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Friday 27 March 2020

Bee-flies: lots of them today in West Sussex.

One bumblebee queen and lots flies in the garden today.  And seemingly dozens of Bee-flies.
I like these remarkable parasites and here are some shots from today in my garden.

Click on any picture to expand.

7-spot Ladybird on Barren Strawberry, my garden, West Sussex today.

 Another sunny day today and a single 7-spot Ladybird appeared.

Adults hibernate in hollow plant stems and cavities, sometimes clustering together in large numbers. The 7-spot ladybird is also a migratory species: large numbers fly in from the continent every spring, boosting our native population.

The life cycle of a ladybird consists of four phases: the egg; the larval stage, during which the larva undergoes a series of moults; the pupa, in which the larva develops into an adult; and the adult phase, during which the female lays eggs in batches of up to 40.  source; 

 Someone once asked me, "How do you know the names of all these plants?"
The answer is simple: one at a time.  And, retired now for 12 years there has been a lot of species to see and learn. 
This plant is the Barren Strawberry: Potentilla sterelis.  So called as the ripe fruits do not become fleshy and red.  source; The Wild Flower Key.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Aneka's Biology lesson, Thursday 26th March 2020: Ground Ivy

We looked at Ivy and Bee-flies.  Here is another Bee-fly on Ground-ivy.  You can see its fixed proboscis, its feeding tube, as it hovers over a Ground-ivy flower.
Despite its name, Ground-ivy is actually a member of the dead-nettle family and is not closely related to Ivy. It is an evergreen, creeping plant of woodlands, hedgerows and damp ground. It often forms clumps, spreading by means of overground runners that frequently root. It has a strong smell and violet flowers that appear from March until June.   source; 
The Bee-fly can suck nectar from such long flowers with its relatively long proboscis.
Remember that the Bee-fly is parasitic on solitary bees.  And many other parasitic insects feed on this flower too.
This is a Nomad Bee from 6th April 2017 in my Cuckfield garden on Ground-ivy.  Nomad bees are tiny, wasp-like, kleptoparasites ( which will target unsealed pollen-stocked nest cells created by their Mining bee hosts and lay their own eggs inside.  Look out for them in the coming days.  source;

Here is another species, a  Broad-banded Nomad Bee, in my garden from 16th May 2016

And on the same date in my garden, another kleptoparasitic bee, a Common Mourning Bee on Ground-ivy.   Note its five eyes.  Click to expand the pic's.
Click here for the following entries.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Aneka's biology lesson Tuesday 24 March 2020: Ivy

Ivy leaves are typically multi-lobed, as above with a Speckled Wood butterfly and below.
Image result for Ivy Leaf

However, once plants are well established (normally after around 10 years), growth switches to the adult phase. The leaves change shape, becoming un-lobed, growth becomes shrubby and covered with flowers in autumn and berries that ripen over winter and the following spring or early summer.

The flowers are a vital food source for insects that need to fatten up in Autumn for hibernation over the winter.  
The Red Admiral butterfly is an example, here at Knepp Castle on 10 October 2019.
click on any picture to expand it.

Monday 23 March 2020

Aneka’s biology lesson for Monday 23 March 2020

Aneka’s biology lesson for Monday 23 March 2020

Today’s lesson, is prepared for my grandchild of primary school age.  
It looks at some insects flying in Cuckfield, West Sussex, UK yesterday.  
In doing so you will be able to answer the following questions;
1.     What is a parasite?
2.     What are the differences between a bee and a fly?

What is this insect?  A bee or a fly?  It looks like a bee but it only has two eyes and one pair of wings. 
 It is a fly.  But its common name is Bee-fly!  Confusing eh?  It is a Dark-edged bee-fly

Scientific name: Bombylius major.

Above is a bee: a solitary bee meaning that the female makes a nest, provides food (nectar and pollen) and lays her eggs all on her own with no workers to help her like a Honey bee or Bumblebee queen.
There are around 200 species of solitary bees in England and they are important pollinators of flowers of fruit and crops like rape or linseed.

The Bee-fly has two very large, forward facing compound eyes for it to hover over spring flowers and suck up nectar through its fixed pointed proboscis, which doesn’t curl up like a bumblebee’s.

This solitary bee looks like the Yellow-legged Mining Bee, Andrena flavipes which is common in southern England at this time of year.  It has five eyes!  Two large compound eyes wrap around the side of its head and it has a triangular group of three, tiny simple eyes on top of its head.
Bees have two pairs of wings which latch together and operate as one.

Another difference between bees and flies is their antennae on their “foreheads”.  They are long and segmented in bees and short and stubby in flies.

There is a link between these two insects.  The Bee-fly is a parasite.  The solitary bee is its host or prey.  The larvae of the Dark-edged Bee-fly are nest parasites of ground-nesting and solitary bees, feeding on the bee grubs. The female bee-fly flicks her eggs towards the entrance holes of solitary bee nests to allow the larvae to hatch in the right place.  They crawl in and eat the host grubs.

The blog entry describes a plant parasite, the Purple Toothwort.
Click on any picture to enlarge it.

Sunday 1 March 2020

Purple colours of spring in Sussex, UK: Purple toothwort and Alder buds

 Lathraea clandestina is a parasitic plant with no green leaves and lives underground, emerging only to flower.  More info' at
It is common in damp places in Sussex such as here at Wakehurst Place on 29 February 2020.

Purple toothwort centre picture.  Click to expand. 

Purple Alder buds

Alder tree

 Toothwort by the lake,

 Such is the flooding that a mole burrow has become a spring.

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