One of the great assets of 21st century life is how easy it is to record things photographically. Ok, so maybe I sometimes wonder if we are taking too many photos, seeing the world through the lens rather than actually being in the moment, but in terms of being able to quickly record wildlife and then take time later to work out exactly what you are looking at, it is invaluable.
At this time of year, with the nights still long and the days often soggy, I find it can be an ideal moment to go back through the previous year's photos from the garden and see what little creatures I managed to 'collect'.
Some are very common animals that you might expect to find in almost every garden, like this:
It can be quite daunting with small insects knowing where to start to try and identify them, but it is worth getting to know the very common insects as they give you a baseline against which to compare other creatures you see. With this one, perhaps the most noticeable feature after the long legs and long antennae is the way the wings fold over the back. The green area is the hardened bases to the wings, and the dark area at the rear end is the membranous tips of the wings, folded over each other. This immediately points to this being a 'true bug', which is the group of insects known as the Hemiptera.
The best known Hemipterans on land are the shieldbugs (in your pond, you pond skaters and backswimmers are also Hemipterans). But the photo above is perhaps the commonest of them all, the Common Green Capsid. There are lots of similar species, but this one loves gardens because it feeds on the leaves of fruit trees and many other garden plants.
Looking through my photos from last year, I also found this:
It is another common garden resident across much of the country, and is tiny, the body being only about 7mm long. It is the Common Zebra Spider, which can be found on bare sunny surfaces in midsummer, such as walls. Here it was on a log. They have brilliant eyesight and catch their insect prey not with a web but by jumping on them, bounding up to 10cm in one leap. I know spiders can be a difficult subject for some people, but it is worth knowing that this one, as with so many of our spiders, will do everything it can to get out of your way. We are scarier to them than they are to us!
Then in my photos I found this:
It was just sat on a leaf minding its own business, but what is it? Is it a wasp of some kind? It certainly looks that way at first glance - not your common social wasps that visit rotting fruit in autumn, but one of the potter wasps with its slender long waist.
But look a little closer and you realise that this insect has strange mouthparts jutting forward, it only has one pair of wings, it has strange flattened antennae sticking out from the front of its head, and you can see a little pale yellow fleshy blob stuck to its side - its haltere, which is a balancing organ instead of rear wings. That makes it a fly of some sort, a fly that is mimicking a wasp.
It is a conops fly, sometimes called the Waisted Beegrabber with the Latin name Physocephala rufipes, quite widely distributed in southern England but, as far as I can see, never before recorded in the 10km square where I live.
It all points to what a fascinating world is out there, straight outside our back doors. And the more wildlife-friendly your garden is, the more of this incredible diversity will establish and reveal itself, wherever you are.
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