Beautiful September

Today was the first day of September, and, what a beautiful day it was too.  I love this time of year.  A clear night meant a chilly morning, but that just meant that everything was covered in dew, and therefore there were photo opportunities abounding for anyone with a camera to hand such as this poor little ladybird precariously balanced.  I also found quite a few mushrooms looking a little soggy and cold amongst the grass.  The birds are still about, house martins were chirping and wheeling about the sky fattening up for their long, arduous flight south, whilst the young finches of all varieties were squabbling in the garden (I have just put a smaller bird feeder out, so there is less room to perch!).

However, once lunchtime came the sun was out, the sky was blue and the crickets were buzzing – the fields sounded like they were electrified.  This is a photo of a grasshopper that I saw, but there were definitely crickets about – I saw them and heard them, but didn’t manage to get a good photo.  Also about this afternoon were butterflies, hoverflies, damselflies, other flies….  I spent five minutes watching a dragonfly (I know not what type) hunting insects in the sunlight – fantastic.

Although the berries are now colouring on the shrubs and trees, and many of the bright, Summer flowers have gone to seed, there are still some out there to brighten up the roadsides.

The ladybirds came, and the ladybirds went.

A while ago I posted an article about a lack of ladybirds in my garden as well as other insects in general. However, a couple of weeks ago, they arrived en masse (seemingly from nowhere although that was obviously not the case, I just hadn’t noticed them) and settled on the golden hop in the back garden, a traditional haunt of thousands of aphids.

As you may be aware, there has been a lot of press coverage (unusually so for something like a ladybird) of the ‘invasion’ of harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia Axyridis). These ladybirds originate in Asia and have spread (sometimes with our help and knowledge, e.g. they were introduced as pest control agents in some areas) and are thought to have arrived in Britain in 2004. The spread of the harlequin is concerning as it is thought to be a threat to our native species for a number of reasons:

  • they have a wider habitat and food range than natives, this includes moth and butterfy eggs and fruit juice
  • they disperse over larger areas, rapidly increasing their geographic spread
  • when there are fewer aphids about they will eat other ladybird larvae and eggs
  • they have a longer breeding season than native ladybirds and so have the potential to increase their numbers more rapidly (they can reproduce after 5 days of adulthood and a single female can lay 1000 eggs)

I spent some time watching the ladybirds wondering if any were harlequins and, if there were, would I recognise them. The answer was yes, and yes. At first glance it can be quite confusing, there are so many different looking ladybirds, not just the traditional two and seven spot ladybirds, there are also black (melanic) forms as well as more yellow and brown ladybirds. However, once you spot a harlequin it is obvious, they are huge in comparison as are the larvae which seem to have more red on them.

Harlequin ladybird
Harlequin ladybird
harlequin ladybird larva
harlequin ladybird larva

If you still feel you need further help there are two fantastic identification charts on the ladybird survey website, one for larvae and one for adults. It is from these that I discovered I had a cream spot ladybird in amongst the two spots.

I was lucky enough to see the ladybirds in all stages of their development. There were larvae of all sizes chasing aphids across the leaves and the top of my wormery. The holly that is next to the golden hop seemed to be a favourite place for pupation and is littered with the cases of what I presume are now adult ladybirds. And, of course there were the myriad of adult ladybirds. I spent quite some time watching a black harlequin (H. axyridis spectabilis) chasing some greenfly along the top of a crocosmia flower stem. Whilst the ladybird wandered along the top and snacked on one of its unfortunate (although I can’t really feel sorry for them) victims its friends escaped along the bottom of the flower!

The ladybirds stayed around for a few days, but then, the rains came, the aphids went (possible eaten) and the ladybirds disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Since that time I have seen only a couple of two spots in the garden. I did manage to take some photos of the ladybirds, two of which I have included below.

Harlequin ladybird eating greenfly
Harlequin ladybird eating greenfly
native cream spot ladybird
native cream spot ladybird amongst the aphids

Have all the Ladybird’s been eaten?

Is is just me or is there a distinct lack of ladybirds about at the moment? I have looked around the garden, there are definitely aphids in the hazel and on the golden hop, which is the place I usually find lots of ladybirds or their larvae, but this year there are none. As many of you may know ladybirds are members of the beetle family, and are a true friend of the gardener, the adults and larvae both eat copious amounts of aphids as well as other pests such as mealy bugs.

I saw some earlier in the year, I dutifully recorded my sighting on the Nature’s Calendar website. I even took a picture of one of the little beetles a couple of months ago, but numbers seem to have dwindled since then. I did a quick google search, but cannot find any mention of a problem, only articles about the potential threat of the harlequin ladybird, but I haven’t seen any of those either. Ladybird on Garlic Mustard Flower

For anyone interested in these helpful little beetles there is a website with lots more information which also runs a yearly survey of ladybird populations. There are apparently 46 different species believed to be resident in the UK, of which 26 are the focus of the survey. As I mentioned earlier, there is a great deal of concern about the presence of the harlequin ladybird in this country which is known to predate our own ladybirds. There is also a website which is running a survey to track the movement of this invader through the country.

I am becoming more and more concerned about the lack of insect life around here. We went for a walk to the Country Park yesterday, but, although there were quite a few bright blue damselflies, there were virtually no butterflies or bees, very few insects of any type were visible.

I know that there is concern that we no longer have a viable population of native bees, but is there a problem with all of our insects?