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Ian loves photographing insects!

dull orange under wings
Ian said, “orange under wings”

Ian found this moth and told us that when he had been able to see an orange colour on the under wings. This is actually called a Large Yellow Underwing! (we think) https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/large-yellow-underwing

It is fairly common and will be attracted to flowers such as red valerian, buddleia, docks, cabbages, foxgloves and ragwort. It would be found all over the British Isles – virtually anywhere, but often gardens and grassland. The shades of brown on the wings or yellow / orange on the underwing can vary. What is distinctive is the slight black wing tip.

There is also a Small Yellow Underwing moth – mostly found south of here, although with climate change not impossible it would be in Northumberland now. As the name suggests, it would be smaller. Its favourite plants are common mouse-ear and field mouse-ear seed capsules. Its yellow or orange hindwing is more a band, surrounded by brown. Whereas on the Large Yellow Underwing the orange is mostly yellow / orange with a band of black.

creature in hand
chrysalis in hand
creature in hand2
chrysalis in hand 2

This pupa was a bit harder to identify – there aren’t many books and guides about pupae! But an email to Butterfly Conservation brought a swift reply – together with encouragement for us all to join The Big Butterfly Count. This is a UK-wide survey aimed at helping to assess the health of the environment simply by counting the amount and type of butterflies and day-flying moths we see. (https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org).

This pupa is going to be a peacock butterfly. Easily recognised and loved by us all, with nettle as its favourite food plant. Isn’t it amazing how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly? Inside, does it become a sort of genetic soup, to then all form back together again? Scientists have been able to use CT scans on chrysalises and they now think that the breathing system (which is visible only 12 hours into the pupal stage) is probably less “remodelled” than the rest of the butterfly.

By the way, it would be easy to reattach this pupa so that it can finish its metamorphosis. Something like a pin through the silk part (the top) to hold it in place, or a drop of something sticky – perhaps honey. (Or, the internet even suggests a bit of dental floss to be able to tie it on somewhere!) It is important they continue to hang with a bit of space around, so that when they come out they can let their wings dry when they come out.

What is the difference between a butterfly and a moth? Butterflies make chrysalises, moths make cocoons! Also, one of the main differences is the antennae.

leaf cutter bee in action
leaf cutter bee in action

Ian has also spotted a leaf cutter bee. Females cut leaves to line a hole or a cavity. They will use this as a brood chamber to lay eggs in. The babies stay in the chamber all winter, and in the spring they eat their way out. The females have teeth which they use for cutting the leaves with. Also, because they need good jaw muscles, their heads are slightly bigger. They only need a circular or a half-moon part of the leaf and so it doesn’t really damage a plant. Although another photo Ian sent seemed to be some bits of cut-out leaf that the bee had either dropped or discarded!

Leaf cutter bees don’t carry pollen in little baskets on their legs like you might have seen with other bees. Instead it is under their body, on their bellies. This makes them really good pollinators as lots of the pollen gets rubbed off between flowers. They are such good pollinators that sometimes farmers bring them in to places, or order them in the post!

The females live for about 2 months and during that time she might lay about 40 eggs. The eggs that are laid first, towards the back of the chamber, will be next year’s females. The eggs near the entrance will become males – they develop faster and so come out first in spring.

soldier beetles mating on thistle
soldier beetles mating on thistle

Finally, Ian also saw soldier beetles mating. He said, “life goes on for trekkie fans – GoLocal Food – then next generation”!

It is often in the afternoon that the beetles would be mating. The male might stay attached for a long time to stop other males coming along. This is probably worth the risk of them both being a bit cumbersome to predators!

We think this is common thistle that the beetles were spotted on. One thing to look for when noticing a thistle is, are there spines on the stem or not? The flowers can be pink sometimes, normally more dark pink or lilac or purple.

dull orange under wings

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