Help us to help wildlife
Spotted a small tortoiseshell fluttering by? Captivated by a common carder bee pollinating your garden plants?
Sightings of wildlife in our beautiful county are held by Worcestershire Biological Records Centre (WBRC). Understanding where wildlife is found and how abundant it is helps us as conservationists to know more about how our environment is doing. Marmalade hoverflies and hummingbird hawk-moths can tell us about how climate change is affecting our wildlife, for example.
We need you to help us find out more about how wildlife in Worcestershire is doing. Six of our wildlife recording colleagues have chosen six species that have a story to tell. They'd love to know more about where they're found.
Have a look at the information below and, if you've seen any of the insects in your garden or local area, we'd love it if you'd fill in our short form to let us know. We'll need a photograph to help us verify your sighting so that it can be officially logged with WBRC,
Have you seen me?
Members of the Worcestershire Recorders, the go-to people to help identify and record wildlife in the county, have chosen six insects that we'd like to know more information about.
Read the stories behind the species and then let us know if you've seen any...
Mike's large red damselfly
Large red damselflies are one of the earliest flying dragonflies and the one that's most likely to be spotted in and around garden ponds. These delicate insects are just 33-36mm long and slimmer than many other damselflies, giving them a rather ethereal quality in flight. They're distinctively red (with a black ring at the tip of the abdomen) and settle with their wings resting along their abdomen. Whilst they're usually a spring and early summer species, the latest Worcestershire record is August.
Amazingly, the adults that we see during summer are already two years old. They spend their first two years as a nymph in slow-moving water or ponds. They are voracious hunters of small aquatic inverterbrates and have mouthparts that shoot out to grab their prey - rather like that of the alien in the famous sci-fi film. When they emerge from the depths and clamber up a vertical stem of vegetation to break out of their nymphal case, it takes them a few hours to develop their red colour - this is known as a teneral stage.
As with many insects, they have compound eyes but unlike their dragonfly cousins, these are comparitively small and set wide apart on their heads. This allows them to see around the grass stems that they often perch on! The bands that can be seen in their eyes are high-resolution areas that help to identify important things like members of the opposite sex or food items.
There is a very rare small red damselfly that is restricted to heathlands in southern England and west Wales so don't worry about confusing the large red with one of this species in Worcestershire.
Mike Averill is the county co-ordinator for dragonfly records in Worcestershire, a member of the Worcestershire Recorders committee. He runs the dragonflies of Worcestershire website and has been involved with county and national dragonfly atlases.
Harry's marmalade hoverfly
Marmalade hoverflies are our most common hoverfly (there are over 280 species in the UK). They're also one of the easiest to identify - they're the only ones to have double black bands across their bodies, with the smaller band looking a bit like Poirot's moustache. Their colouring can be affected by the temperature that the larvae grow up in - cooler conditions mean the adults will be darker in order to absorb more light. This means that you tend to see darker individuals earlier in the year and more brightly coloured ones in summer.
The larvae are one of the gardener's (and farmer's) best friends as they love nothing more than munching through colonies of aphids. This is even more astonishing when you realise that they are blind and legless - they rely on their keen sense of smell to find each individual. Marmalade hoverflies, and others like them, give us the perfect reason to ditch the chemicals and create a pollinator paradise; they’ll control the ‘pests’ for us!
Although it seems incredible for such a small insect, marmalade hoverflies are migratory. Whilst females can survive a mild UK winter, many of the individuals we see later in the year have arrived from the continent. Their journey starts in the southern Mediterranean and northern Africa - by April adults have reached France. By late May onwards, their offspring begin to arrive on our shores to swell our own home-grown populations. Later in the year, vast numbers head south again and have even been tracked through the Pyrenees.
If we're able to collect enough records over a long enough time period, it will help to track the impact of climate change - are we seeing more marmalde hoverflies in spring, are there more or fewer darker individuals each year, are their numbers in summer changing, is there a change in the first and last dates they're being seen?
Harry Green is a life-long naturalist, editor of Worcestershire Record and trustee of Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and Worcestershire Biological Records Centre. He has run numerous training sessions for the Trust to help people get to grips with identifying insects and birds.
Geoff's common carder bee
Common carder bees are one of our most common bumblebees and one of the most easily recognisable garden visitors. These gingery bees can be seen in many gardens, feeding on all sorts of flowers from rosemary and white dead-nettle in the spring to scabious in the autumn; their long tongues allow them to access tubular flowers. Unlike many species of bee, the queens, workers and males look similar to each other - all are gingery but the amount of ginger can vary and they can even fade to grey as summer wears on. Typically, their thorax is gingery and their abdomens also have a gingery look although the latter can be darker or paler depending on individual bees.
Common carder bees usually nest above ground, tucking themselves into the base of long grass or scrubby vegetation - it's important to leave some scruffy areas of your garden to help these bees. Their nests have up to 200 workers whose role it is to find pollen to bring back to feed to the young bees. They get their name from their ability to 'card' (comb) moss and grass with their mouths and legs to provide cover for their nest and egg cells.
Queen common carder bees usually emerge in spring and establish their nests soon after. It takes a while for a nest to get up 'full strength' and August is often the peak month for this species although nests can last into autumn. As the nest comes to its end, the queen starts to lay the eggs that develop into males and new queens - it's the new queens that will find a place to hibernate before emerging the following year. We'd love to know where common carder bees are, what they're feeding on where you live and whether August is still the peak month for seeing them.
Just a small note of caution. There are two other, very similar, gingery carder bees - brown-banded and moss carder bees. Brown-banded carder bees are increasing in number across Worcestershire whilst moss carder bee has not been seen in the county for many years. Separating faded individuals of common and brown-banded carder bees later in the year can be tricky but a good photograph will certainly help us.
Geoff Trevis is the county co-ordinator for bee, wasp and ant records for Worcestershire, Chair of the Worcestershire Recorders and Chair of the national Hymettus research group. He has been involved with the Trust for over 40 years and and was closely involved in the development of both Worcestershire Recorders and Worcestershire Biological Records Centre.
Tony's hummingbird hawk-moth
These wonderful day-flying moths take their name from the striking resemblance to hummingbirds as they hover at flowers, using their long probsocis (straw-like tongue) to sup nectar through. Their warm grey/brown bodies, with a black and white tip, and upper wings contrast with the orangey hindwings as they hover at tubular flowers such as viper's-bugloss, red valerian, phlox, jasmine and buddleia. They can be spotted in gardens from June through to October although most records are in August and September. However, Tony would love to know if climate change is changing their habits and enabling them to survive our winters.
The reason that most hummingbird hawk-moths are seen so late in the year is that these individuals (615 have been recorded so far in Worcestershire) are immigrants from northern African and southern Europe - it takes a lot of energy from the sun to hover at a flower. Whilst males and females will mate in the UK (their caterpillars can sometimes be found on bedstraws, wild madder and red valerian - they were recorded on lady's bedstraw on Malvern in July 2011, for example), they've not been able to survive our winter. However, in more recent times there has been evidence to show that in southern England, adults have been found hibernating although it's tricky to know whether early sightings are of home-grown adults that have hibernated or early immigrants that have recently flown across the Channel.
It's likely that the peak of hummingbird hawk-moths in August and September is a combination of local and migratory individuals. If you're lucky enough to spot a hummingbird hawk-moth in your flower bed at any time of year, try looking again at the same time the next day. They do something called 'trap-lining' - they learn where and when their favourite flowers are producing nectar in order to return again. Another good place to look is on high points. Like their painted lady butterfly migratory cousins, they often congregate on and around high points (it's known as 'hill-topping'); many of Worcestershire's records are from the top of the Malverns.
Tony Simpson is the county co-ordinator for Worcestershire's moth records and a member of Worcestershire Recorders committee. He has made great contributions to our understanding of moths in the county and is joint author of numerous regional atlases and books.
Jean's small tortoiseshell
The adults of these colourful butterflies overwinter in cellars, sheds, nooks and crannies so they are one of the first butterflies to get up and go as warmer weather breaks the winter cold. Historically, they've been one of the most common butterflies that we see in our nectar-rich gardens. Peak sightings are usually in spring and early autumn when the overwintered or freshly hatched adults are on the wing but look for the caterpillars in patches of nettles during summer months.
Males and females look very similar - orange wings with black markings (a little like tiger-stripes on the leading edge of the forewings), edged with metallic blue spots. Their underwings are dark brown-grey to help camouflage them when they're at rest. Males are territorial and will defend their spot amongst a patch of nettles, sitting with wings open to both attract a mate and to stay warm in order to battle a rival. Their black and spiky caterpillars, with two yellow stripes along their backs, spin a communal web to help protect them against predators; as they move from nettle to nettle, they build webs as they go.
Despite being widespread and common, these beauties of the butterfly world have suffered a 75% decline in the last 40 to 50 years. We're not sure exactly why this is but factors could include habitat loss, climate change and parasites. We would love to have a better understanding of how they're faring in Worcestershire - are their populations following the national decline, have their numbers remained stable or are they bucking the trend?
It's easy enough to help small tortoiseshell and other butterflies by planting nectar-rich flowers in your garden - from dandelions and marjoram to buddleia and sedums, your garden will look great for you and be a haven for wildlife. If you can bring yourself to leave a patch of nettles, you may also play host to a caterpillar creche. An old superstition claims that if an orange butterfly flies near you, joy is on its way - who wouldn't want to help that along?!
Jean Young is a member of Worcestershire Recorders committee and does a butterfly transect near where she lives. Her cellar has regular overwintering small tortoiseshell butterflies and she tries to encourage people to leave small stands of nettles to allow these beauties to thrive.
Rosemary's 7-spot ladybird
The collective noun for ladybirds is a loveliness and these beautiful beetles are definitely insects that you should be encouraging into your gardens. Along with the marmalade hoverfly, seven spot ladybirds are good friends of gardeners and farmers - both larvae and adults munch aphids and other insects that growers consider to be pests. The adults are easy to identify and live up to their name - count the seven black spots on their red wings, three on each wing case (elytra) and one in the middle straddling both wing cases.
Seven spot ladybirds are one of 45 species of ladybird in the UK, although only 26 of these are species that you'd recognise as obviously ladybirds. The most common native ladybird is the seven spot and its colouring is a warning to potential predators - "steer clear, I'm toxic." In addition to this, when they're disturbed they can pull in their legs and exude a foul-smelling yellow liquid known as reflex blood.
Emerging in spring and heading to the nearest flower to build up their energy by crunching pollen, they soon find mates and lay eggs in the middle of aphid colonies. Their spiky mini-monster-looking larvae (see below) quickly grow as they feast on aphids, before pupating in domed pupal cases. It is not uncommon in midsummer to see more larvae and pupae than adults - if you're able to send us photos of these, it may be possible that we can identify the species.
During winter ladybirds are able to close down their bodies - they find hidden cracks and crevices in which to shelter from the worst of winter's excesses. You may find them in corners of fences and gate posts or they may be buried in leaf litter and hollow stems of plants; it's always worth leaving your garden tidying until the spring (if you can't wait that long, tidy it into a sheltered corner rather than burning it).