Friday, May 27, 2011

Watching the (Insect) World Pass By...

Sometimes the best way to watch wildlife is to just sit still and let it come to you, and in our garden at the moment the best place to sit is next to this plant - dame's violet a.k.a. sweet rocket a.k.a Hesperis matrionalis. In addition to having a powerful carnation fragrance and being the food plant of the orange tip butterly caterpillar it's a real butterfly magnet and while I watched it was constantly visited by ....

... small whites and ....

... red admirals. Sweet rocket produces such an abundance of nectar-rich flowers that the butterflies are reluctant to leave and just clamber from flower to flower ..

... which gives you plenty of time to admire the intricate patterning on the underside of their wings.

After you've been sitting in one spot for a while you begin to notice things that you might never spot if you were on the move, like this unidentfied green caterpillar resting in the shade of a chive flower stalk.

Then other visitors begin to turn up - this is Tachina fera, whose larva is an internal parasite of noctuid moth caterpillars and which I've never seen in our garden before. It seems to have a real liking for forget-me-nots.

The sweet rocket is the current butterfly attraction in the garden but the focus of bee visits (particularly leaf-cutter bees) is the wood vetch Vicia sylvatica which attracts a constant stream of visitors. This is a very attractive plant that climbs through the surrounding vegetation and produces a large number of racemes of flowers over a long period.

If you sit in the sun for long enough - especially near the garden pond - then this hoverfly Helophilus pendulus almost always turns up. You can find some wonderful photographs of this species laying eggs - and pictures of its eggs and larvae - here


  1. Stunning shots and a wonderfully informative blog.

  2. That is so true. It can be amazing what is about in the garden when you just sit and watch. I must check the forget-me-not more often to see what visits them.
    I've only seen two flutters in the past couple of weeks, not sure where they have all gone round here.

  3. Lovely post again Phil, the link was interesting too. It's been too cool to sit in the garden for the last few days and too windy for many visitors but I shall keep a check on my Wild Rocket to see if anything is partial to its flowers.

  4. Hi John,
    There was small copper on some ox-eye daisies too but I was too slow to snap that one.

  5. Hi Toffeeapple, these were in a spot sheltered by a hedge, so that kept the wind off..

  6. Hi Phil, what a lovely blog - I'm doing a similar blog about wildlife in London

    My photos are not a patch on yours though!

    I'm about to do a post on Tachina fera, the waterside fly that you photographed so beautifully, and I wondered if you remember noticing if it seemed to be territorial - mine are forever flying sorties to see off their rivals.

    1. Thanks for the kind sentiments. Tachina fera does seem to hang around in the same place once it finds a location that suits it - maybe where there are plenty of caterpillar victims