A small selection of a large group. Much so-called ‘butterfly gardening’ relates to encouraging the insects to visit and delight their many human admirers rather than assisting reproduction. This is excusable because some larval foodplants are pretty obscure and many butterflies need a large habitat in which to function. As a rule, species enter gardens to take nectar, which they require in considerable quantities, and well-stocked borders act as a magnet. The pictured male Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines, wingspan 45mm) foraging on Aubretia confirms the point.
Buddleia (Buddleia davidii) or Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile) are useless for breeding purposes but are superb for drawing in butterflies. The problem is that Buddleia poses a threat to native flora when it gets loose in the wild. It is better to plant such species as Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis), Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Violets (Viola sp), Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Vetches and Common Nettles (Urtica dioica), all butterfly foodplants. However, not all of these are plants householders would entertain putting in borders, and some would not be suited by such a location either. One useful guide for those wishing to create a garden suitable for butterflies can be found here: Learning Haven.
To put this in perspective, a species which is commonly found in gardens because the foodplants are evident around homes is the Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus, wingspan 35mm). Exceptionally, these have two broods which eat the buds of different plants, Holly (Ilex aquifolium) in late spring and Ivy (Hedera helix) in the summer, though Gorse (Ulex spp) or Dogwood (Thelycrania sanguinea) can be used.
This use of widespread plants plus the fact that they are much more mobile than the other Blues ensures Holly Blues are in no danger, though they are ‘boom-and-bust’ butterflies, having high numbers some years followed by a temporary collapse. This seemingly is due to the activities of the parasitic wasp Listrodromus nycthemerus (12mm), an Ichneumon that uses Holly Blues as its only host but which, perhaps surprisingly given its striking appearance, appears not to be seen that frequently.
The Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui, wingspan 60mm) flies across from France every May, sometimes in large numbers, and spreads north across Britain. They mate and the resulting brood, with the caterpillars feeding mainly on thistles, emerges in August but they are unable to survive our winters. That may well alter with climatic changes.
In contrast, one butterfly which tends not to breed in gardens but is often seen flying through is the Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni, wingspan 60mm), which successfully overwinters as an adult. Brimstones, which can be seen as early as February given a sunny day and can be spotted for most of the year, use Purging Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) or Alder Buckthorn (Frangule alnus) as the foodplant. The males are brighter in colour than the females, which are more green than yellow, as the picture shows.
Unlike grasshoppers, bush-crickets are often active at night and the Oak Bush-cricket (Meconema thalassinum, 14mm), which lives on various trees, not just Oak, is often attracted into rooms by the lights. This is usually in August and catching them to put them outside is no easy matter since they are strong fliers. The Southern Oak Bush-cricket (Meconema meridionale, 13mm) is a relatively recent arrival in Britain with a similar profile. Slightly smaller than the Oak Bush-cricket, and with shorter wings, it was first recorded in 2001. Speckled Bush-crickets (Leptophyes punctatissima, 15mm) are flightless and usually lurk among green vegetation where their colouring provides splendid camouflage.
Two scarcer members of the Orthoptera which have been in my garden quite recently are the Tawny Cockroach Ectobius pallidus, 10mm) and the Slender Groundhopper (Tetrix subulata, 9mm). In 2013 A nymph of the former turned up on the lintel of my shed, well above the expected height for a species which lives on the ground. Since then, there have been adults on the soil underneath heather in a sandy rockery nearby and this species is becoming commoner nationally than formerly. The same appears to be the case for the Dusky Cockroach (Ectobius lapponicus, 9mm). The Slender Groundhopper is usually linked with bare mud and short vegetation in damp, unshaded locations, so finding one in decaying wood by cherry laurel on the Greensand Ridge in 2014 was a bit of a surprise.
Many hoverflies are friends to gardeners due to invertebrate, especially aphid, predation by the larvae. The Eristalis genus including Eristalis pertinax (12mm) mimics bees and its members are commonly seen on flower heads. Their larvae, known as rat-tailed maggots, require stagnant water, using telescopic ‘tails' to breathe.
Like many woodland hoverflies, Eupeodes luniger and Sphaerophoria scripta (12mm) take nectar in gardens providing the borders are well stocked. The same goes for Meliscaeva cinctella (10mm), whose larvae eat aphids, and Cheilosia scutellata (12mm), which is from the largest genus of hoverflies in Britain with getting on for 40 species. The huge red eyes of a male Chrysogaster solstitialis (10mm) make this one of the most striking of all hoverflies and Wild Carrot certainly drew them and various other species in during 2011.
The red on Platycheirus albimanus (10mm) is under the abdomen, the pictured one was on Anagallis. Dasysyrphus tricinctus (13mm) is not a common visitor to the garden and Xylota segnis (12mm) is seen on flowers only infrequently, compost bins are likelier given that larvae of the species thrive in rotting vegetation. Syritta pipiens (10mm), with its notably swollen hind femurs, is also a species found around compost bins for the same reason. They more closely resemble solitary wasps than many species and fly in a similar fashion.
Merodon equestris (also known as the Greater Bulb Fly, 15mm) is less popular with gardeners. The species arrived in the UK, probably from Dutch bulbs, over a century ago and the larvae feed on Narcissus bulbs and related species, though the overall impact on any garden is negligible. One species of blow fly that looks like a hoverfly is Stomorhina lunata (12mm). This is a migrant that is not seen that often but there is a suspicion that it may be breeding in Britain.
There are getting on for 350 species of Crane-fly (Tipula paludosa, 35mm) in Britain. The larvae of the commonest, popularly known as leatherjackets and a favoured food for the Crow family, can cause considerable damage to roots. Others live in logs or even water and although the greatest number are seen from late summer onwards some are present year round. Most are much smaller than the pictured female, who predictably, given her vulnerability at this stage, emerged just before dawn. Females have pointed abdomens, males much blunter ones.
A number of crane-flies are scarce or infrequently recorded and 2017 produced two of these in my garden. They were both Ctenophora species, which are large wasp mimics that reside in old woodland and tend to use dead Beech for breeding. At the end of April a male of the RDB 2 species Ctenophora flaveolata appeared fleetingly on foliage. A month later a female of the Nationally Scarce Ctenophora pectinicornis provided a lengthier opportunity for study and photography. She appeared to have been attracted by a light trap set up for moths and was perched on a horse-chestnut leaf close by when I checked the trap at 6am.
There are hundreds of other types of fly to be found in gardens, many of them unwelcome to plant and vegetable growers, such as Bean Fly (Phorbia platura), Cabbage Root Fly (Delia brassicaea), Carrot Fly (Psila rosae), Celery-fly (Euleia heraclei) and Onion Fly (Delia antiqua). One which does no damage to plants but finds compost heaps a suitable place for its larvae to thrive is the striking Platystoma seminationis (8mm). They are not very active as adults and suited by shade, sometimes found crawling beneath leaves.
Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.
In 2013 I published My Side of the Fence - the Natural History of a Surrey Garden. Details may be found, and orders placed, via this hyperlink My Side of the Fence. In November 2015 Surrey Wildlife Trust published the atlas Soldierflies, their allies and Conopidae of Surrey, jointly written by David Baldock and me. Details are on this web page: Atlas.