Lacewings – aphid assassins :)

Lacewings look so fragile and fly so feebly, it’s hard to imagine them as predatory killers. But that’s just what they are: they love to eat aphids. As grubs they suck the life out of aphids and as adults they spend their nights chewing them up.

Lacewing on birch twig
Lacewing (Chrysopa carnea, I think) on birch twig

There are several species of lacewing  in the UK, some are green, some are brown, but all are aphid assassins:)

Lacewing on birch leaf
Lacewing on birch leaf
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Plants for butterflies: hemp agrimony

Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) is one of the very best plants for attracting butterflies: even better than buddleia. Despite its name, it has nothing at all to do with cannabis or hemp.

Hemp agrimony flowers with red admiral and peacock butterflies.
Hemp agrimony flowers with red admiral and peacock butterflies.

Hemp agrimony is a hardy perennial that is native to the UK. Although seldom grown as a garden plant, it is certainly worth considering if you are planning a wildlife area in your garden.  It prefers soils that are moist a good deal of the time and quite a sunny position. Although it can be grown from seed, it is simpler and more reliable to divide a clump if you know somebody who has some they can share with you.

The flowers, a frothy mass of pale pinky-mauve appear in July and August – just in time for many butterflies. The dried flowers and leaves of hemp agrimony are sometimes used as an infusion which has a mildly cleansing and toning effect.

A Cleg – Haematopota pluvialis

It’s Latin name means something like blood-drinker of the rain, but these flies are also quite happy to drink your blood in the sun!

A cleg biting trying to bite through cloth
A cleg trying to bite through cloth
A biting cleg - Haematopota pluvialis
A biting cleg – Haematopota pluvialis

Seeing so much of nature is one of the benefits of working (or just being) out of doors. But it also makes you prey to some of the nastier biters, stingers and blood suckers.

The cleg is a type of horsefly and it can bite right through thin clothing. If you’re working or walking where there are livestock and long grass, there’s a good chance there will also be clegs. Although they seem dozy and slow, they are incredibly able to stick with you no matter how fast you move. I’ve found that coconut oil is the best thing to put them off, but it’s not foolproof.

It’s the female that does the biting: she needs blood in order to make her eggs. In her favour, she does have prettily patterned wings:)

Capsid bugs on Welsh poppies

Capsid bug (Calocoris sexguttatus) adult and nymph on Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica.
Capsid bug (Calocoris sexguttatus) adult and nymph on Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica.

Welsh poppies are generally trouble free, but these capsid bugs have a particular taste for them. They eat through a feeding tube that they poke into the flowers at bud stage. Their saliva causes the tissue around the hole to toughen, discolour and die. Then, as the flower opens, the wound sites will often tear. Consequently, the flowers are marked with discoloured spots and little holes.

These bug aren’t a major pest or problem, and if possible (as always), it is best to tolerate them.

St Mark’s flies – the black dangly legged ones!

Around the beginning of May, you’re very likely to see groups of fairly large, black flies with dangly legs just hanging around in the air.  Quite probably, you’re seeing St Mark’s flies: St Mark’s day is 25th April – around about the same time they usually start to appear – hence the name.

A female St Mark's fly, Bibio marci.
A female St Mark’s fly, Bibio marci.

 

The flies that hang in the air with their legs trailing are the males. If you look on the vegetation beneath them, you’ll probably see the females, doing nothing much at all, just sleepily crawling around.

Female St Mark's flies lay their eggs on the ground and the larvae feed on dead plant matter as well as plant roots.
Female St Mark’s flies lay their eggs on the ground and the larvae feed on dead plant matter as well as plant roots.

 

These flies don’t bite or sting or anything. And they only live for a very short time. But, their larvae do feed on plant roots. Generally, however, they’re not a problem and nothing to be concerned about.