Bugs, slugs and more!

Hello everyone,

For this week’s garden wildlife blog, we are looking at bugs, slugs and more! This week will be dedicated to some of the critters you can find hiding within your garden. First though, let’s have a look at some facts. The critters we are looking at are collectively grouped as invertebrates, which are animals without a backbone and include hard-bodied (exoskeleton) and multi-legged creatures, but also soft bodied creatures with no legs including worms, which have an ‘hydrostatic skeleton’. This group also includes corals, slugs and snails and sea creatures (soft-bodied). Invertebrates can then be separated into sub-groups including insects, arachnids, molluscs, crustaceans, corals, velvet worms, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, sponges and worms. There are a staggering 27,000 types of insects in the UK! However, some are tricky to identify even for the experts (entomologist), and some require microscopic analysis of the genitalia. But here we will narrow it down and focus on some commonly found species from a number of subgroups, some that are potentially in your garden. Let’s delve in…

Bees, wasps and ants

Common species that you will likely find in your garden include the black garden ant, bumblebee, honey bee, hornet and wasp. Black garden ants as it suggests it in the name, can appear black in colour, however they can also appear dark brown. They nest in soil, lawns, under flat stones or at the base of walls. They are social insects and live in colonies, mainly consisting of worker ants (sterile wingless females). They will feed on almost anything, particularly sweet foods. Another common insect you can find in you garden is the large, hairy, black and yellow banded bumblebee. You are likely to spot several species on flowering plants, including garden, buff-tailed, red-tailed, white-tailed and field bumblebees. They are social insects, living in colonies of up to 200 workers. Queens hibernate underground in the winter and emerge in the spring. They feed on nectar and pollen, so having wild flowering plants in your garden can help them. Like bees, wasps are also social insects, living in colonies of up to 10,000 workers. There are 9000 species in the UK, species that come into your garden are Vespula species, Dolichovespula species and Vespa crabro (European hornet). Similar to the structure of bee colonies, wasps colonies contain sterile female workers that collect food and take over nest building while the females continue to lay eggs. Larvae eat carrion and insects, while the adults feed on the sugary liquid secreted by the larvae. After the larvae have matured, adults will feed on nectar and other sweet substances, such as fruit.

 

 (buff-tailed bumblebee)

 

Beetles, bugs and skaters

As a group of insects, beetles are the largest with around 300,000 known beetles, of which 4000 occur in the UK. Beetle species commonly found in gardens include the click beetle, cockchafer, devils coach horse, earwig, froghopper, green shield bug, ladybird and violet ground beetle. Other common bugs and skater species found in gardens include aphids, speckled brush cricket, pond skater and lesser water boatman. See pictures and descriptions below:

The click beetle feeds on pollen, nectar, grasses and flowers and when threatened, they can flick themselves into the air and in doing so emit an click sound, hence the name. 

The cockchafer feeds on flowers and leaves, and can be seen flying around in the garden on May evenings. The emit a loud buzzing sounds when they fly and can therefore be a little frightening, but they are just a little noisy and completely harmless. 

The devils coach horse is a nocturnal predator that lives in and around decaying matter. They feed on insects, fly larvae, spiders and slugs. When threatened it can squirt a foul smelling fluid form its abdomen and they have a nasty bite, even to us. 

Despite their name, earwigs are unlikely to venture into human ears. They feed on plant matter, flowers, carrion and insects and are nocturnal feeders, resting in dark crevices during the day. There are 2000 earwigs species worldwide, but only four known in the UK. 

Froghopper beetles feed on plant sap and not much else. They are a small brown insect that can jump quite far when threatened. They can be found within flower borders, hedges, hedge gardens, meadow areas, on patios and in shrubs. 

Green shield bugs are flat insects that are common and widespread throughout England and Wales, but less so in Scotland. They feed on plant sap and leaves of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. During the summer is appears bright green in colour, but changes to greeny-bronze in the autumn. 

Ladybirds are one of the most notorious garden insects, andregarded as one of the most beautiful beetles. They are great pest controls as both adults and larvae feed on aphids. The bright colours of the ladybird warn predators of their bitter taste, they can also secrete a pungent fluid to ward off ants, birds and people. 

Violet ground beetle is a large beetle that feeds on slugs, snails, worms and insects. They are nocturnal predators, hiding under logs or stones during the day. They do not fly but are fast runners. 

Butterflies

Arguably one of the most beautiful visitors to our gardens, butterflies can frequently be seen during spring and summer close to home. There is a good chance you will see butterflies engaging in a courtship flight, where they are attached together for a moment. This is a crucial part of their life stage as they prepare the next generation of butterflies. Common garden butterfly species that you are likely to see now and over the next few months includes the peacock, red admiral, painted lady, small tortoiseshell, small white, large white, green-veined white, orange-tip, meadow brown, small copper, holly blue and common blue. For more details on butterflies in your garden look for the Garden Wildlife Blog #3.

Dragonflies and damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies are apart of the order Odonata, which has within it about 5000 species.  A few of those are commonly seen in gardens. Species such as common darter, large red damselfly, common blue damselfly and migrant hawkers are commonly sighted in gardens during the spring and summer months. Each species varies on when it emerges, ranging between April and October. They all eat insects, some snatch off vegetation and some catch in the air. A popular question when it comes to these two critters is how do you tell a dragonfly and a damselfly apart, since they are so similar right? Looking at the two images below of a common blue (damselfly) and migrant hawker (dragonfly), we will explore some differences. Firstly, when resting, damselflies close their wings, whereas dragonflies rest with them open. Secondly, if you are close enough take a look at their eyes, dragonflies have very large eyes that are close together, and although eyes on a damselfly are large, they have gap in between them. Thirdly, damselflies are more slimline in appearance while dragonflies have larger chunky bodies and finally, the size and shape of their wings differ. Dragonflies have different shaped fore and hind wings, whereas damselflies have wings that are both the same size and shape.

Common blue

Migrant hawker

Flies

There are various types of fly that are commonly found in gardens, including the crane fly, hoverfly, lacewing and marmalade hoverfly. Hoverflies, although they appear to look like bees and wasps, are in fact true flies and do not sting. They are excellent examples of Batesian mimicry (where a creature resembles another species so that it won’t be eaten by predators). Lacewing flies are bright green with metallic eyes and have green veins on transparent wings (see image below). Both adults and larvae feed on aphids, so they are a good pest control species. Crane flies are long-legged and slender and are also known as a daddy long legs (see image below). They are attracted to light and commonly come into buildings when doors and windows are left open, being drawn in by the light. The shape of the abdomen distinguishes the sexes: females have ovipositor giving them a pointed end, whereas the male is square-ended.

Lacewing fly

 

 Crane fly

Moths

Moths belong to the same group of insects at butterflies, known as Lepidoptera, meaning scaly-winged; their wings are made up of thousands of tiny scales overlapping like tiles on a roof, presenting fabulous colours and patterns. There are about 2,500 species of moth in the UK, some of which can be seen in gardens. Garden habitats are valuable to moths and their caterpillars are crucial foods for birds and mammals. Like their cousins, they have a four-part life cycle and undergo metamorphosis. Gardens can be home to hundreds of species of moth, but here we will start with a few commoners that you are likely to see around spring and summer, including; brimstone moth (see photo), Hebrew character, clouded border, mint moth, garden carpet, popular hawkmoth, cinnabar moth, magpie moth, silver Y mothgarden tiger moth, large yellow underwing, burnished brass, and elephant hawkmoth (see photo). For more information visit http://ukmoths.org.uk/.

Brimstone moth

Elephant hawkmoth

Worms, slugs and spiders

Earth worms, garden snails, garden spiders, harvestman and garden slugs are all common garden species. Earthworms are made up of numerous segments and are covered in minute hairs that allow them to travel through the soil. They are a major food source for various creatures, including badgers, hedgehogs, foxes, moles, birds, slow worms and amphibians. They play an important role in the environment by decaying organic matter. Garden snails are also one of the many invertebrates that you can find hidden amongst the rocks and vegetation in your garden. You usually have to go looking for them because they like to rest in the day and feed at night. Slugs are also common and widespread throughout UK gardens, and they can be a serious garden pest eating plants and vegetables, however they are a food source for various animals. Slugs are hermaphrodites, having both male and female reproductive cells. They lay batches of gelatinous eggs in moist crevices. They can be seen at nights or in the day after heavy rainfall. Garden spiders are widespread and common throughout the UK also, except for the colder regions such as northern Scotland. They can vary in colour, from pale yellow-brown to very dark brown. Females build a cocoon made of silk in which she lays her eggs and protects until she dies in late Autumn. Spiderlings then hatch in the following spring.

 

Garden snail

Now you are more aware of the little creatures hiding in your garden, why not go on a bug hunt and see what you can find amongst the vegetation, stones and crevices. Click the link to take yourself on a bug safari with the RSPB:  https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/go-on-a-bug-safari/

Enjoy bug hunting,

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous