Wildlife Wednesday – Eating with (in)tent


Having stared at the detail on the caterpillars for sometime, I think these are Euproctis chrysorroea, brown-tail moth caterpillars.

Ugh! So not what you want to see, but this is what I found en-route when I went to check on Therfield wild pasque flower colony. Large silk-spun, tented enclosures covering most of the hawthorn bushs on the heath. The webs protect hundreds of voracious caterpillars (and their food) from predators. I think that the caterpillars are of the brown-tail moth, because they are the only webbing species which are black with brown hairs and two reddish raised tubercles. In fact, the hairs on the caterpillars are urticating (causing skin irritations like a nettle rash), so in addition to defoliating the hawthorn they can cause health problems for people.Β  Hopefully, the trees with recover quickly once they have pupated, but there are not going to be many berries.


Male orange tip butterfly feeding on an honesty plant.

On a more cheerful note, there are many more eye-catching butterflies on the wing now. Easiest to spot are the numerous orange tip butterflies flitting along the borders and hedgerows. The males of this small butterfly are unmistakeable with their bright tipped forewings, whereas the females lack the orange. Males are seen much more often than the females, who are either waiting for attention or busy getting on with egg laying. Mottled undersides to the wings of both sexes provides perfect camouflage when they are at rest. So they are quite hard to get decent pictures of, because they are either invisible or moving!


The dark-edged bee fly is a useful pollinator

Another insect that seems to be having a good year numbers-wise is the bee fly, Bombylius major. This an obvious bee mimic and is harmless, in spite of that dangerous looking proboscis. It enjoys sunning itself and certainly likes to rest on the hot gravel on the driveway. Its fur-covered body makes it looks quite cute, but its dark side is that the adult female flicks her eggs towards the entrance of underground solitary bee or wasp nests so that the hatching larvae can get into the nest and feed on the grubs.

Cashing in on all this urgent insect activity are our summer bird visitors. On most walks with the dog these days we are buzzed by swallow and house martins skimming low over the crops in the fields to catch flies and midges. Their aerial acrobatics are a joy to watch and you can easily hear them coming with their interwoven hiccupping calls.


Graceful turning manouvres of swallows.

I’ve not noticed many birds nesting in the garden this year, except those dratted, noisy pigeons (collared doves) in the fir trees next to the bedroom. However, I happened to be outside, camera in hand, when I heard a strange banging noise behind the garage. So I crept around the corner to see what was going on and found the hammering sound was coming from the bird box. I switched to video mode to record the sound and a few seconds later caught the d-i-y enthusiast exiting.


Bluetit emerging after a spot of redecoration to the birdbox.

I am not sure if they are nesting or not, but they come to work quite often.

So we reach the final creature of the post, which I accidentally found when I was photographing tulips. This is a 22-spotted ladybird. I counted to make sure! It is a relatively small ladybird of ~4mm and as you can see is yellow, so it is easy to ID. The best bit about this visitor is that he eats mildew. Yes, I have mildew in the garden already (on the scabious and honesty), so he might consume and grow quite a lot while he is here.


22-spotted ladybird on Tulip Angelique

I am linking up with Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday theme today. Tina has some rather more exotic caterpillars and birds to report, so head over there to check them, and other bloggers wonderful wildlife, out.



About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in birds, Nature, Spring, Wildlife and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday – Eating with (in)tent

  1. Tina says:

    Great post!! Your orange tip is just gorgeous, but it must be a butterfly thing to fly fast and be nearly invisible when resting. Makes sense, but it’s hard for us wanting to photograph. πŸ™‚ And the bee fly–wow–that is an impressive proboscis! We also have caterpillars who net themselves as the eat and eat. It’s a good mode of protection, I think. I think your little bluetits are so cute–hope they’re nesting and that you’ll have some family goings-on to share in the next month or so. And lovely lady beetle–so many spots!! Thanks for joining in this month.

    • Yes, butterflies have perfected the art of flying/gliding so that they look like they are going to settle, but then suddening gain height and flip away. It’s so inconsiderate! I am looking out for the bluetits, but I haven’t seen any activity in the box for a few days.

  2. Great action shots and lots of interesting observations, thanks. The 22 spot ladybird in the depths of Tulip Angelique makes for a stunning composition, pin sharp too.

    • Thanks. I’ve been contemplating those Angelique tulips today and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like them anymore. They go too candyfloss pink and it clashes with everything else. Selectively eliminating them is going to be a pain though!

  3. your orange tip butterfly is lovely and I didn’t know any ladybird had as many as 22 spots, that’s a wonderful detail photo, Frances

    • Thanks Frances. I think the 22-spotted ladybird is the one with the most spots here in the UK. Harlequins come close, but have a variable number between 0-21. I love to see the orange tips about and always grow honesty to encourage them to stop to feed.

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    Enjoyed see all your critters, Allison, except maybe the tent worms. Every few years we have epidemic spring tent caterpillars, but they seemed to have backed off for a while. In the 70s there was a lot of deforestation from gypsy moths, but years of programs finally got them under control. Everyone wrapped their tree trunks in tin foil and petroleum jelly (the larva hatch in the ground and climb up to feed, getting stuck in the jelly).
    The orange tip is lovely. I am always charmed by the soft colors of the blue tits, are they noisy neighbors?

    • The blue tits are perfectly sweet, quiet neighbours, except when they are doing DIY! There are quite a few caterpillar here that seem to make tents, but they don’t seem to persist in the same place all that much so the trees recover. The notifiable one is the Oak Processionary moth that devastates oak woodland. The Forestry Commission does spray that.

  5. I hope those caterpillars (though interesting) don’t cause too much damage. I guess there’s a place for everything in the balance of things and they probably serve some good purpose, though I can’t imagine what it is. I’d much rather the garden be filled with the colorful butterfly, the amazing bee fly, and beautiful ladybird…and the birds…there must always be birds. I enjoyed seeing all your beautiful photos and learning about the wildlife in your garden.

    • Hi Tracy, Glad that you liked the post. I am sure things do balance out for the most part, but some of the problem with the caterpillars are that their range has recently extended to more northerly latitudes with global warming and there aren’t the natural predators here yet. It’ll take a bit of time for things to catch up!

  6. Julie says:

    Lovely post Allison, even the webbing on the Brown-Tail Moths was fascinating, I would want to stare for a long time to work out what going on too. I haven’t seen any Orange Tips yet, its hard not to love this little Butterfly, with the better weather, I hope this will be the start of lots more Butterfly sightings. Love the Blue Tit DIY too, I wonder what he is up to in there hopefully you will have chicks, you made me laugh with your phrase they come to work quite often, it conjures up a wonderful image. Lovely shot too of the 22 spot on your Tulip.

    • I think that this warm weather is really bringing the butterflies out now. Today I’ve seen speckled woods, peacocks, tortoiseshells, brimstones and orange tips. I love to see them all. Sadly, I haven’t seen bluetits at the box for a few days now. Maybe it is time for a new des res for them.

      • Julie says:

        They are still collecting hair here, hopefully you will have some new takers, now the first crew have done their DIY. πŸ™‚

  7. The orange tip butterfly is new it me. It is a beauty! I hope your Hawthornes recove quickly.

    • The orange tip butterfly is one of my favourites, because it is one of the first to emerge in spring and so cheerful looking. I will be interested to see whether the caterpillars are back next year. My impression is that it doesn’t tend to repeat in the same place, so I am sure the hawthorns will be fine.

  8. Sue says:

    I’m a newbie here at Wildlife Wednesday and just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your photos, they are marvellous shots, and a very nice photo of the ladybird too. πŸ™‚

  9. diversifolius says:

    Great action pictures and I hope we’ll get some of that 22-spotted ladybird in our garden! Surely there will be mildew for them to enjoy πŸ™‚

  10. Gillian says:

    As usual a fascinating and very interesting post. Not so many butterflies here yet… but with this sunshine we should see a few more.

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