We’ve been a bit quiet of late on the old blog, mainly due to seemingly constant rain in Southwest England hampering our doing anything in the Garden. However we’ve not been idle and as our November calendar update shows, we’ve added 9 species to our Garden List and had a few other nice surprises along the way.
The sad truth is fungi are under recorded in the garden, in no small part because of past gardening practices. The garden was dug over twice in ten years which isn’t great for fungi as it can destroy their hyphal networks.
Fungi can be difficult to identify further adding to a lack of confirmed species on the Garden species list. This we demonstrated recently when we tried to identify a rather drab brown mushroom found in the wetland area, click HERE to see how we got on. Thankfully we have over the last couple of years found a small handful of distinct species such as Jelly-ear, Turkey Tail and Green Elf Cap to at least make a start on a fungi list.
Today we recorded one of our favourite species, the Candle-snuff Fungus, so called because it looks reasonably like the smoke you get when extinguishing a candle (although our garden example isn’t the best).
It is a widespread and common species, but like all the above mentioned species it is very much associated with rotting wood. We are still clearly lacking grassland fungi and this we know hasn’t always been the case.
The latest thinking suggests a lack of grassland fungi can be symptomatic of poor soil condition, not just through digging but also compaction and the impact both these can have on other species such as earth worms. In Amy Stewarts brilliant book, The Earth Moved (Ref 15: Click HERE), Stewart explains how earth worms and their slimy tunnels help fungi spread beneath the ground. Healthy soils mean more earth worms, which in turn means more fungi and bacteria breaking down vegetable matter and adding organic materials to the soil structure. This in turn helps air and water to penetrate the soils further improving the soils natural ability to recycle plant nutrients.
A priority for the Garden is to now prevent any future damage to the soil structure and allow it to fully recover, hopefully it is already well and we are just waiting for the fungi to catch up. This will mean not walking excessively on it when wet (we’ve always tried to avoid this), avoiding adding nutrients and pesticides and adopting a no-dig approach wherever possible.
On the 19th June 2022 we came across something we couldn’t really explain, but have just found a possible (if unlikely) answer to. Dangling from a bramble stem, by a single thread of silk (around 15cm long), we found a dead black ant and three green aphids, also dead. How they all ended up in this predicament we were unsure.
We do appreciate the quality of the video is not great, it was a tad windy, but you can clearly see this wasn’t your typical case of ‘spider captures prey’. The victim/s wasn’t wrapped in silk or it seems damaged in any particular way. In short it wasn’t processed. Suggesting the perpetrator was unaware of it’s success.
We were baffled and then we forgot all about it. However we just read about a species of spider called Cryptachaea riparia, which has an unusual way of setting its trap. It spins single threads from its web directly down to the ground where they are secured with a blob of gum/glue. Ants, being busy fellas, are frequent prey for this species, as whilst rummaging around if an ant accidently wanders into the gum, it becomes instantly stuck. To make matters worse the thread then snaps, and being under tension retracts, lifting the poor ant to its fate.
In all likelihood this isn’t what happened. For a start it doesn’t really explain the three dead aphids, then again we are not sure what could. Secondly this species of spider is nationally scarce. However until we can find a better explanation we will consider this an interesting possibility…
A bit of a milestone for Wildlifegarden.org was reached today. We have listed the 500th species recorded in the Garden.
There were actually a few species we could have chosen from but we settled on a bit of a mystery. The honour we decided would go to a beetle, and why not, after all the Order to which they belong is the largest in the animal kingdom, the Coleoptera.
The species itself? The Hazel-leaf Roller Weevil, Apoderus coryli. The mystery? Well, we haven’t actually seen one yet! We’ve only seen the cigars they make…
This rather neat roll-up was undertaken by the female of the species. Tucked away inside as you may have guessed are representatives of the next generation. The image was taken in June this year.
Our understanding is there isn’t much else that creates something like this on hazel, so we were confident enough to add it to the species list as a ‘Most Likely Species’ record.
We would love to see the adults of this species as they are a striking red and black affair. For now though we will have to make do with this rather impressive construction…
We have also marked this milestone with a new look to the website. We thought the original design was a little flat so added some colour and structure to it, a lick of pixel paint so to speak…
Earlier in the summer we got our first decent photograph of the grasshoppers we knew we had, but could never confirm to species level. Thanks to the image below we can now record our hoppers as being the Common Field Grasshopper – Chorthippus brunneus…
We think most people are aware that grasshoppers make their iconic sound by rubbing their back legs against their rough wing cases, a process known as Stridulation. Luckily we managed to sneak up on one of the hoppers and record it making its iconic chirp…
…that’s some mighty fine stridulation fella.
So what are these guys doing in the garden? Primarily they are simply feeding. According to several online sources they like finer grasses. So the grasses typically found in our garden, such as rye grass, cock’s-foot, false-oat grass and yorkshire fog are all a bit coarse for their liking. However this year we have sown, as part of the meadow mix, several species of finer grass so hopefully we are gradually making our garden more hopper friendly.
It is of course important to retain some long areas of grass, which we do for the most part. They feed on grasses and little else, so all in all they should be happy to settle down with us.
We thought it would be nice for a final word (perhaps!) on the Garden Tiger Moth caterpillars we previously blogged about. Picking up from where we left off (13th August), the caterpillars continued to happily munch their way through Green Alkanet and Bind Weed.
Later that day a flesh fly came visiting. It is of course wrong to anthropomorphise, but it was hard not to assign a distinct level of confusion to this lone dipteran visitor, who seemed to taste the caterpillars (via his taste sensitive feet) before deciding they were of no use and buzzed off…
The weather turned a little, especially between the 15th and the 19th August and we welcomed one or two heavy downpours. When we next checked on the caterpillars (20th August) they were initially nowhere to be seen. Our concern being they had been washed away by the rains, predated on, or perhaps both. However after a while we did start to find a few stragglers, some in rather unusual places. Such as this little fella out on the pond looking a smidge lost…
We felt obliged to rescue the poor fella. Whether it actually wanted to be saved is another matter. We relocated him to a fresh patch of Green Alkanet and off he went, soggy but now at least on terra firma…
Unfortunately not all the larva we found seemed in good condition. The specimen in the video below appears to have something frustrating it, perhaps some form of mite on its rear or some other parasite. We dashed off to get a macro lens to have a look but found no sign of the little fella when we got back…
The following guy didn’t seem to need saving at all, having found another species of plant to munch on. A young buddleia in this case, a large meal unto itself, we decided to leave it be…
We continued to look for any larva that needed help and finding none we thought ‘Oh well!’ Picking up our copy of Great Britain’s Hoverflies to head inside, we were surprised to find three more of the guys crawling all over the book. Where these particular guys came from we have no idea, but off to the Green Alkanet patch they went…
It’s the 28th August as we write this and there are no signs of the caterpillars anywhere, including the Green Alkanet patch we used for relocation. Fingers crossed some will make it and we will find latter stage larva elsewhere in the garden over the coming weeks.
A good rule of thumb if you’re into watching wildlife, especially in the garden. Is that if not much else seems to be going on, go see what the ants are up to. In the case below this paid off with a new garden species, as we finally discovered that our garden supports not one species of black ant (Lasius niger or the Black Garden Ant) but also the larger Jet Black Ant (Lasius fuliginosus).
We were really only aware of this for sure when we viewed both species together, as in the video below. The Jet Black Ant is just that, much blacker (and larger) and in this case embroiled in a scrap with several much smaller Black Garden Ants, who clearly are winning the battle. Which it has to be said went on and on and in the end after about ten minutes we left them to it. Although by that stage most the garden ants had lost interest as well and it was really just the large Jet Black Ant left running around in confused circles.
Anyway, the discovery of a second black ant species did make us revise not just our species list, but also some previous posts where we attributed some behaviour or other to L. niger when in fact it was L. fuliginosus.
A week ago we posted about a Garden Tiger Moth laying eggs in the garden, click HERE. This occurred on the 30th July 2022.
Well it didn’t take long for the eggs to hatch, so whatever happened to the mother in the end, she achieved what she came to do. The video below was taken on 11th August 2022. With dozens of larvae feeding on the Green Alkenet leaf where they hatched.
The white eggs are empty (and some are being eaten by their previous occupants / siblings) and the grey we believe are about to hatch, with the gold coloured ones a little further behind in development.
One or two larvae had strayed to the upper surface of the leaf (where most would eventually end up, see below), but on this first day most remained safe on the underside. The photo opposite shows little evidence of the large number of hungry caterpillars below the surface on the first day.
The following day (12th August 2022) all the eggs had hatched, with nearly all the larva remaining on the underside of the leaf, at least to start with.
The caterpillars are shown below in close up and we feel look pretty cool, but will change considerably as they mature through several phases where they will shed their skin to accommodate their increase in size.
By the end of day 2 most of the caterpillars had moved to the top surface of the leaf, we think because the more hairy undersides were too difficult to munch on. The damage to the ‘Birth’ leaf was already considerable at this point, as shown below.
We have plenty more Green Alkanet in the garden, but none near this particular plant, which is located rather precariously next to the path.
We were starting to think we may have to relocate some or all of these guys to alternative food plants, until early on day 3 (13th August 2022) we noted that many had dropped from the now nearly stripped birth leaf onto a totally different species, bindweed and began happily munching away. We note that Butterfly Conservations website does point out the larva can feed on a wide variety of plants. So our next concern is the knapweed and oxeye daisy plants we grew on from seed / plugs right next to these guys isn’t totally munched away.
You may note that some of the above leaves are littered with black pellets as shown below. In the age old tradition of biologists trying to avoid calling poop ‘poop’ these black dots (of poop) are known as Frass and have dropped from the birth leaf above.
We’ll have to keep an eye on their progress, make sure we can do as much for them as possible, whilst also protecting the native wildflowers we have grown from seed.
Always nice to record another bee species, although this time we can only get it down to one of two species. Lassioglossum calceatum and Lassioglossum albipes are very difficult to tell apart and a good view of the lower face is required, more specifically the labrum. The fabulous UK Bees, Wasps and Ants group on Facebook were able to confirm we had it down to these two possible species but confirmed from the video below we would not be able to identify to species level. Regardless, it is one more potential species to the garden species list and has been listed as Lassioglossum calceatum or albipes, recorded on 1st August 2022. Hopefully next time we can get a better look and get it down to species.
New garden species, sort of…. well not really! We have seen these guys before, normally out of the corner of our eyes and certainly before we got anywhere near a camera. But this time we were finally, after years of hoping, in the right place at the right time to film one of these amazing migrants moths.
So good people of Brislington and Bristol, be on the look out as more may be about. August is known to be a good month to see them…
However they should not be mistaken for Bee-flies (opposite) which are a relatively common resident and not closely related at all, being a True Fly – Diptera, rather than a Moth – Lepidoptera.
Hummingbird Hawk-moths can travel from as far as North Africa, which is pretty impressive and there seems to be some suggestion they can survive in the South West of England over winter in mild years (See Reference material number 12 HERE). At least one Wildlife Trust has recorded them breeding in recent years on their reserves, where larvae are usually found on species of Bedstraw.
So, what are they doing in the Wildlife Garden, well actually nothing more than visiting, stopping off briefly at the Buddleia for a energy top-up. We don’t have any Ladies Bedstraw or Hedge Bedstraw growing in the garden, although the former was part of the seed mix we put down in the spring. Cleavers is in the same genus and we have plenty of that but have found no records online to suggest it is used as a larval food plant.
Who knows though, with climate change and more frequent warm summers, perhaps we will see more and more of these amazing moths as time goes by.