Insects you can get to know this autumn

Insects you can get to know this autumn

 Amy Lewis

Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust volunteer and amateur entomologist Kate Nightingale highlights some common insects you may spot in October. This is the third in a series of Action for Insects blogs Kate will be sharing with us.

Over the next few weeks many insect species will be starting to prepare for the challenges of winter. The adults of some species die off in late summer or autumn, having deposited eggs in a suitable habitat to ensure a new generation next spring.  Other species seem to be at their peak, or at least more noticeable as wild food sources decline and they turn their attention to gardens with ivy, heather and other late-flowering plants.

It’s a good time to spot the red and green Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale).  This large, elongated bug has an angular shape and pointed ‘shoulders’, and although superficially similar to the Birch Shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus), the latter has a softer shape and subtly different markings.  A large reddish-brown oval bug with a rough, mottled texture and flared abdomen is likely to be the Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus), which can be found on vegetation throughout the year.  These all overwinter as adults in sheltered locations and emerge in the spring to mate.

The Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) is unmistakable, with scallop-edged wings of vibrant orange and dark brown.  The underside of the wing has a small white ‘comma’ or similar shape amongst the darker and duller browns that aid camouflage during hibernation. The familiar Red Admiral may also be seen until October or November, feasting on bramble, ivy and rotting fruit. Principally a migrant species, adults arrive from North Africa and continental Europe through May and June. The individuals you see now may be migrants or their British-born offspring. Most will die off during winter, but full overwintering is known to occur in the far south of England where conditions are warmer. 

The fluffy ginger Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) is named for its habit of combing material together (carding) to create a covering for the nesting cells containing the larvae. It’s one of several ‘ginger’ bumblebees in the UK and can sometimes be seen until October. Social wasps such as the Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) are still busy eating pollen and controlling a range of garden pests. In simple terms, at the onset of colder weather the workers (unproductive females), drones (males) and old queens (productive females) naturally die off. New queens endure the winter, having already mated with late-summer drones, and those that manage to survive the cold will emerge next spring to build a nest and lay eggs.  If you see a ‘sleeping’ wasp in your log pile or loft, please leave her alone.

A hoverfly that could be mistaken for a wasp is The Footballer (Helophilus pendulus), so called because of the yellow and black vertical stripes on the thorax (just like Watford FC’s 2019 away kit!).  There are two other similar species that require observation of face and hind legs to distinguish them, but this is our most frequent Helophilus, and adults fly until November visiting a variety of flowers. The common Yellow Dung Fly  (Scathophaga stercoraria) peaks in summer but you may see adults into November, feeding on nectar or catching smaller insects. There are 55 species of ‘dung’ fly in Britain but only a handful breed in dung. 

All UK ladybirds hibernate and are therefore present throughout the year, but of the 46 species of resident ladybird only 26 are ‘conspicuous ladybirds’ – the familiar and well-marked and brightly coloured beetles such as the 7-Spot, 14-Spot, and 22-Spot, plus the small and often overlooked Pine Ladybird (Exochomus quadripustulatus) with dark wing casings and four red spots.  The rest are called ‘inconspicuous’ as they are generally smaller, drabber and less easily recognised as ladybirds. As the weather becomes chillier in September and October they continue to feed, mostly on aphids or scale insects, depending on the species, but before long they will have to find suitable places to shelter for the winter before mating next spring.

Summer may be over but there’s still plenty going on in the insect world!

Did you know 41% of insects face extinction?

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