Some beetles are soldiering on regardless


It’s at this time of year that my interest in birds is put on the back burner as most have stopped singing and are busy moulting under cover.

It only means that my attention switches to something else – insects.

So far, it has been a terrible year for butterflies, but every cloud has a silver lining. My cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli have not had a single caterpillar and have been the best ever.

Ringlet seems to be the only species flourishing at the moment.

Moth numbers in my weekly trapping sessions remain much lower than in previous years for July, and thankfully wasp numbers seem to be quite low, but there’s still time for them to become a nuisance.

One species it’s hard to miss on country walks at the moment is the soldier beetle. We used to call them “bloodsuckers” when we were kids, but this was more down to their red colouring than their vampire tendencies. They can be seen in large numbers congregating on the flat white flower heads of different species of umbelifer such as cow parsley and hogweed, where they gather to mate and to hunt for small insects attracted to the blooms.

There are around 40 species in the UK, but the one we see most often is Rhagonycha fulva.

After mating, the female lays her eggs in the soil, where the larvae hunt for snails and insects. After a year and several moults, the larvae pupates before emerging as a fully-grown beetle.

I read in last week’s Southern about the widespread cutting down of our native hogweed by well-meaning individuals who mistook it for the alien giant hogweed.

This aggressive and dangerous introduction has been almost completely eradicated from our river systems in recent years and it would be a great pity if our soldier beetles were deprived of their habitat by lack of botanical knowledge.

Another very noticeable insect at this time of year, if you happen to be in the right place, is the Six-spot Burnet Moth. At the weekend, I encountered several resting on spear thistles on some waste ground. They are almost black in colour with vivid red spots and very active by day.

During one of the few sunny spells last week, I was sitting in my garden, surrounded by flowers planted specifically to attract bees, and was struck by how few were to be seen.

Let’s hope that this year is just a “glitch” and that the paucity of many of our more familiar insect species is only temporary.