Insects and molluscs

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been out and about photographing wild flowers, and of course the raison d’etre of flowers is to produce the reproductive cells of the plant in order to ensure survival. And as plants are immobile they rely on other vectors to connect the male and female parts, that can be the wind and the rain but many flowers are exquisitely evolved to attract one or more species of insect to carry the pollen to the ovum and effect fertilisation.

So in the course of photographing the flowers some of them were hosting a pollinator or two:

Tree bumble bee – Bombus hypnorum

This tree bumle bee was sipping nectar from the flower of the white deadnettle. It’s one of the insects that is strong enough to get to the back of the flower and take the nectar. Flowers have evolved in this way such that the insects have to pass the stamen, which is where the pollen, or plant sperm, is produced. The stamen is made up of the filament and the anther, and foraging insects brush against the anther picking up pollen which they carry to the next flower where it is deposited on the female part of the plant – the ‘carpel’, and fertilisation ensues.

There are various species of bees in the UK but only around half a dozen common ones. Bees are in trouble in this country and no one seems to know why, both honey bees, which live in colonies, and solitary bumble bees are dying out at an alarming rate.

Buff tailed bumble bee – Bombus terrestris

The buff tail above was in a particularly poorly condition and had tiny mites crawling on it’s body so I imagine it didn’t do much more pollinating.

Soldier beetle – Cantharis rustica

The soldier beetles are related to the fireflies and they get their common generic name from one species which is bright red and is therefore named after the ‘redcoats‘ – English soldiers from days of yore. The larvae and the adults are carnivorous, the larvae feeding on insect eggs and caterpillars and the adults on aphids. They also feed on nectar and can therefore pollinate too.

Black slug – Arion ater

Alot of people have an aversion to slugs because of the damage they can do to fruit and vegetables, but this chap was out in the field making a meal out of a couple of dandelion seedheads. I don’t think they contribute much to pollination and they are predated by frogs and toads and also hedgehogs. Although I’ve heard that if too much of a hedgehog’s diet consists of slugs, parasitic worms living in the slugs can get into the lungs of the hedghog and kill it because its lungs fill up with fluid. Which sounds pretty unpleasant but I guess it’s not the fault of the poor old slug!

Brimstone moth – Opisthograptis luteolata

The brimstone moth is a splendid creature with a wingspan of 32-37 mm. It’s common and widespread across the UK. In the warmer climes of  the southern UK there can be three generations in a year but in the north there is only one brood per annum, and adults can be seen on the wing between April and October. The caterpillars feed on various trees and bushes including hawthorn and blackthorn.

A couple of weeks ago after days of rainfall which had moistened everything I found a 50m stretch of verge which was crawling, literally, with hundreds of yellow and brown snails.

Brown lipped snails – Ceppaea nemoralis. Just a few of the hundreds that were making the most of the damp conditions

The ‘lip‘ of the snails in their name is the front edge of the shell which can be seen in the next two pictures and is lighter brown on the yellow one and a much darker brown on the brown one:

Snails are predated by songthrushes. They pick up the snail by the fleshy part and crack the shell on a handy stone. Some years ago I was sitting at home on my own reading a book and everything was very quiet. I heard ‘tap tap tap’ on the front door, but when I went to answer it their was no one there. So I went back to my book. A few mintes later I heard the same tapping and again there was no one there, so I opened the door to have a look up the street and rather than a visitor there was a collection of broken snail shells on my front doorstep. It transpires the tapping I’d heard was a songthrush using my front doorstep as an anvil to swing the snails against and hammer open the shells!

28 responses to “Insects and molluscs

  1. Dear Finn! This site is a gem I tell you! I am like an eager beaver learning so much here each time. My son loves it too! Thank you for always keeping it interesting and informative. Where do you live – such a treasure trove of nature’s delight! Thank you! Sharon

    • Hello Sharon, I love it that you and your son enjoy my blog and learn things from it. One of my main hopes when I started this caper was that a youngster or two may find it and be enthused about our natural world as a result. So I’m smiling, knowing that my hope is coming true 🙂

      • Oh for sure! I’ll be sure to share this site with my mother’s group. It really is a gem. It’s a joy to read your work. Thanks especially for answering my funny queries 😀 Sharon

  2. Love the slug and snail pictures. I know, I’m weird. Hey, you’re the one who took the pictures and then posted them………….lol

  3. Lovely post bringing some of our ‘everyday nature’ into focus. Thanks for the ID of the Tree Bumblebee – think I’ve been seeing them and not known what they were.

  4. Love the photo’s..but really scared of insects!!

  5. Top post Finn, as ever. I was eagerly waiting a mention of our beautiful Song Thrushes when I saw the snail’s gathering picture. Sure enough, you brough it up. I find it interesting that you should write about the pollinators too, as I am getting all the more fascinated in the subject. In the past few days I counted six differing types of insects (most names unknown) all pollinating Hogweed. These were found to include Soldier beetles and certain types of Bee and Fly. The research is out there which indicates the desperate state that the UK and other countries are in, when it comes to the lack of pollinators. Let us just hope that government policy dictates what should be done in the future.

    Best Wishes

    Tony Powell

    • Thanks Tony, the whole pollination issue is gewtting more frightening year by year. Most of the planet is being affected by it but still we take little or no effective action. We’ll have to learn the hard way in the not too distant future!

  6. Great photos! Bees have been in trouble here too for several years now. It seems like I have seen more this year again, but still not the numbers that we should have. The ramifications of this are extensive and scary!

    • Hello Terry, You’re absolutely right about the widespread ramifications. There are various studies in Europe and the US to determine the cause of the demise of the bees, but as far as I’m aware there is still no unambiguous conclusion. I’m surprised that governments aren’t investing heavily to identify a cause and a rapid solution to this problem because the economic consequences if we lose too many pollinators are indeed dire. N.b. I believe the only place on the planet not to be affected by colony collapse disorder is Australia. The Aussies must be praying it stays away!

  7. Interesting as always, Finn…and very nice photos, as well. Having lived in Arizona for more than 20 years, I wasn’t used to seeing snails again when I moved here to Utah almost two years ago…. I still have the thought that they are very nice to see in the yard and garden areas, but I have learned that they are “pests” and are often “treated” so they disappear…and there you have hundreds of them. I once counted a dozen in a square meter of our back yard here…thought it was kind of neat. 🙂 Thank you….

    • Hello Scott, I think that was the first time I’d really seen the snails in that profusion, it was a remarkable sight, even more so because so many of them were that lovely yellow colour. As you can imagine, I’m against ‘treating‘ them, I simply toss them over the garden wall when I find them eating the tomatoes, and I still get enough tomatoes for me!

      • Good morning, Finn…that must have been quite a sight seeing so many of them…I marveled at the dozen or so that I found…and I’m with you about the not treating them…I always move them off the sidewalk when I find them and try to avoid them with the mower when clipping the grass. It’s nice that they leave you enough tomatoes. 🙂

      • Hello Scott, snails seem to be right at the bottom of most folks lists of creatures to save, so it’s good to know you take care of them too. After all, they are dinner for the song thrushes!

      • Yes, Finn…we have to save the dinner for song thrushes!! 🙂

  8. Stunning photos as always 🙂

  9. Very interesting post, especially about the song thrushes cracking open snail shells!

  10. A host of delightful minibeasts! I love the story at the end, that really made me laugh.

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