Erica x darleyensis - Nature Notes

The Winter / Spring flowering heathers in our garden have been attracting a wide range of insects to feed on warm days recently.

Judging by the numbers of butterflies and  queen bumblebees they have survived the Winter well, a good sign that numbers may be recovering after suffering in the poor summers of recent years.

Peacock

All the insects feeding like the Peacock butterfly above hibernate as adults, and are desparate to feed as soon as they re-emerge. Erica x darleyensis grows well almost anywhere and is often one of the few flowers available to insects in the early days of Spring. Other garden plants that are particularly good for insects in the Spring include Pieris japonica, and this year especially Lonicera fragrantissima, a winter-flowering honeysuckle. The latter usually flowers far too early here in January, but this year has flowered in March.

Already I have seen seven species of bumblebee queen feeding on just one plant in our garden, the most numerous have been Bombus lucorum (below) and  Bombus terrestris.

Bombus lucorum

The mites clustered on her body have been hanging on there since she left her maternal nest last Summer. When she starts a nest of her own they will drop off and scavenge in the detritus at the bottom of the nest. The queen has had to carry them around for the last 7 or 8 months, all through the winter hibernation, but in helping clean the nest they repay her for doing that.

Other insects on the heathers include Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies,

Small Tortoisehell

and hoverflies such as this species of Eristalis.

Eristalis