September 2019

Painted lady
Sheila Sims

Sheila Sims

This year has been a ‘Painted lady summer.’ These butterflies arrived in this country in large numbers, starting their journey in North Africa. However, as we talked about last year, the ones that leave their wintering home are not necessarily the same ones that we see in Britain in the summer; they could be five or six generations on, travelling in stages from one stop to another. I have also seen a lot of Ringlets this year but not many Small tortoiseshells. However, some good butterfly news is that the Purple emperor has been seen in the ancient Norfolk Foxley Wood, the first sighting at Foxley since the 1970s, although a few have been recorded in Sheringham Park. Foxley Wood was the main Norfolk habitat for this butterfly before extensive areas were converted to conifer plantations in the 1960s. Since the wood was acquired by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust much of it has been restored to the original deciduous woodland. The Purple emperor is difficult to see as it spends most of its time in the tree tops, only coming down occasionally to finds salts.

Numbers of butterflies vary from year to year depending on the weather, what happened with the previous year’s breeding season and farming and gardening practices; these are things that can affect habitats and the caterpillars food plants. When winter comes some butterflies hibernate as eggs or caterpillars, some as pupae and some, Comma, Peacock, Small tortoiseshell and Brimstone, as adult butterflies. Many often don’t survive hibernation; the weather will have a great affect and some will be taken by predators.

Nursery web spider with egg sac
Sheila Sims

A spider which hibernates is the Nursery web spider. This usually resides among thick vegetation in damp places, often on stinging nettles by streams or lakes. It is still around this month and on sunny days it can be found sunbathing on a leaf, its front legs stretched out. This spider doesn’t spin a web to catch its prey but actively hunts, jumping on flies and other insects. The mating game is a dangerous one for the male for, as with many spiders, the female likes to show her gratitude for her mates attentions by eating him! To avoid this untimely end the male Nursery web will bring his hoped for lady a gift in the form of an insect, which he wraps in silk; he also pretends to be dead. While her attention is on the present he will jump on to her and have his wicked way, making sure to make a quick get away afterwards before she realises what is going on. When she produces her eggs she secures them in a sac which she carries in her jaws until they are about to hatch. She then spins a web tent attached to vegetation and puts the sac inside and will stand guard until the spiderlings hatch and disperse. A fascinating creature.

Sheila Sims

Norfolk has become the home to a rare beetle. Although the Tansy beetle used to be common in Britain it has declined and until now it has been found in only two sites, Woodwalton Fen in Cambridgeshire and the River Ouse in York, but now it has been recorded at the Welney Wetland Centre. Different stages of the life cycle have been found indicating that there is a breeding colony. It lives mainly on a Tansy plant and doesn’t move far, laying its eggs on the leaves and hibernating in the soil at the foot of the plant. It is a pretty little insect, iridescent green with gold and red stripes and, unlike many beetles, it doesn’t appear to be able to fly, so if something should happen to its home plant it has to walk to another one. It can’t walk very far so if no other Tansy is close by it will be in trouble.

Sick seals are being found on Norfolk beaches. They seem to be suffering from a virus and although European seals have been infected by a form of distemper before, this is thought to be a type of pox virus; sadly, several have had to be put to sleep. People are being advised not to approach the animals if they should come across them but to inform the RSPCA. Please keep your dog on the lead on beaches where seals are; they are easily frightened and may desert their pups if harassed. 

Another good reason to keep dogs on leads while walking them on our beaches, is that large deposits of palm oil are being washed up along the coast. This is toxic to dogs and several have been ill after eating it. Ships are allowed to dump it if they are more than twelve miles from land and there are calls to change the rules. Palm oil is used in all sorts of products, including food and cosmetics, and vast acres have been deforested to enable this crop to be grown. Driving through Malaysia some years ago we saw great areas given over to these palms; this would all have been tropical rain forest before it was cleared. With the destruction of the forest go the plants and wildlife that called it home.

The beach isn’t the only watery place that is dangerous for dogs; blue-green algae is found in fresh and brackish bodies of water. This is very toxic to both humans and animals and there have been several cases of death in dogs that have been swimming or have dunk from water where it is present. Although it can occur at any time of the year it is far more common in hot weather. It is not really algae but somewhere in between algae and bacteria and is also known as cyanobacteria. It is more common in water that is high in nutrients which can be caused by run off from fields that have been sprayed with fertiliser. It is difficult to tell if algae floating on the surface is dangerous or not, so if any is visible it’s best not to let your dog go swimming.

Western conifer seed bug
Sheila Sims

I discovered a foreigner in our kitchen, not a chef creating an exotic meal (unfortunately) but a Western conifer seed bug. It was identified for me by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust who advised me to report my sighting to the Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service as it is not a welcome visitor. This attractive looking bug is native to North America and was first recorded in Britain in 2007. Since then it has spread throughout the country and can be very damaging to conifer plantations where it feed on the flowers and seeds of pine trees. In the autumn and winter it often enters buildings to find somewhere to hibernate so you may come across it in your house this month looking for a place to sleep.

September rainbow
Sheila Sims

Things to do in September include:

  • Children’s Wildlife Watch: helping hedgehogs – Hickling Broad.

  • Bugs & Beetles – Sheringham Park.

  • Wild & Wonderful Mid Norfolk: Creatures of the night – Foxley Wood.

  • Dyke Dipping – Thorpe Marshes.

    Details: or 01603 625540.

© Sheila Sims 2019. Email:

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