The rainy period late this May caused temperatures in Wicklow to be lower than those of the balmy April, but this is often the case. And it bodes very well for June. It seems very apt when late at night a beautiful moth comes to the light of a window wearing what appears to be a fur-lined coat. From this time on through much of the summer there will usually be one of the Ermine moths found by a window. The beautiful one pictured is a White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda).
This time of year, all across the countryside and gardens, a strange substance begins appearing on the leaves and stems of the undergrowth. To the casual observer it looks like saliva, and the phenomenon is known as Cuckoo-spit.
However, it is actually a remarkable defence-mechanism used by a small insect, the so-called Cuckoo-spit Aphid. This is the larva of any one of a number of bugs known, unsurprisingly, as Spittle Bugs. The most common species is the Froghopper (Philaenus spumarius). If you carefully remove the foam you will usually find the funny, plastic-toy like bug larva near the highest point of the foam.
The foam consists of hundreds of watery bubbles of air blown out of the bug’s rear-end. It is a remarkably effective defence, and you will often find parasitic wasps that prey on the larva, drowned in the foam.
In a few weeks the bug larvae will leave their foam fortresses and emerge as camouflaged straw-coloured adults with powerful spring-like hind legs that propel them into the air.
It is now that the more open country of the bogs and moors turns golden yellow as the Yellow Flag Irises (Iris pseudacorus) burst into bloom. If you find youself walking among these plants then you will also find that your feet are very wet, or that you are up to your neck in bogwater. Tread carefully!
Flying happily among this sea of flowers you will begin to see some very interesting insects. Especialy noticeable are the spectacular little damselflies. This is a good time to see the Azure Bluet (aka Azure Damselfly), the male of which is a deep and striking blue that boldly stands out against the background colours.
It is also a time to truly learn to appreciate nature in a very different way. Often you will find big bumblebees lying down on the ground, on roads or paths, and in serious danger of being stepped on or run over. This usually happens when the bees become weighed down from collecting too much pollen, or damp from rainy weather. When this happens you can easily help a bee, by simply lowering your hand or finger and letting it climb on. Admittedly there is a small risk of being stung, depending on how careful you are, and/or how the bee came to be lying on the ground in the first place. And if you have an allergy, then you shouldn’t try it, just in case.
Anyhow, the bee might raise up a little, but this is not usually a threat: the bumblebee will usually understand your aim and lift its body up off the ground so you can slide your finger underneath, and the bee can simply grab on. Then find a better place for the bee to rest (a tree trunk, wall, or shrub) and let it climb off. If you find this idea too intimidating you can use a twig or anything else instead. I have lifted bumblebees off the ground with my hands many times and never been stung. Treat nature with respect an kindness and you will receive the same in return.