Oil Beetles and Yellow Flowers

Daffodils in Sun, © Graham Dennis

Education Officer, Susan Simmonds, takes some peaceful moments away from the chaos of life to notice the signs of Spring in her garden.

As I write, the sun is peaking through, daffodils, primroses and violets are flowering and birds are singing.

Oil Beetle in the sun

© Susan Simmonds

At this time of year, my south‐facing front lawn comes alive with large, black shiny oil beetles. I love these amazing creatures and find their life cycle fascinating. The adults burrow into the ground near a colony of solitary bees. They lay eggs and the emerging larvae crawl up onto a flower, lying in wait for an unsuspecting solitary bee. When a bee comes to feed on the flower, the larvae hitch a ride back to the bee’s nest where they consume the bee’s eggs. The larvae moult several times and eventually pupate, remaining in the nest until emerging as adults the following year.  This year is clearly another good year for these intriguing beetles as you can count several on the lawn at any one time on a sunny day.

Yellow seems to be a prominent colour in nature at this time of year. Looking out of the front window today, I can see forsythia, daffodils and primroses. Along the road, there are catkins covered in yellow pollen and lesser celandine flowering on the banks. The marsh marigold, or king cups, are also starting to flower along the river banks. During the spring, the days are still relatively short, the light levels are only just beginning to increase and the number of insects on the wing is still fairly low. Consequently plants that flower at this time of year have had to come up with clever evolutionary strategies to maximise pollination. It seems that the colour yellow plays a key part by being particularly attractive to insects in spring. 

Marigolds

© Susan Simmonds

The hazel catkins that have been ripe with pollen for a few weeks now are actually wind pollinated. Their clever tactic is to ripen and distribute the pollen before the leaves open on the trees and hinder this process. As I write, another tree producing yellow catkins, the pussy willow or sallow, is just ripening. These catkins however also rely on insects for pollination and will be a great source of food for our honey bees which will also just be emerging from their winter slumber.

Willow Catkin

©Susan Simmonds

So really, everything in nature revolves around food availability. As the flowers begin to produce pollen, the insects are on the wing and as insect numbers increase, our migrant birds such as the chiff chaff, arrive in time to take advantage of this feast.

So spring is here! As we're reducing our interactions  with other people, let’s increase our enjoyment of the wildlife.

Susan Simmonds

Blashford Wild Days Out Bioblitz Bush cricket

Blashford Wild Days Out Bioblitz Bush cricket © T Standish

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