At this time of the year the plants and animals usually behave in careful time. One of the first definitive signs of May is the so-called Maybug, the large and ungainly Cockchafer Beetle, which flies through the air on balmy nights, often blundering into people, windows and car windshields. This ungainly beetle gets the name “Maybug” because it takes to the sky at this time of the year, having spent over a year underground as a white beetle grub, feeding on dandelion roots. The name “Cockchafer” is because it is one of the chafer-type beetles, that feed on pollen in flowerheads, and seemingly because the frilled antennae of the males (used to sniff out female pheremones on the wind) bear a striking resemblance to a cock’s/rooster’s comb. I photographed this one feeding on newly blooming Hawthorn, one of the quintessential Irish spring blossoms.
This is the time of year for what we humans term “love”, and the various insect species are especially busy. On the large fronds of Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) you will often find the dead leaf-imitating camouflaged Dock Bugs, mating on the leaves.
These bugs feed on the sap of the Dock plants, and live happily among these plants. They belong to a group of insects known as shieldbugs due to their shield-shaped bodies, or alternatively as stinkbugs, due to their habit of emitting extremely noxious scents and foul-smelling liquid on anyone or any thing that dares handle them roughly. Otherwise they are completely harmless.
If you look at the hanging yellow-green blossoms of Sycamore Trees (Acer pseudoplatanus) which appear at this time of year, you will find dozens, if not hundreds of shiny black flies bearing a remarkable resemblance to the St. Mark’s Fly, except that they are much smaller. These are Fever Flies (Dilophus febrilis), a species which is found throughout the spring and summer months, but is most common in spring in huge numbers, when breeding occurs.
All this insect activity creates a surge of predatory activity among the invertebrate predators. You will often see large net-like webs placed horizontally, like platforms, across bushes in sunny areas. These are the hammock-like webs of the appropriately named Hammock-web Spider. The spider is quite small, and runs along upside-down and underneath the web, biting it’s prey through the silk. This method protects the spider from injury to some degree.
Some insects are a bit too big to handle. At this time of year in Wicklow, you will see the huge female Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) bumbling from flower-to-flower, collecting vast amounts of nectar. The male is very different, and much smaller, looking like a more typical bumblebee.
Sadly, the busyness of spring often causes animals to be off their guard. This is especially dangerous on the winding roads of Wicklow when people begin to make day-trips into the countryside in sunnier weather. I found this unfortunate Badger (Meles meles) dead by the side of a narrow country road. This one appeared to be a boar, and about the size of a muscular Jack Russell terrier. When taking a car into the wild Wicklow landscape it is a good idea to drive very cautiously and to be aware of other creatures that might be crossing the roadways. Drive carefully and safely. There’s no hurry!