Some insect and extinction facts to fascinate and depress: Insects have been on earth 1,000 times longer than humans. In the first week of November this year 95 new species of beetle were identified in Madagascar alone. In what is being called the ‘sixth extinction’ many will become extinct before even identified, and at a precipitous rate. As well as extinction, there is devastating reduction in populations: recent studies in European nature reserves recorded a 75% decline in insects. Insects are crucial in all food chains, in pollination, in ‘cleaning up’ dead plants and animals- in many more ways. They have been overlooked in all conservation projects, in favour of more ‘cuddly’ creatures further up the food chain. Here are a few local, overlooked insects
. Conditions: Wet and dreary, to match the blog!. Temperature: Max 4- Min 1C.
Chaffinches from Scandinavia begin to double our native populations now. As usual, we have more female than male, which is due to differential migration. The 18th Century naturalist, Linnaeus, noticed this when he gave them their scientific name, Fringilla Coelebs. Coelebs means ‘unmarried’ and in his home Scandinavia he noted more males than females over winter, assuming they were bachelors. Males are more dominant in winter, and can forage for food better in colder areas, so females are more likely to migrate West to find enough food. However, female Chaffinches dominate in summer. Conditions: Mild and cloudy with heavy rain and strong winds moving in tonight. Temperature: Max 10- Min 8C.
Female and Male Chaffinch drawing
This healthy, (ringed) female Sparrowhawk, flying in yesterday, at first scared all the other birds away. After a couple of minutes, a Magpie landed in the same tree and started to approach. They eyeballed each other but it wasn’t until a second Magpie arrived that the first dared to get really close and scare the Sparrowhawk off. Meanwhile, the little birds quickly pick up, from body language, whether the Hawk is in hunting mode– after 3 or 4 minutes, six Blue Tits had reappeared in the tree and happily fed a few feet from her. Conditions: Cold and bright. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3C.
Female (note the ring) Sparrowhawk
Magpie scares off Sparrowhawk
New data on, appropriately, Darwin’s Finches, in the Galapagos, show definitively that new species can arise in as little as two generations. Closer to home, studies show that this lovely species, the Goldfinch, is evolving longer bills. This is thought to be an adaptation to garden feeders, which they increasingly visit- we have a small charm every day at present. Males already have longer bills than females, enabling them to obtain seeds from Teasels. Conditions: Cold, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 6- Min -1C.
The Oak Marble Gall, produced by one of 30 UK Oak Gall Wasp species, arrived here from the Middle East in the 1800’s. Still be seen on Oaks now, they have a small hole where the gall wasp has emerged in autumn. Rich in Tannic Acid, ink made from the Oak Marble Gall has been used since the middle ages, on many ancient documents- traces have been found on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first recipe was given by the Roman, Pliny the Elder. The ink has long been superseded as it fades and can damage the page.
Oak Marble Gall
Just a reminder that Honey Bees, and a few butterflies, including Red Admiral, do not hibernate but slow their bodies down and emerge whenever the temperature is around 10C or more, throughout winter, to top up their food supplies. These recent photo’s emphasise again just how important winter sources of pollen and nectar are for these insects- Ivy is one of the best, as these Honey Bees
Honey bee, Ivy
Honey bee, Ivy
Honey bee, Ivy
Red Admiral, Ivy
show. Conditions: Cool and sunny after high winds and rain. Temperature: Max 9- Min 3C.
Now most leaves have dropped, and the weather is getting colder, the Goldcrest reappears, or at least gets more visible, in our garden. The UK’s smallest bird, weighing the same as a 20 pence piece, this insect-eater will struggle to find enough food in daylight hours for the next few months, but that means it will sometimes come to a birdtable for fat, or search your plants for tiny insects, so keep your eyes peeled- it is the easiest time to spot them. Conditions: Cloudy with some rain. Temperature: Max 13- Min 11C.