Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No summer can ever be complete without seeing this beautiful creature in the garden at least once, and this year sure didn't disappoint. So far I have recorded it on 28th July, 21st & 28th August and most recently on 19th September.

It is of course the Hummingbird Hawkmoth or Macroglossum stellatarum. This is principally a day flying moth preferring to fly in bright sunlight, however, it will also take to the wing at dawn, at dusk or at night; in rain, or on cool, dull days.

This moth is an immigrant, which can arrive from southern Europe and north Africa anytime between April and December. It is now considered to be a suspected breeding resident in south-west England where it hibernates in small numbers.

This species is very strongly attracted to tubular flowers yielding plentiful supplies of nectar, such as Jasminum, Buddleja, Nicotiana, Tulipa, Primula, Viola, Syringa, Verbena, Echium, Phlox, Salvia, Red Valerian and Stachys, hovering in front of and repeatedly probing each bloom before darting rapidly to the next. Apparently, this species also has a fine memory, as individuals return to the same flower-beds every day at about the same time. In my garden, I have noticed it feeding on the Buddleja 'Lochinch' (photo above), Verbena bonariensis and various Salvia varieties (obtained from Dyson nurseries). Varieties include - Salvia microphylla 'La Foux', Salvia ‘Maraschino’ and Salvia microphylla ‘Wild Watermelon’.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Swiss Bug!

This little fella was found basking in the sun on one of my Phygelius plants. It is a plant bug of which there are approx. 7000 species! I'm pretty sure it is the Lucerne Bug or Adelphocoris lineolatus.

You will note that there is a prominent triangular area known as the cuneus, just in front of the membrane, and it often differs in colour from the rest of the wing. Clinchers in identifying this particular species should be two black pronotal spots on the thorax (above the white triangular area) and very long tibial spines. Both these features cannot be easily seen from my photograph. I will of course be out in the garden searching for this lovable little character again as soon as possible.

It can be found between July and October mainly on lucerne, clover and other leguminous plants in both wet and dry grassland. It is sometimes a pest of garden flowers! I have examined the leaves of my Phygelius and there are many with huge chunks missing.

I have looked up the definition of Leguminous plants: A large group of pod-bearing plants (including acacia, peas, beans, alfalfa and clover) whose roots contain nodules with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and are thus able to absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and converted into a form useful to plants. I'm not sure how Phygelius fits into this category and I cannot find any pests or diseases related to this plant.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Who said Crabs only live in the sea?

Walking around the garden this evening, I noticed at least 5 of these tiny spiders lurking about minding their own business (or so I thought). I then found a sixth one in the process of immobilising this poor hoverfly.

The species name is Misumena vatia and is more commonly known as the Crab Spider. They are normally found between May and August, however as the weather is unseasonably warm for September (26'C today) they seem to be still thriving.

These crafty little devils sit motionless on a flower, which they often resemble, simply waiting for insects to visit. They are able to change colour slowly to match the background, within the range of white, yellow and green.
When another insect comes in range it is grasped and quickly paralysed. It is widespread and common throughout, except for the far north, in warm flowery places.

Please have a careful look at your flower heads in bloom and see if you can spot any of these crafty little creatures. The female is easier to spot, as its body length is 10mm, however the male (all 6 of mine) are only 4-5mm.

The poor hoverfly that has met an undignified end is the Syritta pipiens (male above). It is an engaging little fly, not easily disturbed by a human presence, and hence it is an ideal subject to study. On close inspection, always look at the hind femur, which is very strongly swollen.

They like nothing best than to chase other flying insects, and leap on resting ones, even bumblebees! This behaviour has been interpreted as territorial defence, but it may be that males approach every insect as a female Syritta until they find to the contrary. Females appear to play no role in the courtship, and the behaviour of males has been termed 'rape'.

They are widely distributed throughout Britain and Ireland though scarcer in the more remote parts of Scotland. They can be found between April and November, and so there is plenty of time to spot them.

Friday, September 01, 2006


I caught this cheeky little devil in my moth trap on the night of 27/08/06.

Its species name is Abrostola tripartita and is more commonly known as Spectacle - I love it when it looks exactly like the name on the tin.

This moth is common and is found in gardens, hedgerows, ditches, rough pasture, fens, woodland edges and disturbed ground.

In most regions there is one generation, except in southern england where a partial (or occasionally full) second generation occurs in late July-early September.

It feeds on the Red Valerian flower (have got) and cultivated Sage.
Red Valerian is a must have plant for butterflies and moths and as well as the Spectacle, Hummingbird Hawkmoths have been seen laying their eggs on it.

Don't just admire the garden in the daytime, as it's amazing what's out there at night.