Wildside: Air full of flying insects at this time of the year

Peacock butterfly on hemp agrimony in my garden
Peacock butterfly on hemp agrimony in my garden

With the few weeks of good weather we have had, the butterflies and other insects have benefited greatly; so much so, that this year is being widely heralded as a ‘butterfly summer’.

This is great news for wildlife gardeners, though maybe less popular with those growing brassicas like cabbages and cauliflowers, who see their carefully nurtured harvest succumbing to a myriad small whites and cabbage whites (the large white butterfly).

The whites also tend to like wildflowers like hedge garlic and naturalised species such as honesty or dame’s violet.

These also favour the rather pretty orange-tips and green-veined whites. This is also a good time for some of the best insect and butterfly flowers such as buddleia, hemp agrimony, and marjoram.

These occur wild or naturalised in many areas from city to countryside, and they are easy and attractive to grow in your garden.

Certainly now, with a good warm period of weather, is a good time to appreciate butterflies, bumblebees and other useful and attractive insects like hoverflies. Austin Brakenbury, a local, national expert on hoverflies always asserted that ‘it’s less bovver with a hover.’

Look out too for damselflies and dragonflies, especially around rivers, canals, lakes and ponds, though when hunting, some of the bigger dragons will stray well away from water. At this time of year, the air is simply full of flying insects.

Try to get a view of the rays of sunlight in late afternoon or early evening, and at a certain time, they pick out all the flying insects, large and small; an aerial plankton.

This is of course good news for hungry bats with young to feed, or for swifts, swallows and house martins, all fuelling up for the long haul south.

Staying with a theme of flying insects, Lucy Shaw emailed to say ‘I found this beetle in my bathroom in Totley last week, and wondered what species it is. Is it a female stag beetle? I released it back into the woods at the back of our house. We also have what look like bat droppings on our garage roof – directly below a tiny gap in the eaves – what is the advice here? Many thanks.’ Well, the beetle was not a stag beetle but are relative, and altogether less sexy, a ‘dung beetle’. Sadly, we do not get stag beetles or lesser stag beetles this far north.

These are deadwood specialists in terms of their larvae and are southern too. Lucy’s beetles was a common scarab or ‘dung beetle’ and whilst often attracted to lights at night, such as in bathrooms, are perfectly harmless.

The droppings sound interesting and could well be bats, which will thrive even in the roof-space of quite modern houses. More on this next week.

n Professor Ian D Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.co.uk; follow Ian’s Walk on the Wildside, www.ukeconet.org for more information.