Leafcutter bee art

Cherry leaves notched by leafcutter bees


One of the holes a leaf cutter bee has filled

The speed and dexterity of the leafcutter bees amazes me. They cut so precisely, always leaving a perfectly smooth edge and I’ve never seen one drop the leaf piece it has cut. (They are too quick for me to photograph in action – I can only show the results.)

This year, the leafcutter bees have taken a particular shine to a young cherry tree – there are other cherry trees around, but they’ve been ignored and the bees are just working this one tree. Leafcutter bees are notorious for clipping out pieces of rose leaves. There are wild roses near to this cherry tree, but they’re being ignored too.

Leafcutter bees are of the genus Megachile: mega – big; chile – from the Greek for lips: so they could also be called the big-lip bees, but I’ve never heard that;)


Awesome wasps

It’s been so hot, dry and sunny here recently that I’m having coffee breaks in the cool of a shed. Last week, over a couple of days, I watched a mason wasp industriously building a little nest in the angle of the shed’s roof timbers. The wasp would sometimes fly in with mud to build up the cell; and sometimes with something green – which I’m guessing would be a caterpillar for the new wasp to eat when it hatches.

Mason wasp cells in shed roof. They look like what they are – bits of mud pushed together! In the unfinished cell on the left you might just be able to make out something green lying inside – the caterpillar food supply for when the new wasp hatches.
A mason wasp


Then part way through building the second cell, another mason wasp arrived and seemed to be hassling the original wasp. That second cell went unfinished. And I haven’t seen those type of wasps since.

Then today, as I was drinking my coffee, I saw something scurrying around up where the mason wasp had worked. When I went to investigate, I found this stunning little wasp.

A ruby tailed wasp – a type of cuckoo wasp that has sabotaged the mason wasp’s nest.

As far as I can tell this is a ruby tailed wasp – aptly named. But although it is beautiful, it is a bad wasp from the mason wasp’s perspective. The ruby tail wasp is a “cuckoo” wasp. It will lay its egg by the mason wasp’s egg and when the ruby tail hatches it will eat the mason wasp and the caterpillar that was meant for it.

Another wasp that impressed me through the winter was (I think) just a common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). It crawled into one of the bamboo tubes of a “bug hotel” in the autumn. And it stayed in there all winter. I often thought it must’ve been dead. Most of the time it was lying on its back. Sometimes it seemed to have shifted a bit, but I put that down to the wind blowing it around. The “hotel” provided scant shelter for the wasp and our winter has been unseasonably harsh. Nevertheless back in April, the wasp woke up. It seemed to spend a couple of days chewing on something at the back of the bamboo tube. And then it spent another couple of days coming and going to and from the same hole. Then it disappeared – happily, because I wouldn’t have wanted it nesting too nearby.

An overwintered wasp emerging from its winter hiding place

Gooseberry sawfly larvae

The tell tale signs of gooseberry sawfly larvae at work – all but the toughest ribs of the leaves completely eaten away.
The culprit – a gooseberry sawfly larva
And another (usually there would be more than two on a bush, but I had spotted the siblings of these two a few days ago and nipped out that part of the bush while the larvae were still tiny – these are the lucky two that got away)

I have seen sawflies on commercial fruit plots strip dozens of bushes completely bare, seemingly overnight. Some people try to control them with sprays; others just accept them. Some say that because the sawflies usually affect the bushes quite late in the season they don’t affect the fruit yield. I tend to nip them off if I spot them, and leave them for the birds to eat (and wonder why the birds aren’t eating them anyway…).

Tufted caterpillars

Vapourer moth (Orygia antiqua) caterpillar on strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

I spotted this stunning caterpillar munching away on the strawberry tree that I planted last winter. When I looked it up I found that it is, I think, a vapourer moth caterpillar. Everything I read suggested that these caterpillars feed on deciduous trees, especially fruit trees. So I thought that it must have fallen down from one of the neighbouring trees. But looking more closely, I noticed three of its shed skins on the undersides of the strawberry tree’s leaves. So it would seem it has completed its caterpillar life stage here, quite happily eating the strawberry tree’s evergreen leaves. In total, this one caterpillar has eaten less than one leaf. I read that they are “no longer a significant pest in orchards because of the use of insecticides”…

I also spotted another tufted caterpillar on a snowy mespilus shrub (Amelanchier lamarckii). It’s not as impressive as the vapourer, but still quite striking. It too is a moth caterpillar, this time of the grey dagger (Acronicta psi).

Caterpillar of grey dagger moth on snow mespilus

It always puzzles me that many people say they like butterflies; but they think moths are somehow less nice; and caterpillars are purely pests.



Privet leaf miner damage

Following the winter’s damage, I’ve been keeping an eye out to make sure the privet bushes recover OK. By and large, they are doing just that. However, I’d say some are a little weaker than would be usual, but it’s hard to tell. One thing I have noticed though is a surge in the amount of leaf miner damage.

Damage on a privet leaf caused by leaf mining caterpillars (Gracillaria syringella)

The damage first shows as brownish marks on the leaves. They quickly expand to become a large brown blister. By this stage the blisters are easy to pull open and inside there are little tribes of larvae living a sheltered life between the upper and lower leaf surfaces.

Inside the blister there are little tiny caterpillars – they’re quite hard to see and to photograph because as soon as their blister is burst they try and wriggle away to hide

These larvae will grow up to become tiny little micro moths – Gracillaria syringella. As the name suggests, they also mine lilac (Syringa) leaves and are known as lilac leaf miners as well as privet leaf miners. There are plenty of them on the lilac bushes this year too.

Leaf miner damage on a lilac leaf
…and here are the larvae inside the lilac leaf’s blister


Cork oaks: assessing winter’s damage

Winter has been long and fickle this year. Mainly, I’d say, it’s been drier and colder than usual, with fewer storms. But between the cold periods there have been unseasonably warm spells (up to 20C); between the dry spells there have been huge rain storms; and between the calm spells there have been some ferocious and freezing winds. Tipyn o bopeth (a bit of everything) really and quite challenging in the garden.

The young cork oaks (which are now two and three years old) have mainly suffered from the tortrix moth caterpillars, as per usual.

Tortrix moth caterpillar damage on cork oak

But in addition, they have also been being eaten by some kind of leaf miner…

Leaf miner and freeze damage on cork oak

and the younger trees have suffered a little from the lack of moisture and freezing winds – showing in the orangey-bronzey tints you can see  in the picture above, alongside the dull buff colour where the leaf miners have stripped the living cells.

However, I’m happy to say, that they all seem to have come through OK and have plenty of new buds for this year’s growth. Hopefully winter will soon go away and they can put on some strong new growth through the summer.

Currant blister aphids

The the new leaves have recently unfurled on a redcurrant I bought over the winter. And the leaves have bright red blisters.

Discoloured blistering on a young redcurrant leaf

These blisters look like a text book image for currant blister aphids. Sure enough, when I looked at the underside of the leaf, there was a big fat aphid with a brood of babies…

Redcurrant leaf with blistering and aphids

These bugs must have come in as eggs on the plant. According to the RHS, the aphids need to move to hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) plants to complete their life cycle: they’re uncommon plants around here, so this could be the end of the road for these aphids, depending how far they can travel. The damage the aphids are doing looks impressive, but is really of no consequence.