Nursery Web Spider– this common spider, a little sinister-looking but harmless (to us) hunts by waiting for an approaching insect and then sprinting to catch it. You can often see the adults basking on top of brambles, nettles or thick grasses but what you might notice more is the tent of silk they spin. Nursery Web Spiders are so named because, having carried her egg sac in her jaws until hatching is imminent, the female then spins a silk protective shelter for the spiderlings, within which they stay until mature enough to roam free. The adults typical resting pose is with their front two pairs of legs held forwards (see photo). Conditions: Very hot and still. Temperature: Max 30 Min 18C.
The wonderful Hummingbird Hawkmoth is a day-flying moths that arrives from the continent in high summer, though it is beginning to overwinter in the south of England. With a 5cm wingspan, it can hover because its wings beat at 80 times a second. They are usually a blur, and when it is quiet you can hear their wings humming. As they hover they unfurl their very long proboscis and feed on the wing, sipping nectar from the base of long-tubed flowers like Buddlia and Valerian. You may get a view of their orange hindwing as they feed, as in these shots. It is the last weekend for the Big Butterfly Count and these moths are included in the species they want recorded. You just watch for 15 minutes and note the butterflies and moths you see, then submit the ones they are interested in on the app or online (Butterfly Conservation). You can do it as often as you like, in your garden, park etc and they are just as interested in you seeing nothing as seeing a lot. Conditions: Sun and cloud, with light wings. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
Grasshoppers– There are over 25,000 species of Grasshoppers and Crickets world-wide and around 30 species of Grasshopper breed in the UK. This is the Common Green which isn’t as common as it was. They eat grasses, leaves and cereals, and prefer dampish grassy areas. They are the prey of a wide range of creatures, including small rodents, birds, spiders, beetles and snakes. Their long, strong rear legs mean they can leap long distances, the human equivalent of us being able to jump the length of a football pitch. They sound they make, called ‘stridulations’ are made by rubbing peg-like growths on their
hind legs against their forewings and of course it is the sound which often alerts us to their presence beneath our feet. The simple way to distinguish grasshoppers from crickets is that grasshoppers are usually solitary, and have short-ish antennae while the antennae of the more gregarious Crickets are very long (see photo). Conditions: Cloud and sun, very warm. Temperature: Max 24 Min 17C.
Teasel: This is a common, easily recognisable and easily grown wild plant of dampish wayside, field-edge and disturbed ground. This plant is valuable for wildlife and has been used by humans for hundreds of years. In its first year this biennial consists of a rosette of dark green leaves covered with bumps and spines. In the second year, the stems grow quickly and the distinctive flower-heads appear from July, with a ring of mauve flowers around their centre. As these die, circles of flowers open up both above and below them, providing food for many bees over a long period. They are good flowers on which to identify and photograph bee-species because bees take time methodically
feed on the circles of flowers. In autumn the seed heads provide food for birds, including male finches.The seed heads last all winter, looking attractive and great during frosty weather, or cut to bring inside. If you have the space, they are good for wildlife gardening, though prolific self-seeders so either cut the heads before they seed or dig up the rosettes of first-year plants, easy to spot. The use of the heads in the wool industry, for ‘teasing’ (carding, combing) wool fibres to clean and arrange the strands before spinning are what gives us the name ‘Teasel’. The fine hooks on the seed-heads were so effective they weren’t replaced by steel combs until the 20th century. Their ability to create a fine, even nap on baize and similar wool-based materials also led to them being used in making the cloths for snooker tables, hats etc. Nothing has ever been designed to match this ability and they are still the chosen ‘tool’ for some fine, specialist material. Napped cloth was important also for drivers of horse drawn coaches, as the nap guided the rain don the cloak and away, helping keep the driver dry in heavy rain. Conditions: Very hot and sunny. Temperature: Max 33 Min 11 C.
Hemp Agrimony: This tall, perennial plant thrives in sun or shade in damp areas but can also live in drier conditions. Its ‘fluffy’ multiple-flower heads, ranging from pale to deeper pink/mauve are an absolute magnet for insects, especially bees, and Butterflies like Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell and its long period of flowering, July into September, make its valuable wildlife plant. It is neither related to the Yellow Agrimony or Hemp but its leaves are Hemp-shaped. There are also more decorative garden varieties of this Eupatorium, so you could choose those if you have an odd corner, or a border. Also known colloquially as ‘Raspberries and Cream’ the Latin name derives from the first century BC King Eupator of Pontus, who is said to have cured a septic wound using it. On the website ‘Nature Cure’ a man recalls visiting St Ives as a child, in the 1930’s. and hearing of a fisherman whose septic arm was unable to be treated and about to be amputated. A local person suggested a poultice of the leaves and flowers of Hemp Agrimony and it drew out the poison. When his son later suffered with boils, he successfully treated them with a similar poultice so these old remedies sometimes have valuable clues locked inside them. If you aren’t keen on trying that, and you have the space, try growing the wild or garden versions for their wildlife value and late summer colour- we have both. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.
On a very wet day, in Sheffield, my mind turns to the wonderful gardeners friend, the Toad – ‘Bufo Bufo’. Toads, nocturnal feeders, after finding a pond or still waterway for breeding in spring, spend most of the rest of the warm months in damp, sheltered places like woodlands, hedgerows and ditches, coming-out at night to eat worms, spiders and slugs. Their skins are more water-absorbent than that of frogs so they can survive drier conditions a little better. Toads vary in colour from dark brown to greenish, and can be told apart from frogs by their bumpy, warty skin, their shorter neck and shorter legs on which they walk or crawl, not hop. Their eyes are copper coloured, with a very noticeably horizontally pupil. Poor persecuted Toads have long had an association with witchcraft and poisoning, although they aren’t poisonous to us. The myths come from the fact that, if threatened they puff up their bodies and exude a foul-tasting fluid from their skin, to deter predators. Also, in medieval times disease was associated with the concept of ‘miasmas’ from places like marshes, bogs and caves, all of which can be the natural haunt of Toads. Long seen as a witches ‘familiars’, Toads entering a house were seen as portents of bad news, and they were careful removed in order not to provoke a witch. Evidence from court trial of witches from the 16th Century refer to the Toads of witches. In the 12th Century, when Toads were believed to attack and poison people, there are accounts of them being left, with adders, in the cells of prisoners as punishment. WE feel lucky to have any in our gardens, eating our slugs. Conditions: Heavy rain and thunderstorms. Temperature: Max 19 Min 12 C.
Longhorn Beetles: There are over 4,000 species of Beetle in the British Isles, making up 40% of our insect-life so they are very valuable in themselves and in the food chain for mammals, birds, bats etc. The Longhorn beetles largely use wood for laying their eggs and as food for the hatched larvae, which emphasises the value of leaving wood-piles and rotting wood around our gardens and woods. The adult Longhorns feed on different things though, some on wood, some on invertebrates and some on pollen. This wonderful Spotted Longhorn feeds on pollen and you may well see it now on Hogweed, Angelica etc though in our garden this one has been feeding on our Oak-leaved Hydrangea, as pictured here, alongside bees and hoverflies. I noticed it because it has an unusual hovering and bouncing flight with wing-cases (elytra) held open. The Spotted Longhorn is one of the few Longhorns that is easy to identify– the other pictured here is less easy but still fascinating to look out for and of course, having hard wing-cases helps identify it as a beetle, and having very long antennae, as a Longhorn. If you are stuck with nature identification, you can always download a photo onto I-spot nature and some of the many nature enthusiasts will suggest an identification for you. Or you can brows the site to learn what is around- very interesting site. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
Betony: This beautiful wild flower of drier grasslands and meadows grows up to about 1 foot high, depending on the soil. The magenta flowers are held in a cluster at the top of a straight stem but the easiest way to identify it is by the leaves growing from the stems.They are long, quite tough, dark green, a bit crinkly and with scalloped edges (see photos). Still used in modern herbalism, this was one of the ‘all-heal’ herbs in medieval times and Culpeper advised to always have it in the house. Betony was commonly grown in monastery and physic gardens to treat a range of conditions, including arthritis, gout and dog-bites. Tea made from the leaves was reckoned to prevent drunkeness on the day you took it!. The ancient Romans believed it protected against sorcery and an Anglo-Saxon herbal recommended it to stave off “frightful nocturnal goblins and terrible sights and dreams” echoed in a Welsh charm advising people wear a leaf round the neck to prevent dreaming. The 16th Century botanist, Gerard, more prosaically stated “it maketh a man to pisse well“! Whether it had the same effect on women he didn’t say but Bees love this elegant flower which makes it a great addition to a wildlife garden. Conditions: Cloudy and dry. Temperature: Max 19 Min 13C.
Purple Loosestrife: This beautiful wild, tall perennial prefers stream and pond-edges and other damp habitats, and is a great favourite for a range of insects, including butterflies like the beautiful Brimstone, many moths including the Elephant Hawkmoth, honeybees and some bumblebees. It flowers over quite a long period and I would never be without it in the garden as it adds wildlife value as well as mid-summer colour. With long association with magic, this plant is still used in herbal medicine for skin and intestinal conditions. It was used in the past as a red hair-dye and can be used for food-colouring. From ancient Greeks until our recent ancestors Purple Loosestrife was associated with calming a wide range of creatures, hence the second part of its name. Conditions: Still, mostly cloudy day. Temperature: Max 19 Min 12C.
Burdock: This common plant of waste ground and wayside grows to a few feet high and is very obvious by this time of year. It is loved by insects but was also used a great deal by our ancestors. The long tap root was a staple in the past, roasted like we cook parsnips, tasting nutty apparently. The root was also used medicinally, especially for coughs and colds. In addition country people would lightly ferment the roots of this plant and the even more commonly available dandelion, to make a drink which, in carbonated form, is now commercially available of course as
‘Dandelion ad Burdock’. As the flowers die back, the hooked burrs cling easily to anything that brushes past– you might be familiar with the tricky task of trying to remove the hundreds of hooks from your dog, or your jumper! However, a Swiss inventor thought more laterally and was inspired by this plant to invent the invaluable Velcro. Conditions: Light cloud and breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 12 C.