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The insects have gone berserk
For anyone who thought the cold winter might have been a bit harsh for wildlife, I hope the recent heatwave has been an eye-opener. I’ve certainly never seen so much insect life in April before. The garden has been awash with orange-tips, holly blues, and speckled woods.
The hoverflies have appeared in earnest, and bumbles, wasps and solitary bees are everywhere. There is an audible hum, usually only heard in June. They are all squabbling over the raspberry flowers. Pond-skaters are frolicking across the water surface, and the newts are in full-flow courtship below.
Blackbirds and thrushes are working double-time on the lawn and the local woodpigeons seem constantly out of breath, they are so busy.
But for me, the highlight of the last few days is, I’m afraid, a minute brown beetle. Saprosites natalensis is a tiny ‘dung’ beetle, just 2.5 mm long. Although its life history is unknown it is unlikely to feed in dung, and probably develops in rotten wood. A similar Australian species, Saprosites mendax, found in Arundel Park in the early 20th century (it’s still there by the way) was originally thought to feed in the burrows of other fungoid wood feeders, including stag beetles. There are plenty of stag beetles in Richmond, Battersea and East Dulwich, but that lead seems to be a red herring, and Saprosites natalensis is sometimes found making small chewed burrows under cut logs or pieces of garden timber.
When this supposedly South African species was found in West London it took quite a time to realize it was different from the Sussex beetles. With 130 very similar (almost identical actually) tiny species worldwide, final identification took DNA analysis to confirm it. Preserved museum examples were not good enough, so a plea went out to find living specimens. And just by chance I had been finding them that very week, flying about in my garden.
It’s a minor claim to fame, I know, but despite the elegant flutterings of the abundant butterflies, the whine of flower-visitors, and the gyrations in the pond, it is the slow airborne drift of a flying Saprosites that gets me excited in the garden now. And so far this is my only brush with DNA profiling.
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