A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
The short Indian summer in late September gave insects an opportunity to indulge themselves on the sugar and alcohol in the overripe fruits. Whilst feeding, many insects are vulnerable to predators and I thought I would take another look at the themes of mimicry and camouflage, as used by the wildlife as a means of survival.
Here are two pictures of a Comma butterfly feeding on blackberries, in a ‘now you see it, now you don’t!’ style of presentation. In the first picture, the insect is warming up in the early morning sun and is quite easily spotted by predators. In the second picture, the insect is feeding with its wings folded and looks, for all the world, like a dead leaf:
‘NOW YOU SEE IT!’ COMMA BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE
‘NOW YOU DON’T!’ COMMA, CLEWERS LANE
Incidentally, if you look closely at the underside of the wing, you can see a white ‘comma’ character, which is why the insect is called a Comma Butterfly:
COMMA BUTTERFLY, SHOWING THE WHITE COMMA CHARACTER, CLEWERS LANE
Other insects employ mimicry as a form of defence, disguising themselves as something nasty. Harmless hoverflies, the gardener’s friend, are good at this. Here are a few:
This large one, VOLUCELLA ZONARIA, looks like a Hornet:
VOLUCELLA ZONARIA, CLEWERS LANE
Unlike the insects that they mimic, hoverflies only have two wings. This hoverfly, also known as the drone fly, mimics a worker bee:
ERISTALIS TENAX, DRONE FLY, CLEWERS LANE
This hoverfly is about the same size as a common wasp and is wasp mimic:
MYATHROPA FLOREA, CLEWERS LANE
And this smart looking hoverfly is another wasp mimic. It is also known as the footballer hoverfly because of its patterned appearance:
HELOPHYLUS PENDULUS, CLEWERS LANE
All the above hoverflies are harmless and gain the protection of looking like a hazardous meal, without actually having to invest in the production of poisons and stings. Of course, some hazardous looking insects do sting and here is one – the Potter Wasp:
ANCISTROCERUS TRIFASCIATA, CLEWERS LANE
The potter wasp is unusual in that the female builds a nest from a tiny piece of clay, about the size of a pea, and lays a single egg inside it, then repeats the process with another piece of clay.
Another, lesser known, wasp with unusual habits is the Spider wasp:
ANPLOPUS CARBONARIUS, SPIDER WASP, CLEWERS LANE
The black spider wasp builds a nest of a dozen or so chambers. The female then hunts for spiders and when she catches one, she paralyses it with a sting, carries it off to the nest and seals it in a chamber together with one of her eggs. Then she repeats the process. When the larvae hatch, they have ‘fresh’ spider meat to feed on! Not much fun if you are a spider ….. The barbs on the inside of her legs help her to hold onto the spider in flight.
Even though it seems at times that there are wasps and other insects everywhere, in a month or so, all the wasps and similar will be dead, apart from a few hibernating pregnant queens or larvae.
This pretty little butterfly is a small copper. It does not hibernate and so it will also soon be no more. It was photographed enjoying the last of the summer wine, so to speak:
SMALL COPPER, CLEWERS LANE
The warmth of the indian summer encouraged this large common frog to take an off-season dip in an old container of water:
COMMON FROG,CLEWERS LANE
In the hedgerow, the Ash Keys are fattening and ripening, and the elder berries have nearly all been eaten . The hips of the dog roses are fattening too and bring a dash of red to the scenery. If the Waxwings visit again this winter, they will soon make short work of them:
DOG ROSE HIPS, CLEWERS LANE
At dusk, the bats continue to hoover up the many crane flies that fill the air; these will help the bats to build reserves sufficient to survive their hibernation throughout the coming winter months.
In the dead of night, a Tawny owl has been calling, Tu Wit, Tu Wit, which indicates that it is a solitary bird. Both the male and the female birds can make the Tu Wit and Tu Woo sounds. A single bird will make one or the other call, but not both at the same time, so if you hear Tu Wit, Tu Woo, it indicates that there is a pair.
Finally, whilst on the subject of hibernation, many snails find somewhere dark, damp and sheltered and seal themselves into their shells in order to survive the cold. Here is a picture of a pretty little snail which may be on the lookout for suitable sites:
CEPAEA HORTENSIS, CLEWERS LANE