Blog Archives: Miscellaneous

Life on the Garden Fence – the Virgin Bagworm

As a naturalist, it is not uncommon for me to be sent photos and specimens in the hope of an identification. One of the most frequent of these are the mysterious things that reside on garden fence panels, occasionally in abundance: what are those strange pupae? Why are the Blue Tits pecking at my fence?

Well, they could be pupae. Or larvae. Or adults. It is a very unusual micromoth, a bagworm called Luffia ferchaultella that lives its entire life in a silken bag, up to 6mm long, which it adorns with bits of its environment: grit, flakes of lichen etc, usually, but not always, giving it a considerable degree of camouflage.

Adults are wingless, and so look rather like larvae. And what’s more each and every one is female: they reproduce parthenogenetically, producing more flightless females – hence the English name I give them: the Virgin Bagworm. She lays her eggs inside her bag, and when they hatch, the larvae commence building their own bag while still inside their late mother’s one. In some species, perhaps including this one, one of the first meals may be the maternal body, but for the most part their larval period of a year or more is sustained by grazing on algae and lichens growing around them. Then pupation, and the short-lived adult period, maybe two weeks, necessarily short as the adult is without functional mouthparts.

All very bizarre. But that’s far from the whole story, and there’s no doubt more to be discovered. Very recently through genetic studies it has been suggested that in fact ‘Luffia ferchaultella‘ is actually no more than a parthenogenetic, female-only form of Luffia lapidella. While this has similarly flightless females, they are not parthenogenetic, mating as normal with the fully-winged males. But lapidella is known in Britain only from Cormwall and the Channel Islands, whereas ferchaultella is common throughout England, south of a line from the Humber to the Mersey…

Virgin Bagworms can be very abundant on fence panels, tree trunks, walls etc, and although only tiny, they are easily scavenged en masse by tits, Wrens and other small birds – many a morsel makes a mouthful.

Gallery of other bagworm bags from around Britain and Europe

Although not often noticed, these other species mostly have males, fully-winged albeit weak-flying, rather hairy and sombrely coloured, small to medium sized, day-flying micro moths. Their bags, however, are often seen, if you know what to look for, and most can be assigned with some confidence to a particular species…without ever seeing the inhabitant.

Gardening with Wildlife in Mind

One of the regular talks I give to groups throughout East Anglia is on the topic of ‘Gardening with Wildlife in Mind’. The most frequent thing I am asked for is a list of the plants mentioned in the talk, and at long last, here it is!  This is far from being a comprehensive list of garden goodies (and baddies), just the ones that anyone who has seen the talk will have seen pictures of.

If you need more inspiration, there’s plenty out there, such as the website of the Wildlife Gardening Forum. Or better still, take a trip out to somewhere like the Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, a few miles east of Colchester, wander round the garden on a warm day, see what the insects are visiting, and then go into the nursery and buy it, assuming your garden has the right conditions. Nature generally will point the way!

Non-native but valuable nectar/pollen sources; also fruits and seeds

Juneberry Amelanchier canadensis/lamarckii/laevis

Himalayan Honeysuckle Leycesteria formosa  (left) and Giant Viper’s Bugloss Echium pininana (centre and right)

 

Early season food sources for insects

Winter Aconite Eranthis hyemalis

Hellebores Helleborus spp.

Late season food sources for insects

Michaelmas Daisies Aster spp. (left) and Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’ (right)

Useful leaves, for larval feeding and nest-making

Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica

Mulleins Verbascum spp. (Mullein moth caterpillar,  right)

Roses Rosa spp. (leaf-cutter bee, right)

Double flowered plants to be avoided (cultivars)

Kerria Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ (left) and Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’ (right)

But the original wild -types are useful…

Shelter – breeding and roosting (and often much, much more…)

Leyland Cypress xCupressocyparis leylandii

Ivy Hedera helix

Gardening in the Global Greenhouse

Closing the winter nectar gap

Mahonia Mahonia sp. (left) and Laurustinus Viburnum tinus (right)

Drought-tolerant, insect-friendly, beautiful: the borders of the future

Sun-roses Cistus spp.

Sea-hollies Eryngium spp.

Giant Herb Roberts Geranium palmatum and G. maderense

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis  (left) and Lavenders Lavandula spp. (centre, right)

Jerusalem-sages Phlomis spp.

Sages Salvia spp.

Possible pests – ones to watch…or ideally avoid

Hottentot-fig Carpobrotus spp.

If you want to know more, glean a few more  ideas, and  find out the reason why my talk is called Gardening with Wildlife in Mind (as opposed to Wildlife Gardening, for example), you can always book me! My rates and a full list of talks can be found here.

Lichenscapes, Groundscapes, Beachscapes and Reflectascapes

   

Those who have seen, and hopefully enjoyed, the photos on our blogs will realise that our photos are pretty standard mementos of a walk or a holiday, or some such excuse to write a blog!

But over the (digital) years we have amassed getting on for 200,000 images, and it has long been our ambition to get more of them ‘out there’ and onto this website. We have the Galleries section, and we now intend to use it! The older galleries will be updated in due course, but after a wet and windy late winter period, conducive to spending time in front of the computer, we have launched the first four new galleries: Lichenscapes, Groundscapes, Beachscapes and Reflectascapes.

These are thematic galleries, drawn from our efforts across the years and across Europe. By focusing on these themes, we hope to draw the eye to perhaps unexpected and underappreciated artistic elements of the world we inhabit, colours, forms and textures which we might fail to see if we concentrate only on that which is before us at the time.

So, here we have the first few, each illustrated with a few representative shots from the gallery:

Lichenscapes – the symbiotic ‘art-attack’ which adorns so many inhospitable corners of the world, from mountain rocks, to sea cliffs, to fence posts, to gravestones, and many more;

Groundscapes – come the autumn, as leaves fall from trees, the ground below becomes cloaked in a mantle, tessellating colours and shapes, each characteristic of the type of tree above;

Beachscapes – it is said that a local, stranded in fog on Chesil Beach, can tell where they are from the shape, size and colour of the pebbles at their feet. And so it is with beaches more generally, each tells a unique story of the interaction of geology, tide, weather and Man;

and Reflectascapes – the reflective properties of water are a staple of landscape art and photography. The water’s surface may try to capture the sky and its surroundings, but never quite manages to reproduce it faithfully. It is the mutations, the unpredictable uncertainties and hesitations, that can fill many a happy hour staring at an otherwise familiar vista.

We hope this taster will encourage you to look at the full galleries.

Why Eyes?

      WHY EYES?                                       

SURPRISE!

Peacock butterfly flashes his wing –

Enough to startle a predator

Who may think again

 

 

DISGUISE!

Looking like a fearsome beast

This caterpillar may deter a bird

From making of him a feast

 

 

 

FOUR EYES!

Could two extra eyes upon the shoulder

Make this bug

Feel even bolder?

 

 

 

HORSEFLIES!

Bold headlights of bright green and blue

Ommatidia by the thousand

Such a joy for me and you

 

 

A short break in Manchester and Chester

The latest in our series of explorations by rail of hitherto unknown (to us) parts of Britain took us last week to Manchester and Chester. Despite the weather, as always we had a superb time, taking in the architecture, art, culture, food, and even a little wildlife…

Manchester was a city of surprising delights, as surprising as discovering that Lowry was not a one-trick pony, but accomplished in a variety of styles. The modern architecture of Salford Quays, complemented by watery reflections, contrasted with the Victorian industrial heritage in the city, and we were especially impressed by the Metro linking the two. Clean, quiet, efficient – surely the way forward on urban transport.

As befits ‘the city built by the workers’, its bee symbol is celebrated proudly everywhere:

And it was gratifying to see real, useful, living bees and other wildlife being actively catered for, with flowery verges in places even in some of the most heavily developed areas.

We hadn’t expected to see much in the way of insects, especially given the weather forecast, but as always there were things to be found. By Salford Quays, ornamental Eleagnus bushes with seemingly every leaf supporting one, or a small flock, of Cacopsylla fulguralis, a recently-established, and spreading, native psyllid of Japan. A novel food source perhaps, but one which seems to be being exploited by the (similarly non-native) Harlequin Ladybirds and by the ant-like nymphs of the mirid bug Miris striatus.

In the same area, the waterside Alders were covered in hundreds of Alder Leaf-beetles Agelastica alni, recently re-established in Britain after an absence of 60 years, and now spreading out from the north-west. Including to our next destination, the banks of the River Dee in Chester…

Chester: a very different city which wears its antiquity on its sleeve, back to Roman times.

This is the city which seems to have grown out of the local rocks, the Red Sandstone, in places patterned like the hide of a giraffe, something we have seen previously in the north-east corner of Menorca.

Aside from Alder Leaf-beetles, Chester also came up, in one of the few dry moments, with this splendid, fresh Hawthorn Shield-bug, in fact the first we have seen this year.

 

Pipers at the Gates of Dawn

At the Gates of Dawn we stood and listened
To the piping song which filled our hearts
And souls with joy.

Why do they sing so?

At the Gates of Dawn we filled our lungs
And shouted out to the whole world
To announce the day.

Why do they listen so?

To survive we need to attract a mate,
Defend our space, alert a danger
Of a stranger.

That’s why we sing so.

In this world of greed we have a need
To feed on good things, calm things,
Nature

That’s why we listen so.

By Jude, inspired by our recent Dawn Chorus walk.