The apple crop

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.

 

Small white

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.

thistle small whitewhite on thistle 2

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.

Thistle patch

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.thistle flower with insects

Look closely, and you see tiny insects on the leaves and flowers, with body length of just a few mm.

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Marsh Hoverfly

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.

marsh hoverfly

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 »

The Dangerous Gnat

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

Insects in the Houston garden

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(?).

Click twice to see full screen.

Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle

This long (more than an inch) black beetle was all but invisible on the stony path I was walking on in Tatton Park. I had no great hopes for the photograph, but the image comes up reasonably well with a bit of brightening up.

devil's coachhorse

I think this is a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle. Apparently, this is one of 46000 species of the rove beetle family, a fast and ferocious night time predator. And it has a nasty bite and can emit a foul smelling odour. I had sort of intuited that it was an unsavoury character!

The segmented abdomen allows it to curl the tail up, like a scorpion. Neither the Wildlife Trusts (above link) nor Wikipedia explains why – I’d guess it’s for balance.

Five or six spots?

This post shows the benefits of just leaving a bit of land fallow, to become a wildflower meadow. What a profusion of butterflies and moths take advantage, including this five spot burnet moth!

Eyes in the back of my Head

P1080129

I recently photographed this burnet moth in the Dordogne, at a place on a walk we enjoy in the hills near the river Vezere. We’ve dubbed this place Butterfly Corner. It’s where the path through the woods opens out and joins a road which leads down to the nearby village.

Why is it Butterfly Corner for us? It’s because the patch of land belonging to the house there has been allowed to go wild and be natural, and it attracts a large number of insects – we saw bees, a hornet, and plenty of butterflies. It’s no great hardship, after a walk uphill, to hang around for a while watching and photographing what we see there, busy in the wild flowers.

I was quite excited to see this burnet moth as I’ve not seen one in the UK for several years. I said, with the confidence of the incorrect…

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Red Admiral

Our buddleia continues to attract more butterflies than we have seen for many years – more like they used to be in earlier decades. We have even seen several red admirals at the same time.

What a difference bright sunlight makes to the vibrancy of the colours, really picking out the zebra-style antennae.

The underwing shown in the featured image is quite unexpected.