There are thousands of invertebrates on lowland heathland besides wasps and bees. This page just scratches the surface, starting with Grayling butterflies (Hipparchia semele, wingspan 55mm), which almost disappear from view when they shut their wings on landing. Unfortunately they are in serious decline nationally for reasons that are unclear, and became a BAP priority species in 2007.
Perhaps the most impressive moth is the Emperor (Saturnia pavonia, wingspan female 70m), which flies in April and May.The eyecatchingly bright caterpillars feed mostly on Heather (Calluna vulgaris) but can use Brambles (Rubus sp), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) or Elder (Sambucus nigra).
The Mottled Grasshopper (Myrmeleotettix maculatus) is the smallest native grasshopper at 12mm in length and the most variable in colour. It is one of the first species to recolonise heath where Heather has been burnt.
The Woodland Grasshopper (Omocestus rufipes, 15mm) is a nationally scarce species found principally in south-east England. As the name implies, they are usually seen in sunny rides and clearings in woodland and are relatively easy to spot on the margins of heathland woods, especially at such places as Thursley National Nature Reserve in Surrey.
Bog Bush-crickets (Metrioptera brachyptera, 16mm) thrive in dry as well as damp heath or bogs, providing the heather is tall and thick. To give one example, at Thursley they can be found some distance from the wet areas.
A Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis, 16mm) is also shown in the Wetlands section of the website, but the pictured one, photographed at Thursley National Nature Reserve in Surrey, is one of the form with slightly longer wings. This presumably assists in colonisation.
As the name suggests, the Gorse Shieldbug (Piezodorus lituratus, 12mm) feeds mainly on Gorse (Ulex sp) but can use various other plants including Broom (Cytisus sp), Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides) or Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). They overwinter as adults, turning brown in colour. The Spiked Shieldbug (Picromerus bidens, 12mm) is found principally on heathland but occupies various other habitats as well. The thorn-like projections on the front of the pronotum are unmistakeable.
Gorse Shieldbugs and others in the Pentatomidae group can fall foul of a striking parasite, the tachinid fly Gymnosoma rotundatum (9mm). Designated a Red Data Book species, this fly is found from June to September in dry, sandy areas with shrubs and flowers, almost exclusively in Surrey and Sussex.
The Rhopaloid bug Rhopalus parumpunctatus (10mm) is also a shieldbug, from a family that tends to be pretty dashing in colour with a distinct red or ochre tinge. They are suited by flowery waste areas mainly in heathland but can be seen in other habitats.
The bug Alydus calcaratus (12mm) is found almost exclusively on heathland at the height of the summer and is best seen in flight, when it shows strong red markings on the abdomen. They are not predatory, feeding mainly on seeds, though the larvae are often found in ants nests, where they are believed to scavenge but may eat grubs of the host species. When immature the bug bears a striking resemblance to an ant.
Two scarce robberflies have a close association with heathland. The Golden-tabbed Robberfly (Eutolmus rufibarbis, 14mm) habitually perches on vegetation and is Red Data Book 3. The Spring Heath Robberfly (Lasiopogon cinctus, 11mm) emerges in May, earlier than any other robberfly.
Moving on to beetles, the commonest Rove beetle from the Staphylinidae family is the Devil's Coach Horse but that is found in a variety of habitats. In contrast, Bolitobius cingulatus (6mm), with its red elytra, is noted as living in lowland heathland. Like all Rove beetles they move fast and are fierce predators.
The same applies to the Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris, 14mm), which is altogether easier to see than the Heath Tiger Beetle shown on the Biodiversity Action Plan page in this section.A similarly sun-loving species, it spends most of its time on the ground, using large jaws to catch a variety of prey. The larvae live in burrows and catch anything which unwarily comes across the top, except the flightless female wasp Methocha articulata, which is discussed on the solitary wasps page in this section.
Aelurillus v-insignitus (6mm) is a spider from the Salticidae (jumping spider) family found commonly on southern heathland. The crab spider Thomisus onustus (10mm) is usually found on heather but thistle, as in the image here, offers equally effective camouflage. The principal prey items are solitary bees.
Spiders and many other invertebrates can be caught and eaten by the Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara, 13cm), which is much more likely to be seen than the Sand Lizard and can be found in a number of habitats, though heathland is always one of the best places to look.
The colour is variable, with green or red not uncommon, and unlike the Sand Lizard, eggs are not laid in the soil but produced and developed internally, with the young emerging as tiny versions of the adult. Their 12cm length may be reduced in an emergency as they can shed the tail.
One of the principal predators of lizards in heathland is the Adder (Vipera berus), the only poisonous snake in Britain and distinguished by its zig-zag markings. They are found in various habitats including downland - the sole Black Adder I've seen was on the North Downs - but are in their element in heathland.
Adders, which can grow to 60cm, also feed on small mammals and nestlings, are often seen basking (though very warm conditions do not suit them), and hibernate from October to March.
Slow-worms (Anguis fragilis, 32cm) are one of the commonest reptiles in Britain though as they spend the bulk of their lives hidden deep under cover the true population is impossible to ascertain. They are not too fussy as to habitat, being present in gardens, allotments, open woodland and downland, but their numbers are higher in heathland than elsewhere. The fact that they resemble snakes at first sight sometimes does little to help their survival when found in a garden but they are in fact legless lizards. They are long livers, with one captive reaching 50 years.
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.