There are some creatures in my garden that are guaranteed to grab my attention. If there is a bird, butterfly or dragonfly somewhere in my line of vision, I see it, I am alive to its presence.. Guaranteed.
But I know that there are shedloads of creatures that just pass me without even registering as a flicker on the electrograph of my brain. I don't know them so I don't notice them.
It's like people in a crowded street. I don't take in their faces or remember a single detail about them, unless they are someone I know, someone famous, or someone I think I might like to know!
So I sometimes play a game in my garden to challenge my eyes and brain to look harder, to alight on details they normally ignore, to spot what I usually miss.
I grabbed ten minutes this week for my latest round of 'Full Alert', and the results as usual were fascinating.
First up, perched on top of a Wild Carrot flower in my mini-meadow, a pale little spider attending to a fly it had trapped in its sticky silken threads.
Its body was the size of a small pea, its legs as if made of translucent glass, and with pairs of black dots along its back.
I believe it is the Common Candy-stripe Spider Enoplognatha ovata, although spiders are notoriously difficult to identify and there are some very similar species. You can see its multiple eye-spots on the front of the amber-coloured head.
Next up, chomping away on the flowerheads of my Fennel, this curious beast.
You might think it is a fat-bodied fly of some sort, but those 'sheep horn' antennae give it away as being in the 'bees, wasps and ants' family (Hymenoptera). A fly's antennae would tend to be stubby or fine and come out of the middle of its face.
This is actually one of the sawflies, so named because females lay their eggs in plant tissue by cutting their way in with an appendage that is (in many species) rather saw-like.You might be more familiar with sawfly larvae, which are like moth caterpillars but often cluster together and, if alarmed, wiggle about and do handstands in unison.
My sawfly is probably one called the Large Rose Sawfly, which is a common garden insect. The adults love to feed on Fennel or other umbellifers like Hogweed or Angelica.
Finally, perched on top of a lump of concrete, I found this very alert insect.
It would sit as king of the castle, surveying the world around it, then fly off so fast I couldn't follow it, but a few seconds be back for another bout of sentry duty.
Once again, we've looking at a winged insect with 'sheep horns' so it is a Hymenopteran.But this time, it is a wasp. There are many species that are black with a red band, but I suspect this is the Red-banded Grasshopper Wasp Tachysphex pompiliformis, which is a type of digger wasp, and provisions its nest with captured grasshoppers. If you think differently, let me know - I humbly defer to experts in these matters.
In some ways the names don't matter. Yes, we love to categorise things, but just taking the time to stand and stare brings its own simple rewards. Ten minutes of looking and I'd found three things I'd never, ever, ever noticed in my garden before, all fascinating in their own right. And as an exercise in mindfulness, it's brilliant!
Now in summer is a perfect time for a game of 'Full Alert', there are so many insects to be found, so why not give it a try and see what you can find in your garden?
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