Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Wasp and brush up

I think this is a Dolichovespula media a relative newcomer to the UK, seen this evening at Mowsbury Hill LNR. Here it is cleaning an antenna, while combing its hair and cleaning a wing, while standing on a tripod. Well, if you have six legs you may as well use them all...

It, and another similar wasp (this may even be the other one) repeatedly worked over the flowers of a figwort. On one occasion an unfortunate hoverfly was enountered on a flower and quickly dewinged and digested. (I'll spare you the photos).

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Pulp fact

This worker wasp, which, from the facial markings, I suspect to be a German Wasp (Vespula germanica) today repeatedly returned to chew dead wood from the posts that hold the handrails of the bridge that leads onto Biggleswade Common from The Lodge. The wood fibres are chewed with saliva to produce a pulp which dries to form the durable paper nests. (I expect some humans think we invented paper...)

Winter is coming...

These newly emerged Peacock and Brimstone butterflies in College Wood today were busy laying down fat reserves for the coming winter. Within a few weeks the Peacock will already have gone into hibernation. The Brimstone may be active for a little longer, but will soon be tucked away in evergreens to await the cold...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Bee Wolves

On the south-facing edge of Rowney Warren today the Bee Wolves (Philanthus triangulum) were very active; starting burrows...

Digging them out...

Flying in with honey bee prey...

and dragging them to their burrows...

Each wasp can deposit around a hundred honey bees down their burrow as food for their offspring. With around a dozen or so wasps active they will put a small dent in the local bee population.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Duck End delights

As I was leaving Duck End NR today, 19th July, I flushed this female Emerald Damselfly, only the 2nd I've ever seen in Bedfordshire.

Earlier, while looking at DENR's wasps, this ruby-tailed wasp Hedychridium roseum (probably), was searching for something, presumably prey or mate...

This wasp, probably Diodontus tristis, dragged it's aphid prey (which gives some idea of scale - this is a small wasp) to its burrow, where it got jammed in the opening for a few seconds!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

White-letter Day

One of two fresh-looking White-letter Hairstreaks seen today (15th July) in Chicksands Wood...

Monday, 14 July 2008


This Grey Seal recently unexpectedly turned up on the River Great Ouse in Bedford! Today, 14th July, I saw it waiting below Willington lock for the boats heading downstream to leave it, then swam in before the gates were closed. Here it is riding the current as the lock filled, before exiting on the upstream side when the next lot of boats were about to enter...

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Crime pays!

A fascinating drama developed over a two hour period on Cooper's Hill this afternoon (13th July). Firstly I watched this Ammophila sabulosa drag this caterpillar over seven metres to its burrow.

Once the debris that had hidden the hole had been cleared the caterpillar was dragged in:

Once an egg had been laid on the prey the process of filling in the burrow began:

Then a fight broke out, I suspect between two females, rather than an attempted mating:

This lasted a full minute:

and the winner, the original wasp, continued filling the burrow for another forty minutes:

Both the wasp and I then left the scene. I returned 11 minutes later to find another wasp digging open the burrow, and four minutes later exhume the caterpillar:

This was chewed around the head for four minutes (I'm not sure why) and inspected, presumably to find and remove the egg laid by the first wasp:

It was then re-buried in the same burrow:

And filled-in again, taking another forty minutes, and finished with a few twigs:

This was an intra-species crime and the DNA of the thief will prevail in this case. Was the thief the same wasp that had fought earlier and had bided its time for over forty minutes to take the spoils? Fascinating. You can see why the Ammophila genus has been much studied.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Hanging by a thread

This Episyron rufipes (probably) at Duck End NR on 1st July really struggled to drag this spider away from its web, pulling this way and that, until finally released. (A second wasp even briefly joined in at one point). The spider was then dragged through a nearby gorse, where the eight legs frequently caught on the spines, until the "right" location was reached, where it was left suspended while it went off to dig a burrow.

Tool-using Wasp?

At Duck End Nature Reserve this afternoon, 1st July, an Ammophila sabulosa found this caterpillar and dragged it back to her burrow. She then spent some time enlarging the burrow before dragging the caterpillar in.

During the enlargement process she briefly wielded this pebble seemingly like an hammer bashing the opening before discarding it and digging again with her feet and jaws...

Once the caterpillar was housed the hole was filled in, using her head as a vibrating ram - I could hear her buzzing as she packed the material hard. Small pebbles were finally arranged over the surface.

Going like the clappers...

In today's heat (1st July) the butterflies were really wizzing around on Sharpenhoe Clappers, and the male Dark Green Fritillaries were in constant motion looking for females. The following were captured during a rare pause and reduced wind...

The Marbled Whites weren't very obliging either. These are the best I could grab...