Warm summer days and the air is alive with the buzzing of insects going about their business. As they move from flower to flower, feeding on pollen and nectar, some of the pollen from the male plants sticks to their bodies and is transferred to the females, ensuring fertilisation and the production of seeds. One of the most important doing this job is the bee, or rather bees, as there are many different types and they are under threat. A parasitic mite, the Varroa, has caused the collapse of many honey bee hives. It feeds on the bees and their larvae, which will weaken them and cause death if there is a heavy infestation.
It can also transmit a virus which stunts growth and results in deformed wings. The mite is visible with the naked eye and looks like a little, shiny red button attached to the bee’s body. Regular treatment of hives is necessary to keep this parasite in check. The use of neonicotinoid pesticides, some now banned, also reduced the number of bees and other insects. The ban has caused some farmers to struggle, particularly those that grow Oilseed rape. Last September was very dry and this resulted in a plague of flea beetle which feeds on the leaves of the plant; aphids are also a problem. Oilseed rape has become an important crop but bees are also important and I’m sure a lot of heart searching went on before the ban was decided upon. It has been recently discovered that a fungal parasite may also be playing a part in the collapse of bee colonies.
Another insect we may see on flowers at this time of year is the wonderfully named Swollen-thighed beetle. It is so called because the male, as it suggests, has bulging thighs which the female lacks. It is easily recognisable having iridescent, green wing cases, which rest slightly apart, long antennae and will be feeding on pollen. Jeremy, from Great Yarmouth, sent me an email asking ‘what is the difference between beetles and bugs?’. I think the confusion arises because Americans refer to all creepy-crawlies as bugs, for example the ladybug instead of the ladybird. In fact ladybirds are beetles and the difference is that bugs feed by piercing the food with their sharp, hollow mouth parts and sucking the fluid, whereas beetles will bite off pieces and chew them with their jaws, called mandibles; these are visible on some beetles as two hook-like protrusions.The wings are also different; bugs’ outer pairs, although a little thickened, are not like beetles’ which have hardened cases that cover the more delicate underwings.
The juveniles of beetles, larvae, are grub-like; they pupate and emerge as very different looking adults. Bugs, on the other hand, have young, called nymphs, that, although they do not have wings at this stage, look like miniatures of their adults. Thank you, Jeremy, for your interesting question.
Each creature plays its part in the chain of life and you can help that chain by making an insect hotel for your garden where they can breed, hide and spend the winter. An open fronted box with bricks, tiles or flower pots inside to support twigs, hollow stems, dried grass, fir cones and other debris that would normally go on the bonfire, will provide places for insects to go. Mine is made from an old ammunition box that belonged to a military friend. It has seen several war zones and it is nice to think that it now plays a part in life instead of death. Insect hotels can be bought ready-made from wildlife organisations but it is much more fun to make your own; a good open air activity for children to take part in. Water in the garden will also encourage insects which in turn will bring birds, reptiles and amphibians. Even a small pond, perhaps made from an old sink or bowl, will help.
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust has a project in the Bure & Ant Valleys to create ‘Living Landscapes’ by improving various sites for the benefit of wildlife. One of these is the garden at Wroxham library where, working with Norfolk County Council and with the help of volunteer children from Hoveton St. John Primary School, also the local Guides, they have planted native trees – bird and wild cherries, lime, rowan and crab apple that will have blossom to provide nectar and pollen for insects and later, fruit for birds; also hazel which will produce nuts in the autumn. Spring bulbs have been planted and the lawn will not be mown for a while to allow the wild flowers to bloom. Bat boxes and hedgehog homes have been installed and, although the garden is not a large area, all the hard work has created a wildlife haven in a busy Broadland town. Congratulations to everyone involved.
A rare bird that can now be found in Norfolk is the Dartford warbler. A lovely day with two friends and guide, naturalist and wildlife photographer Carl Chapman, took us to, among other places, the wonderful Kelling Heath where there are four pairs of these birds. Because they are insect eaters harsh winters will drastically reduce their numbers and in the 1960s they all but disappeared. They are recovering and can now be found on heathland in several parts of the country. Unusually, for birds, they have been seen feeding the young of Stonechats with which they often associate.
In the summer Kelling Heath is also the home of Nightingales, Nightjars and beautiful Emperor moths. The females of this moth fly at night and rest on vegetation during the day where they give out a pheromone scent to attract the day-flying males; their feathery antennae can detect this from up to seven miles away. The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants but the adult moths do not feed at all.
Another lovely insect found here is the Green hairstreak. This small butterfly almost always settles with its wings closed so we usually only see the underwings which are bright iridescent green.
Thank you, Carl, for showing us these stunning insects as well as, among many other interesting things, the beautiful Early Purple orchids at South Repps.
An unusual bird, seen recently in the village of Earsham, was a White stork. Native to Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, they sometimes appear in Britain when returning from their winter homes in Africa. (This one, of course, could have been delivering a special package to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!). The cock bird of the free-flying pair of storks at Thrigby Hall, near Great Yarmouth, is unfortunately missing, presumed to have been a fox’s supper. They nested on the chimney last year but did not produce any eggs. The owner, Ken Sims, told me that the female has built a huge nest but there probably won’t be any eggs, unless she has mated with one of the pinioned birds which Mr. Sims feels is unlikely.
Things to do this month include:
• Supper and Nightjar evening, Norfolk Hawker & Swallowtail tour, Badger evening.
Contact Carl Chapmen at www.wildlifetoursandeducation.co.uk or 01263 576995.
• Evening wild flower walk & insect day – Cley Marshes.
Details – www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or01603 625540.
• Nunnery Lakes Reserve – Thetford. firstname.lastname@example.org
© Sheila Sims 2015