The final days of May

I’m starting this post with a tribute to the privet shrub, without whose bountiful blossom this spring I would not have seen the array of beautiful insects I have recorded recently.

When we first moved into the house the privet hedge, planted in front of the garden wall had been allowed to grow to a very straggly 2-3 metres high. I’d had plenty of past battles with rampant privet hedges, but rather than dig it out I cut it right down into a low hedge interspersed with some taller trunks I clipped into various topiary shapes. I like it kept neat and tidy, but usually allow some parts to blossom each spring as I am aware some insects are attracted to it. This year I missed out the usual early spring cut as I was away in Wales, so the whole hedge was already in flower when I got back. A very happy accident as it turned out, and although it’s untidiness does bother me a bit I will definitely leave it to finish flowering before I trim it and will also leave some to fruit for the birds to pick at later on.

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Privet was originally the name for the European semi-evergreen shrub, Ligustrum vulgarum and later also for the more reliably evergreen  Ligustrum ovalifolium (Japanese privet), used extensively for privacy hedging. It is often suggested that the name privet is related to private, but the Oxford English dictionary states that there is no evidence to support this. The term is now used for all members of the genus Ligustrum which includes about 40-50 species of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous shrubs and small trees, native to Europe, north Africa, Asia and Australasia with the centre of diversity in China, the Himalays, Japan and Taiwan. The generic name originated in Latin  and was applied by  Pliny the Elder (23 CE – 79) to L. vulgare. The genus is placed in the olive family, Oleacea.

The flowers are small and fragrant and borne in panicles. They have four curled-back petals and two high stamens with yellow or red anthers, between which is the low pistil; the petals and stamens fall off after the flower is fertilized, leaving the pistil in the calyx tube. The fruits, borne in clusters, are small purple to black drupes; individual shrubs may produce thousands of fruits, most of which are eaten by birds.

The Privet is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera  (moth) species including Common Emerald, Common Marbled Carpet,Copper Underwing, The Engrailed, Mottled Scalloped Hazel, Small Angle Shades, The V-pug and Willow Beauty.

Source : Wikipaedia

* Not mentioned above is the Privet Hawkmoth Sphinx ligustri, a large and attractive moth, with a wingspan of 100mm.

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I spotted a Painted Lady zoom in over the wall  and after a bit of flying up and down it finally settled with its wing firmly closed.

30/5/11- Painted Lady

The butterfly was at the far end of the hedge, quite high up and as I looked at it, squinting against the bright sunshine, I caught a quick glint of metallic green. The light was very bright and all I could see was part of the underside of a large insect nestled right into the flower head against the stem. I moved around, trying to find an angle that would reveal what I hoped was a Rose Chafer. After several minutes of waiting, my patience was rewarded when out it crawled, albeit very briefly, into view. What glorious insects they are; deserving of a far more glamorous name than it has been given and definitely a jewel in my list of sightings so far this year.

 

30/5/11-A beautiful Rose Chafer on privet

Rose Chafer – Cetonia aurata

A beautiful scarab beetle, with a body length of around 20mm. It is a bright, metallic, jewel-like green, with whitish marks and stripes across the elytra. From mid-May they may be found on sunny days in flowery places on the blossoms of rose, hawthorn, elder etc. The larvae live in the rotting wood of old trees. 

There is still blossom left on the privet that is still attracting a few insects. I can’t imagine I can top what I’ve already seen, unless of course I may be very lucky and see a Privet Hawkmoth: they do fly in June and July…

The next insect I saw along the hedge took me from the dazzling to something much more modest, a subtly coloured and patterned Long-tailed Blue, another ‘new’ species for this year, similar in  general appearance to the Lang’s Short-tailed Blue I saw a few days ago. It came to rest on a privet leaf and I was able to get a fairly close look at it, although when I saw the photo I realised it  had actually lost its tails. It obligingly half-opened its wings too, revealing the bronze -brown uppersides, slightly suffused with violet-blue. This is a female; the male’s uppersides are bluish-lilac with a dark margin to the forewing  and a dark spot at the base of the tail streamer.

31/5/11-A closer look at a Long-tailed Blue- Lampides boeticus

31/5/11-Long-tailed Blue -A glimpse of the upperwings revealed this to be a female

Not too far along I spotted another of my favourite insects, a cute-looking, furry little Bee-fly that was feeding on lantana flowers.

31/5/11-A Bee-fly -Bombylius major

The Bee-fly is an expert flyer that generally resembles a small furry bumblebee. It plunges its long straight proboscis into flowers, using it to suck out nectar often whilst hovering skillfully, but sometimes using its long spindly legs to help it balance. The insects cute appearance belies its parasitic nature; the females lay eggs close to the nests of mining bees, and the larvae enter the nest and parasitize the bees.

31/5/11-Bee-fly using its long legs to help with balance as it probes a flower

Ilex Hairstreak butterflies continue to feed on the thyme flowers, but this afternoon there were also two on the yellow button flowers of the santolina (cotton lavender), which is where I have seen one or two in previous years.One of the butterflies was missing part of a hind wing, probably as a result of a bird attack, maybe one of the Spotted Flycatchers. 

31MAY11-Ann Ilex Hairstreak & a tachinid fly feeding on santolina

A closer view of the small Tachinid fly - Phyrxe vulgaris

Tachinid flies are useful rather than beautiful insects: a species that help greatly to control various forest and agricultural pests: the larvae are internal parasites of numerous butterflies & moths.

31MAY11-A pretty view of a Speckled Wood on santolina flowers

Butterfly species recorded in and around the garden this month:

Large White, Small White, Cleopatra, Clouded Yellow, Ilex Hairstreak, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Long-tailed Blue, Geranium Bronze, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper

(13 species)             

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