Tag Archives: insects

The Great May Adventure

May is always a bit of a mixed bag. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but it’s always progressing towards the calmer months of summer. And in the natural world it’s a time of frenetic activity. This year we had May weather in April because the weather was so unusually dry for spring. First it started with early bird nesting.

A handsome Wood Pigeon in breeding colours carrying a large twig to its nest.
A Jackdaw carrying nesting material to a disused chimney where it has a nest.
A Robin carrying spider prey back to its nest, which is hidden in the hedge. It watched to make sure I had moved on before entering the nest and giving the location away.

But the most important aspect of the spring, apart from the weather, is the mass flowering of various plants. The most important is the spring dandelion bloom. Dandelions provide huge amounts of pollen that many insects depend on, especially our pollinators. Every conceivable species of bee, fly and many beetles depend on these flowers in the early part of spring. In May they reach a crescendo in their blooming and then rapidly seed while other spring blooms appear just in time to sustain the insect population. Here you can see dandelions and bluebells together:

The Bluebells are now mostly gone out of flower in the lowlands, but up in the highlands of Wicklow they are only coming into bloom, so if you’re looking for bluebells this late in May then you need to go upland. Tawny Mining Bees among many other species depend on these flowers. The Tawny Mining Bees are gone for this year, but you might see another pollinator about, the somewhat sinister-looking and beautiful Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri) a cuckoo-bee which parasitizes the mining bees. It is also known to have a bad sting, but this one was very calm and unthreatening:

Also, May is the time to see the Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocaris cardamines). The females are all white with very few black dots on the upper sides of their wings. The males have are identical but have stunning orange markings on the tips of their forewings.

The female Orange-tip looks pretty much like other species of white butterfly when seen from above, although she does have silvery-black forewing tips.
The male Orange-tip is very distinctive despite being fast-moving and rarely sitting still.

However, from below both the male and female Orange-tip look very different to other white butterflies, having a green marbling pattern which gives them camouflage.

The marbling pattern on the underside of both the male and female’s wings can be seen when the butterfly is at rest.

As the weather gets warmer more and more moths appear too, but keep a look out for caterpillars, because many of the caterpillars of moths found in Wicklow are far more spectacular looking than the adults of the same species. Here, for example, is the caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth (Euproctis similis). The moth is plain pale white with a bright yellow abdomen tip, but look at the gaudy colours of this caterpillar found on a Cistus bush:

The hairs of this caterpillar are a defence against predators and can cause irritation rashes 0n the skin of some people.

Along with dandelions the other big bloomer where the bees depend on is the big spiny Gorse or Furze bush. The yellow flowers fill the air with the scent of vanilla. Unfortunately in dry conditions they are highly flammable, but now we are at last getting some decent heavy rain showers the danger is passing. Some parts of Ireland have suffered terrible Gorse Fires this year. But fortunately Wicklow has escaped the worst of it:

Make a Meadow

Last year I made a meadow in my garden with a lot of help from my brother, and the results were spectacular as all sorts of insects were drawn in to feed and collect pollen, and hunt. It’s worth considering doing, and here is a video I made of it, with some nice music from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers:

Among the flowers are phacelia, buckwheat, poppies, marigolds, anthirrhinum, stock and buddleia bushes. Among the insects in this video are Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, White-tailed Bumblebee, Carder Bee, Honey Bee, Greenbottle fly, Large White butterflies, Green-veined White butterflies and a Common Blue butterfly.

And there is also a species of solitary wasp not often seen in Ireland near the end of the video.

Moths of Autumn

According to the ancient Celtic calendar autumn begins in early August with the feast of Lughnasa, the ancient god, and winter begins at Martinmass (November 11), with Spring starting on Brigid’s Day (February 1). However, the weather in Ireland generally corresponds to the astronomical calendar, with Autumn beginning with the Autumn Equinox, and Winter beginning with the Winter Solstice, and ending with the Vernal (Spring) Equinox.

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The weather we have at the moment is certainly autumnal rather than wintery. In fact, we have had a classic Autumn this year, beginning mild and with temperatures almost up to those of summer, and then suddenly plummeting to frosts early on November 1. And then it became mild again, and very wet at the end of November, and now we have reached a dry spell with weather due to become frosty again. This weather is perfect for autumn moths, and this year I have seen some very interesting and beautiful ones. There have been quite a few but these ones are especially interesting. Firstly, in late November this male Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) appeared after a female had briefly waited in the same place. This species flies from September until early December.

A handsome male Feathered Thorn.
A handsome male Feathered Thorn. This moth is about the size of an average butterfly species.

Next was the larger Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria), a moth which flies from October until January, and seems to like it colder than most moths. The male and female are easy to tell apart because the female has no wings and doesn’t even look very much like a moth. Hopefully I’ll get a photo of one soon to upload.

A very striking Mottled Umber. These moths can be very variable in pattern and colouration. Well, the males can be...
A very striking Mottled Umber. These moths can be very variable in pattern and colouration. Well, the males can be…

Finally, a drab but common moth which comes to windows frequently is the November Moth (Epirrita dilutata) which flies from September until early December, weather-permitting.  Although this one looks large in the photo these moths are actually only as large as a thumbnail.

The very grey November Moth.
The very grey November Moth.