Community Wildlife Area – July & August 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

Dytiscus marginalis (Great Diving Beetle) is a large and voracious predator of underwater life in both larval and adult stages.

Pauline and myself were watching life in the pond and spotted a Newt trying to shake off something that had a hold of its neck. When the newt eventually managed to shake it off, we could see it was a nearly full grown larvae of the above species. At around 50mm long it was maybe half the length of the newt. As we watched it became evident that there were a number of these larvae who were mostly attacking tadpoles but would try for anything that was moving underwater. Always grabbing from underneath with strong jaws around the neck area. I was watching the pond with Mark and watched one of these larva rise from the shallows to grab a good sized tadpole then swim across the surface to hide, with it’s prey under a lilly leaf, no doubt to consume it’s prey out of sight. That pond may look peaceful but underwater it’s a “proper jungle”.

My own first experience of this beetle was when at the age of about 7 years I caught a adult whilst collecting frog spawn. I put it on an old white enamel bowl along with the spawn. By the next morning the beetle had eaten around half of the centres from my Frog spawn. I remember it well as I told my parents that it was eating the yolks and leaving the whites of the eggs. Both adults and larva of Dytiscus are said to deliver a painful bite. Mine did not bite me despite much handling.

On the rest of the patch Mary found and photographed a lovely Scarlet Tiger Moth. This is another large, showy moth that is gradually moving its territory Northward. We found one there last year so could have a breeding population of these. We would love to find Garden Tiger Moths there. Their larvae are the once common Woolly Bears that people over a certain age remember from their youth. They have sadly declined drastically -possibly due our warmer winters. I have not found a Garden Tiger or a Woolly Bear since moving back to England in 2015.

Despite the drought we are seeing some fruits from earlier sowings. New species of Grass, Yellow Rattle (which could be important to our plans) and other plants are gradually showing their heads. Unexpectedly, a few specimens of Night Flowering Catchfly are growing on last years “Annuals Patch”. This is member of the Campion family that was introduced to the UK sometime in the past. It looks quite insignificant in daytime but comes into it’s own when the sun sets, showing intense, almost luminescent, white blooms that fade with the dawn. Undersides of leaves and stems are covered with sticky hairs, hence the name “Catchfly”. We did not knowingly sow this plant and did not see it last year last year. It is an annual and very easily overlooked in daylight hours so it may well have been among the Wildflower Annuals planted last year.

Dave Musson 07942 674867


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