There are thousands of minibeasts lurking in the undergrowth, hidden in the crevices of tree bark, buried under shingle and stones and even some in the corners of our sheds and garages. Most of these go unseen by us humans as we rush about our daily lives. (That's unless it's a spider crawling around the bath or up the bedroom wall). This year I'm going to try and show case some of these tiny , (often beautiful) creatures in their natural habitats and supply a little information about each.
7-spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata)
The 7-spot ladybird has red wing cases with a pattern of seven black spots. It has a black and white thorax. The bright colours warn predators off as does the yellow substance it exudes which contains toxic alkaloids.
Bee-fly (Bombylius major)
The Bee-fly looks like a bumblebee. It has a long straight probosces which it uses to feed on nectar from spring flowers. It can be seen in early spring (March-June). It is an excellent flyer and when hovering it makes a high pitched buzzing sound. It has long, stilt-like legs which dangle below the body when in flight. It uses the long legs to cling to flowers when feeding. The fly can be found throughout the UK but is more common in the S.E.
The hoverfly is so called as it spends most of its time hovering or nectaring over flowers. It feeds mainly on nectar and pollen and can be seen throughout the spring and summer months. It is widespread throughout the country. It is a gardeners friend as the larvae have enormous appetites for aphids.
Yellow Dung-fly (Scatophaga stercoraria)
The furry golden male Dung-fly collects on cowpats and can be seen from March-October. It preys on other insects and also eats nectar. (The female has a greener appearance and is less furry). The fly is between 5-11 mm in length.
Earthworms come in a variety of sizes from 1 mm up to 3 metres (in the tropics). They loosen and mix up the soil and recycle decaying matter and fertilise the soil by bringing nutrients closer to the surface.
Worms breathe through their skin so they have to come to the surface when it rains otherwise they might drown.
Earthworms can be both male and female but it still usually takes two to mate.
Earthworms form the base of many food chains such as birds, mammals, beetles, snails and slugs.
Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina)
The Green Shield Bug is common in England and Wales. It is bright green and stippled with black dots in the summer and changes to a greeny-bronze in the autumn. It is 10-15mm long and eats plant sap, leaves of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.
The Shield Bug can be found in gardens, hedges, trees, parks and woodland edges during the spring, summer and autumn. The bug is also known as a 'sting bug' due to the pungent odour it excretes if disturbed.
Meligethes aeneus is a pollen beetle about 2-3mm long. It is black with a hint of metallic green.
It is an invasive species and a pest to oil seed rape. The beetle lays its eggs in the buds of the flowers of oil seed rape and the larvae and the beetles feed off the pollen and the nectar of these flowers.
They can be found on other flowers and the one illustrated was inside the flower of a hellebore.
Leaf Beetle (Altrica tythri)
The leaf Beetle is a flea beetle from the leaf beetle family. It is about 5mm in size and the colour is a mixture of black with blue/green. It has strong back legs which enable it to jump. It hibernates in the winter and comes out spring/summer when it is hungry. It feeds on willowherb, water primrose and sallows.
Cereal Leaf Beetle (Ouletia rubrocyanea)
The Cereal Leaf Beetle is about 6mm in length. It is green with an iridescent sheen and studded by pores. The thorax is red. It feeds on grass and cereal crops and can be seen from late spring to early autumn. It is common in the southern half of Britain.
Mining Bee (Andrena carantonica)
There are many species of mining bee in the country, so called because they mainly live under ground. Andrena carantonica is one of the most common mining bees and can be found in parks and gardens. It is a hairy bee and appears in late March. It is similar in size to the honey bee.
The bees forage on spring blooming shrubs and trees and a variety of low growing flowers.
Millipede (Cylindroiulus punctatus)
Millipedes have long, cylindrical or flatten bodies. Although it is often thought the millipede has 1000 legs this isn't so. It has two pairs of legs on most of its body segments.
The millipede eats decaying leaves and other dead plant matter. It can become a garden pest especially in the greenhouse where it can cause damage to emerging seedlings.
White-lipped Land Snail (Cepaea hortensis)
The white tipped snail belongs to the land snail species. It has lungs and breaths air . It has a strong muscular foot which enables it to crawl over rough surfaces and keeps its soft body from drying out. The lip of the shell is white. It is common throughout the country especially in woods and hedges.
Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis)
The Cardinal Beetle can be found around Britain in woodland, parks, gardens and hedgerows. It can often be found sunbathing on flowers. It feeds on other insects. It has an elongated body and a black underside. It has toothed antennae.
The Bibio Anglicus is a fly. The male is black and slightly smaller than the female who has an orange abdomen and red thorax.
They can be found in flower meadows and and hedgerows and fly between May and June. They are locally common in East Anglia especially near rapeseed flowers.
Alder Fly (Sialis lutaria)
The Alder Fly can be found near ponds and streams where there is plenty of weed. Adults can be seen resting on vegetation around ponds during May/June.
The flies are dark brown with greyish brown wings with black veins and are widespread throughout Britain.
Mayfly (Ephemera vulgata)
Mayflies appear throughout the year and not just in May. The name is common with adult flies that appear when the Mayflower or Hawthorn is in bloom. As an adult the Mayfly may only live a day or just a few hours. Mayflies were one of the first winged insects dating back long before the dinosaurs. The fly are a vital source of food for other freshwater creatures such as trout and salmon.
Dark Bush Cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)
The dark bush cricket can be found in southern and central England and South Wales. It is dark brown/red in colour with a yellow/green belly. It has a pale patch along the top of the thorax.
It can be found in gardens, hedgerows and woodland edges. It can also be found sunbathing on bramble patches. The cricket is noisy in late summer and also very aggressive.
The Pied Shield Bug has distinct black and white markings and can be found in hedgerows and woodland edges often feeding on White Dead nettle. It is widespread in southern Britain.
Green-bottled Fly (Lucilia caesar)
The Green-bottle or Blow Fly is iridescent green. It seldom comes into the home preferring to stay outside on flowers and vegetation, or even sunning itself. It is attracted to flowers, dung and carrion. It can be seen between April - October and is very common and widespread in Britain. It lays its eggs in rotting carcasses and is sometimes attached to open wounds. The female can lay between 540 - 720 eggs in her lifetime.
Yellow Underwing caterpillar (Noctua pronuba)
The Yellow Underwing is one of our more common larger moths and can be found throughout Britain. The caterpillar feeds on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses, and mainly at night. During the day it will rest just below the surface of the soil in the base of roots and plants. Pupation takes place just below the surface of the soil between May - June. The adult moth emerges 10 - 20 days later.
Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata)
The mint moth can be found on limestone and chalk grassland and in gardens.
The moth flies both day and night and often uses mint as a food source. It can be seen from April to September.
Sand Wasp (Ammophila sabulosa)
Sand Wasps are usually yellow and black or white and black. They dig nests in the sand to lay their eggs. The larva feed mainly on insects provided by their parents. Sand Wasps are not usually aggressive and generally only sting humans when disturbed.
Bush Crickets can usually be spotted amongst vegetation where they can mimic leaves and sticks, or just hide away. The males rub their front wings to produce a loud sound that begins the mating process. The females are usually silent. The bush cricket is flightless and it is most active at night.
Spotted Crane Flies have a yellow body with a black stripe on each section of the abdomen and a series of short black stripes on the thorax. They live in rough grassland. They feed on Cow Parsley. The larvae (known as leather jackets) feed on the roots of grasses. They are common and widespread.
Stag Beetle (Lucananus cervus)
Stag Beetles are usually brown/black in colour. The males have large, branching jaws that resemble deer antlers. The jaw is used for fighting other males and for collecting food. The females have much smaller mandibles. They can often be seen flying around on warm evenings in May/June. The stag beetle is an endangered species.
Thee are almost 200 species of Caddisfly, also known as Sedge Flies. The largest of these is more than 3cm long. The Caddisfly resembles a moth, but with wings that fold back along the body. They have very long antennae and fine hairs on their wings instead of scales. The adults are mainly nocturnal and can be found in vegetation near the water's edge. They are an important food source for all kinds of predators such as salmon and trout.
Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis)
The Wasp Beetle looks like a wasp in both colour and movement but is totally harmless. It can be found in woods and hedgerows from May - August. It breads in decaying wood and is common in England.
Helophilus Trivittatus can often be seen around thistles and plants such as hogweed. Its habitat is wetland and river margins and can be seen on the coast. It is about between May - October. It is a strong flier.
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
This damselfly is very common and a regular visitor to gardens. It is on the wing from April - September. It is an aggressive species. Males will defend their female as they lay their eggs, The male is pale blue with black bands along the body. The female is either blue or dull green.
Athous haemorrhoidalis is a form of click beetle. It is about 15mm long. brown in colour and covered in fine brown hairs. It can be found in hedgerows and meadows on various vegetation. It can be seen between May - August. The larvae feed on roots. It is common throughout Britain. If the beetle falls on its back it can flick itself into the air. It is this action which makes the click sound.
Six-spot Burnet Caterpillar
This caterpillar feeds on Common and Greater Birds-foot Trefoil. When it feeds on the leaves it is able to metabolise toxins found in the plant for its own use. It starts to feed in the autumn before hibernating through the winter and pupating the following spring. It relies on grassland for its survival and this is becoming a challenge as more land is being used for building and roads.
The caterpillar can be found throughout Great Britain.
Drinker Moth Caterpillar
When fully grown the Drinker Moth Caterpillar is about 7mm in length. It is dark grey with golden speckles and has brown tufts of hair along the body. White hair tufts are on either side of the body. The caterpillar hibernates when partially grown and continues to feed in the spring, mainly at night. It will be fully grown by June.
Bluebottle (Calliphora vomitoria)
A Bluebottle fly is a little larger than a Housefly but more robust. It can often be found on dog poo or any dead animal. It has sponge like mouth parts that suck up stomach acid produced when it comes
The Bluebottle comes in blue, green, bronze, gold and black/bluish colours, all of which are iridescent or with a metallic sheen.
Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis)
The Harlequin Ladybird is an immigrant from Asia. It has a variable number of spots and is best identified by the black 'M' marking ust in front of the wings. It is about the size of the 7-spot ladybird. It will eat smaller ladybirds causing the demise of some of our UK varietes.
There are four stages to the ladybird life cycle: the egg, the larva stage when the larva undergoes a series of four molts, the pupa, in which the larva develops into an adult and the adult stage.
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) male
The Banded Demoiselle is about 45mm long and can be found mainly along riverbanks and streams. They rest in bankside vegetation. The female has iridescent brown/green wings. The body is metallic green with a bronze tip.
Strangalia maculata (Longhorn beetle)
The Strangalia maculata is around 20mm long. it can be seen between May - September usually on flower heads such as cow parsley and hogweed. It has a gold coloured body with black markings. Its horns are striped black and gold and the front legs match the body. The back legs are more black.
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)
The Common Darter is a small dragonfly with a narrow body that hovers around water, darting out to surprise its prey. It can usually be seen between July - October but this may vary. It is a common dragonfly.
Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
The Emperor Dragonfly can be found on ponds, lakes, canals, ditches and gravel pits. It flies between June - August and is unmistakable with its large and colorful body. The Emperor Dragonfly flies high looking for insects such as butterflies and Chaser dragonflies which it catches mid air and can eat on the wing. The female lays her eggs in floating pond weed.
Bombus pratorum (Early bumblebee)
The Bombus pratorum can be found in meadows, parks and gardens from March onwards foraging on daisy like flowers, sage, lavender, white clover and thistles. The bees can have two or three colonies a year with each colony containing from 50 -120 bees. These colonies might be in nest boxes, bird nests or even compost heaps.
It is a long-haired shaggy bee with a yellow/black body and a very distinctive orange/red tail.
Bombus Terrestris is possibly the earliest bee to be seen and the largest to be seen in the garden. It is not regarded as a threatened species and can be found almost anywhere in lowland Britain.
The bees collect pollen from a variety of flowers both for nectar and pollen. Their nests are found underground in old mouse or vole nests and there may be as many as 500 bees to a nest.
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)
The Ruddy Darter is a small black and red darter that is less abundant than the Common Darter. It has black legs and a short abdomen. There is a small area of yellow on the base of each wing and the wing spots are brown/red. They can be found on well vegetated ponds, lakes, canals, ditches and rivers. They are more common in the south and east of England.
The Blue-tailed Damselfly can be found in many lowland habitats including brackish and polluted water. It is abundant throughout the British Isles. It has a dark body and a blue tip. It eats small flying insects which it scoops up with its legs while flying. The Blue-tailed Damselfly can be seen between April - September.
Black Clock Beetle (Pterostichus madidus)
The Black Clock Beetle is a shiny, black ground beetle with black or wine coloured legs. It is about 15 - 20 cm in length and has a rounded pronotum. It lives under stones, loose bark and grass tussocks. It is a common beetle especially in summer and can be found in gardens and on arable land.
Willow Emerald Damselfly
The Willow Emerald Damselfly is metallic green and unlike other damselflies it spreads its wings when resting. The upper part of the male is pale green and has white wing pots. It can usually be found near ponds and other still water with overhanging trees. The Willow Emerald Damselfly is a recent colonist of south east England.
Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
Honey Bees make honey from pollen and nectar collected from flowers. Wild Honey Bees nest in hollow trees in large colonies. They are important flower pollinators. They measure up to 15 cm in length. They can be seen in the garden or any where there are plenty of flowers from April - October.
Flesh Flies vary from other flies in that they deposit hatched or hatching maggots instead of eggs. These can be laid on dung, decaying material or open wounds of animals. The fly has black and grey stripes on the thorax and checkered black and white marks on the abdomen along with bristles. It has red eyes.
The Flesh Fly can be found throughout Britain and all the year round.
Kite-tailed Robber Fly (Machimus atricapillus) female
The Kite-tailed Robber Fly can be found in a variety of habitats especially scrubby grassland and woodland edges. It is most likely to be seen in the summer. The adults prey on other flies and insects. They are widespread in England and Wales.
Tarnished Plant Bug (Lygus rugulipennis) male
A Tarnished Plant Bug is about 5 - 6 mm. in length and can be found on many plants such as fat hen, nettle, dock and clovers. It is around all the year but is more common in the autumn. It is fairly common and widespread in Britain. The colour varies from yellowish brown to dull purple. The females are often paler than the males.
Cinnamon Bug (Corizus hyoscyami)
The length of a Cinnamon Bug is around 9 mm. It has very distinctive black and orange markings. It is found in dry habitats on various plants in dry sandy places around the coast. It is gradually spreading inland. It overwinters as an adult and a new breed will appear between August and September. It can be found all the year round.
Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) male
Red-eyed Damselflies can usually be found on floating vegetation on still or slow moving water. They are very territorial and use floating vegetation as their look-out. They can be seen from May - September. The male has deep red eyes, blue abdomen and blue on its tail end. The rest is black.
Garden Snail (Helix aspersa)
A familiar resident to gardens is the Garden Snail. It can also be found in woods and hedgerows. It eats many types of plant matter such as fruit, herbs, cereals, flowers and the bark of trees. It can usually be seen in the early morning or late at night or when it has been raining. During very dry periods it retracts into its shell and covers the opening with a layer of mucus which helps to keep the moisture inside.
Woundwort Shieldbug (Eysarcoris venustissimus) 4th instar nymph
There are 4 instar nymph stages before the bug becomes an adult Woundwort Shieldbug. Wherever Hedge Woundwort grows the Woundwort Shieldbug is likely to be found. It can also be found on nettles. This particular shieldbug is sociable and can be found in clusters during spring and summer when they mate.
Cream-streaked Ladybird (Harmonia quadripunctata)
This is a medium sized ladybird usually recognized by the black speckled pattern on the head and pronotum. The number of spots is variable and the colour can vary from salmon, pink or yellow. It is usually seen April - October in pine woodland, hidden in pine beds. It can also be found on nettles. It is a relatively new species to Britain.
Pine Hawk-moth (Sphinx pinastri)
The Pine Hawk-moth larvae is more colourful than the grey/brown adult. The larva can be seen from June - September in coniferous woodland or heathland and conifer plantations. It can be found on young and mature trees, preferring old needles to young shoots. It overwinters as a pupa in loose leaf litter or just below the surface of the ground.
The Pine Hawk-moth is more common in Europe.
(Quality of image not so good as taken on my phone)
Western Conifer Shield Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)
This shield bug is a native to USA. It was first recorded in Europe in 1999. The bug feeds on pine and is well established in the UK. It has expansions on the hind tibiae and zig-zag white markings across the forewings.
Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)
The Field Grasshopper is common throughout England. It can be found on dry, sunny slopes with little vegetation and areas of bare soil or rocks. There is a wide variation in colour patterns especially in females and nymphs.
Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)
The Common Hawker can be found in moorland habitats with acidic pools. It can sometimes be seen hunting woodland rides.
The male has a dark abdomen with paired blue spots and small yellow marks. There are two broad yellow stripes on the thorax. The eyes are blue and the legs black.
Another year has come to an end and I feel privileged that I have been able to go out so often with my camera and photograph so many tiny, precious minibeasts. Some I have seen and photographed before, others are new to me and it has been interesting to find out a little bit about them and share it with you.
I will continue my search for more interesting minibeasts in the years to come knowing that there is always something new to be found.