Just back from Sussex, and the garden is very lush. No time to look round it yet so here’s one of the Brown butterflies that is very widespread all over the British Isles, (including our garden) except for high mountains and Shetland. The Meadow Brown is quite a large butterfly and flies low, often in colonies, in gardens,
Male Meadow Brown butterfly.
Female Meadow Brown butterfly
grasslands, bramble bushes and many other habitats. Though they are still one of the most frequently seen butterflies they are being affected by intensive farming, and by mowing of road verges, which reduces the variety and height of the grasses it feeds on. The main way to tell brown butterflies apart is by looking at their ‘eye’ markings. The Meadow Brown, though its colours can vary quite a lot, have only one white spot in a dark spot on their forewings and none on their hind wings. Generally, the male is darker than the female, which has brighter patches of orange on its forewings. (P.S. Just before I left, I found a much brighter coloured Cinnabar Moth than the faded one I photographed the other day, so I’ll include it today because it shows the identifying black and red markings more clearly. Conditions: A mostly cloudy day with some sun. Temperature: Max 19- Min 12 C
Sorting out the 3 small yellow flowers of the Rose family, out at this time of year, with creeping runners and rounded petalled flowers, can be tricky at this time of year, so here they are. Tormentil is the smallest and grows very close to the ground in heathland, moorland and grassland. This one is the only one of the 3 with four petals. It has been used as a red dye and all 3 have been used in herbal medicine, as astringents and anti-diorrhea treatments, among other things. The roots of Tormentil are used in a bitter liqueur called Blutwurz, made in the Black Forest, The name is thought to derive from its use to ease tormenting gripes of the intestines. The next in size is Cinquefoil, from the Old French for five-leaved. The flower has five petals . The Cinquefoil has been used extensively in herbal medicine, the five-fingered leaves thought to represent the five senses. They were also believed to scare off witches and evil forces! A decoction of the roots can be used to treat fevers, toothaches etc. The largest of these creeping plants is the Silverweed and, though they have five-petalled flowers like the Cinquefoil they are easily distinguished by their long, fringed leaves which have either silver both sides or on the back. The Silverweed has beed cultivated as an edible pant for its roots, as well as being used for herbal treatments. Its leaves are very absorbent and they have been used in the shoes of people with very sweaty feet, to absorb the sweat!
The tiny, four-petalled Tormentil.
Cinquefoil, with five petalled flowers and five fingered leaves.
Silverweed. with five-petalled flowers and long leaves, always silver-backed and sometimes silver fronted.
Conditions: Cloudy with some sun and showers. Temperature: Max 18- Min 11 c
The Nursery Web Spider is much easier to see at present, because the female, which is grey, yellowish or brown, with a tapered, long body and a pale streak along the middle of its carapace, is guarding its wonderful Nursery Web. The male, generally darker, with a smaller abdomen, will have offered the female a ‘gift’ of a dead insect wrapped in silk, before pairing and mating On the earlier blog I did about a Nursery Web Spider the silk-bound parcel was visible.) Studies have shown that the bigger the gift, the longer mating will be and the higher the number of eggs laid and fertilised. The female carries the large egg-sacs about under her fangs until they are about to hatch. This is the point where she deposits the egg-sac on a leaf and spins the protective silk Nursery Web tent around the sac, before gently opening the sac for the spiderlings (they really are called that!) emerge. You can see hundreds inside the webs in the photos. She stands guard until their first moult, when they emerge from the web and fend for themselves. Nursery Web Spiders don’t spin a web for catching food. They have great vision and are superb hunters, basking in the sun on the top of brambles and or nettles until prey comes along and then pouncing with great accuracy! Conditions: In Sheffield – cloudy and cool. Temperature: Max 14- Min 10 C.
Nursery Web Spiderlings in their protective web-tent
Female Nursery Web Spider.
Nursery Web female guarding her spiderlings in the web-tent.
Grasshoppers are the preferred food of the Labyrinth Spider I blogged about yesterday, so here are some photos of Meadow Grasshoppers I saw at the same time, in the long grass. The best way to tell Grasshoppers from Crickets is to look at the length of their antennae- Crickets have very long antennae while those of Grasshoppers are quite stubby. Their are only 11 species of Grasshoppers in the UK, more in the south as the north as they prefer warmer conditions. The Meadow Grasshopper is the most common, and can be seen all over the UK. Grasshoppers and Crickets
go through what is called incomplete metamorphosis, in that they go from egg, to larva, to adult phase, without the pupal stage. Eggs are laid just under the ground and hatch in spring. They ‘sing’ by rubbing their legs against their wings and they have ears in their bottoms! The Meadow Grasshopper can be green, brown or, rarely, vivid pink! Their wings are much shorter than their legs, and they are the only UK Grasshopper that can only hop, not hop and fly. Conditions: Cloudy and wet up north. Temperature: Max 14- Min 10 C.
I found this great spider’s web today. It’s often mistaken for the highly poisonous Funnel Web spider of other climes, but it is the Labyrinth Spider, fairly common in grassy areas of England, but especially in the South. This spider produces a web usually around 60cm’s off the ground, and is so thick it appears white. Below the amazing funnel-shape is a labyrinth of tunnels (hence its name) at the base of which, out of sight, is the egg-sac with all the developing young. The mother stays with the young until they are ready to leave the web. The mother sometimes dies just before this happens, in which case the young will eat her, before emerging. This spider particularly likes eating young Crickets and Grasshoppers and there were a lot of these in the grassy patch where I found the web. The spider is very hard to see as it disappears into the funnel when disturbed. The photo’s of it are also indistinct because the web extends over the top of the funnel! The adult is fairly pale, with darker bands of brown and grey and a central pale brown stripe. Conditions: A cloudier day. Temperature: Max 17- Min 12 C
A Labyrinth Spider’s web in tall grasses- the little yellow dashes are grass seeds caught in the web!).
The adult Labyrinth spider is lurking at the top of the funnel of its web!
An indistinct view of the Labyrinth Spider, seen at the start of the Labyrinth.
The baby Robins are losing their speckled chests, which up till now have given them camouflage, and protected them from attack by territorial adult Robins. If you come across this lovely, starry flower you can bet you’ll be near dry grassy, sandy soils or heathland. The Centaury is an unusual shade of pink and, like other flowers in the Gradually they gain more orange-red as they grow in strength and establish their own feeding territories. family, its flowers only open on bright mornings, closing during the afternoon. The five-petalled flowers form a cluster at the top of the stem, with a rosette of oval leaves at the base and pairs of opposite leaves up the stem. It is used in Bach flower remedies for people who can’t say no to helping others! The Celts thought it brought good luck. It has been shown to have antiseptic qualities. The flowers can vary in depth of colour but they always have prominent yellow anthers. Centaury flowers must have been a favourite of Wordsworth as well as me, because they are etched on his tomb! Conditions: Cloudy with some sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 17- Min 11 C
Young Robin in the garden, just beginning to gain it’s red breast.
The red breast of the young Robin becoming more prominent.
Centaury flowers- closing in the afternoon.
The past few evenings, where we’re staying down south, I’ve been watching for Badgers and getting glimpses. Last night, just as the light was getting too low for sharp photographs, two came out and stayed around a while. I’ll let the photo’s do the talking! Conditions: Sun and then cloud, with an odd shower forecast. Temperature: Max 22- Min 12 C
Badger out about 9 p.m. last night, with another lurking in the bushes!
The two Badgers together.
The larger Badger.
The younger, bolder Badger.
Damselflies are voracious predators of insects, both in the underwater larval stage and the adult stage. They can easily be distinguished from Dragonflies, as Damselflies fold their wings against their bodies when at rest, while Dragonflies rest with their wings open. Two common forms visit our garden and ponds: the Large Red and the Common Blue Damselfly, both very widespread either near slow-flowing or still water, also making feeding-forays into gardens and grasslands away from water. The Large Red Damselfly has black legs and black and red bands on its thorax, (unlike the Small Red which has reddish legs, a red body and is much less common). The female Large Red tends to have more black or even some yellow bands on its thorax. The Common Blue Damselfly is by far the most frequently seen of all Damselflies and often visits gardens, with or without a pond. The female is paler, or greenish, as can be seen in the photo. The empty nymph-skin could be from either species. Conditions: The hot, dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 22- Min 14 C.
The Large Red Damselfly
The male (blue) and female (greenish) Common Blue Damselfly in tandem position, during pairing (They can fly in this position).
Empty larval case of Damselfly.
We are now into the phase of the year when days begin to get shorter. However, due to the length of Britain, from 50 degrees north in the South to 60 degrees north in the North, these ‘longest days’ vary from a maximum of 16 hours 40 minutes in the South of England to 18 hours 50 minutes in Lerwick, Shetland! All over Britain, except for the far north, the Common Ragwort is flowering and so the bright, day-flying moth the Cinnabar Moth (named after the mineral of the same red colour) is around. The pupae overwinter underground, and the moth adults emerge to lay up to 300 eggs in spring on its main food-source, the Common Ragwort. Walking last night we found many of the caterpillars which emerge around now a pale yellow, becoming deep yellow and black. The caterpillars absorb toxic alkaline substances from the highly toxic Ragwort. (Cinnabar Moths have been introduced to North America, New Zealand and Australia in an attempt to control the Ragwort, whose tox
Cinnabar Moth caterpillar.
Mass of Cinnabar caterpillars, showing the paler recently hatched and the older, yellow and black ones.
Adult Cinnabar Moth- showing its red stripe and two dots per side.
icity is a problem, especially to horses). Few caterpillars survive to adulthood, mainly due to starvation, through stripping the foliage on their host plant. This partly explains why they can also be cannibalistic. As with many things in nature, the bright colours of the moth and caterpillar are to warn of their toxicity and thereby deter predators. The only likely confusion in identifying the Cinnabar Moth is to confuse it with the Burnet Moth, so I’ll include a photo of that moth in today’s blog. Conditions: Hot and dry day. Temperature: Max 21- Min 14 C.
Adult Six-Spot Burnet Moth, another day-flying red and black moth which can be confused with the Cinnabar
And for anyone with withdrawal symptoms from Minsmere Bittern, here is one we spotted a couple of years ago there….
After posting the Bullfinches, and with a short break coming up, I am just going to post the beautiful summer plumage of the other finches we have visiting us through the summer months. Back soon!
Male Greenfinch on the feeder.
Male Chaffinch in bright summer plumage.- blue cap and all!
Male and female Goldfinches often feed together.