’s another green/brown shieldbug I came across in the garden, lurking in a corner, possibly looking for somewhere to hibernate. This is the common green shieldbug.
According to the Wildlife Trusts, the black dots distinguish this from the southern green shieldbug. The common green was once restricted to Southern England, but has recently become widespread across much of England and Wales, due to the effects of climate change. Nature really is on the move because of the changing climate.
I found it upside down, as in the featured image. The crazy world of insects doesn’t bother much about gravity.
They’re also called stink bugs because of their reaction to being disturbed. I’ve never come across this feature.
Our small apple tree in a raised border by a fence usually has a crop of 20-30 smallish apples. About half of these are usually riddled with bugs and/or bird peckings. I don’t use any pesticides.
This year I recently picked the ‘crop’ – just ten apples, but each rather larger than usual. This summer’s weather must have somehow encouraged this by shining and raining at the right times, as I’d hardly bothered to thin them out.
The funny thing is, there were no blemishes on the apples, no peck marks, no bugs, no caterpillers, no sawfly larvae, no aphids… Now this is scary. We know about declining numbers of insects, but NO BUGS AT ALL? And no birds fancying a tasty peck? Even the army of slugs enabled by the lack of deterrent couldn’t be bothered to climb up.
I have never known such an occurrence before. Another piece of evidence of the alarming reduction in the natural world that is taking place before our eyes. What will future generations say when they look at David Attenborough’s films and literally cannot believe their eyes, and that this wonderful biodiversity was all lost by negligence?
So yes, there are more important things than unblemished apples.
The thistle patch featured a few days ago is already no longer, the flowers being replaced by fluffy seed balls like dandelion clocks. These pictures from that time, of small white butterflies click well with the colour of the thistle flowers. The first is an especially pleasing composition, to my eyes.
The (small and large) white butterflies were very common in my youth and a bit of a nuisance, with their caterpillars all over the brassica plants. Now they’re not so common, so seeing them is a bit more of an event, and photographing them more of a challenge.
Most of the year the long straggly patch between two local fields on one of our walks is a bit nondescript and weedy. We bemoan the poor state of the hedge. But at this time of year comes a profusion of thistles into flower, some quite beautiful.
Look closely, and you see tiny insects on the leaves and flowers, with body length of just a few mm.
A gang of these came around our pond for a few minutes, buzzed around furiously and noisily, occasionally briefly settling on water lily leaves. Then they disappeared. Nothing like the usual hoverflies that hang around flowers for ages.
This beauty is a marsh hoverfly. Magnificent body markings and lace wings! Judging by the Wikepedia entry this appears to be a female.Read More »
We used to call them gnats in Lincoln. The Spanish call them mosquitoes (diminutive for mosca – fly). It was many years before I realised these are the same thing, basically, although there are different sorts.
For us they were just pesky nuisances, but this is mankind’s ‘deadliest predator’. How come? The answer: malaria. In 2018 there were 228,000,000 new cases and 400,000 died, but few in the ‘developed world’.
For millennia people got the ague, got sick and many died. It even decided major events, such as Hannibal’s failed assault on Rome, the limits of Alexander the Great’s conquering. It was thought to be bad air that caused it (mal-aria).
Eventually mankind found the cure – draining swamps and quinine, a refined variant of which, hydroxychloroquine, has been in the news recently. Of course, a lot of the world can’t afford these solutions.
This reminded me of a trip we took a few years ago to the unspoilt Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. We stopped outside the gate of the reserve to take a quick entry photo, and by the time we got back in the car I had a number of mosquito bites on my arm. Of course, the whole of this eastern part of Texas was one big swamp before white men arrived. What a lot of mosquitoes! And what a heroic effort to carve the city of Houston out of such terrain. No wonder they use a lot of pesticide.
To know history and its causes is to understand today!
Thanks to an excellent review by Steven Shapin in the recent London Review of Books, on the book The Mosquito; A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Winegard. Sounds like a great book!
No it’s not my arm. Featured image of Tasmanian mosquito by JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons
Hoverflies love this fine weather we’ve had recently. It’s difficult to get a good shot when they’re hovering, but later in the afternoon they often settle for a bit of sunbathing, on a fence, or in this case by the pond.
As coronavirus gradually reduced our horizons during our recent stay in Houston, it was surprising how many insects one came across in the garden. Surprising because continuous chemical warfare is waged against termites and cockroaches, which would both soon become very widespread without it.
The presence of lizards and birds, such as cardinal, mocking bird and blue jay, does suggest that there are insects around, and if you go in the summer there will be mosquitoes due to large amounts of standing water. Fortunately these were not significantly around during our recent visit. We did see odd cockroaches, the great survivors, but these are not my favourite photographic subjects.
Bees were around on emerging spring flowers, but my two best pictures were of a monarch butterfly and a colourful paper wasp(?).