Chilly Bees and Beetle Answers

26015787976_40c0cf9207_zIt’s been another week of topsy-turvy temperatures, meaning that insects seem to have come and gone again. On Monday, a lunchtime walk with the dog coincided with the sun coming out, and the Maer seemed suddenly splashed with fiery yellow gorse. Buff-tailed Bumblebee workers were out in force on it, the orange-yellow pollen pasted to their pollen baskets like bright socks.


Queen B. terrestris – taken 2015

So many workers must mean that local nests are up and running. The queen will have already formed this, making a ball of soft, warm plant material in a hole of some sort. She will have foraged hard, building up fat reserves, and in her nest will have made a ball of pollen, covered in wax. Then she will have provisioned herself with a wax pot filled with nectar close by and laid eggs in the pollen ‘brood-clump’, on which she has then sat to incubate the eggs. 

These first eggs will have been fertilised with sperm from a male with whom she mated at the end of last year, meaning that they emerge as females – workers, who then live in the nest and begin the ‘work’ of extending and caring for it, and the new broods laid by the queen. What I was seeing was these workers in full swing, gathering the pollen and nectar to take back to the nest. Though they might also be involved in using it to build inside, it’s likely that they may be specialising in foraging and will have passed it to other workers specialised in nest care. These roles are size dependent, the larger workers setting out to find resources whilst the smaller ones ‘stay home’. I love the idea of all this going on … while most passers-by may not even notice the bees at all!

As ever, these notes are taken from books I’ve been reading, notably Dave Goulson’s ‘Bumblebees: behaviour, ecology and conservation‘ that I referred to last week. It’s a brilliant book; more than just a popular guide and packed with references to research, yet very readable and informative. There is a lovely section on the way in which bees thermo-regulate their internal temperatures. They have hairy bodies of course, to insulate themselves, but the thorax – where the muscles used to power the flight are housed – has to be maintained at a certain temperature if they are to use them. They do this by shivering the muscles and, it seems, by ‘substrate cycling’; essentially burning glucose to make water and carbon dioxide and then recombining it again. In the process energy is released and warms the muscles; though there seems to be some discrepancy around the extent to which they use this over shivering. Perhaps an extra burst when the need arises for quick movement.

Whatever the outcome, energy is not unlimited, nor warming entirely efficient and it looked as though the ambient temperature dropped far enough during the rest of the week to prevent them getting airborne again, since all my other visits produced no bees at all. I have my fingers crossed that, with more icy weather, including snow, forecast for this coming week, the nests will survive. It also meant that the moth trap has stayed wrapped up too, with no sign of a change to make it worth unveiling yet.

If you saw last week’s post then you will also have seen that I set a small quiz, not about bees but about ‘beetles’, based on the other great book I’ve been looking at recently, of that title, by Richard Jones. I asked you to identify the impostor from four descriptions of beetles and their behaviour: a toxic poisoner, a flamethrower, a spiky, reversing killer and a Morse code user. I promised the answers this week, so here goes.

Oil Beetle – Otterton: 2017

The poisoner is true – it refers to the Meloidae, oil beetles, which produce the toxin, though not in enough quantity to kill a human if ingested.


The flamethrower – amazingly – is also true. It’s the Bombardier beetle (Brachinus crepitans) which is resident, though declining, in the UK. It has a very rare relative (Brachinus sclopeta – streaked bombardier) which can do the same thing, and lots of foreign cousins too worldwide.

The Morse code user is also true – it’s the Deathwatch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) which is well known for its potentially destructive wood-eating.

That leaves the impostor as my fictitious Silphidae retrorsus. As far as I’m aware there is no beetle that can fly ‘retrorsus’ (backwards), nor which has specially sharpened elytra … though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone puts me right on this and I’d be delighted to hear about it, if so. I hope you enjoyed the puzzling as much as I enjoyed reading the book and making it up.

Stay warm this week, and think of the bees …





I’m not back in the 60s – I was only born in ’66 so I don’t remember Paul, John, Ringo and George the first time round, though I do still love the music. And, yes, I know the spelling is different …

No, as I noted in my last post, I’ve been enjoying Richard Jones’ fantastic book on the life history and diversity of Beetles.img_0327

As I’ve made my way through it, starting with the basic anatomy and structure, exploring the biology and reproduction, before widening the viewpoint to understand their ecology and evolutionary history, I’ve become ever-more amazed at this startlingly diverse group of insects. I therefore thought it might be fun to put a few of their more incredible antics ‘out there’ for you; indeed, to test the limits of your incredulity with a little quiz!

Below are four accounts of beetles. Three are taken directly from Jones’ book (with a little licence to edit that I’ve granted myself for the sake of consistent style), whilst the fourth is a fictional account, a parasite amongst the facts, feeding off your belief in the impossible. More accurately, though, I should really say that I’m hoping it’s a fiction because it wouldn’t surprise me if there was beetle out there somewhere which did it! I’ll leave it to you to see if you know, or can guess, which is the impostor. Here goes …

  1. The Meloidae, or oil beetles, are so called because they can secrete an oily toxin, with the active ingredient cantharadin (C10 H12 O4). This can be a skin irritant, because it causes considerable cell damage, and taken internally can be lethal (though the doses needed for humans are greater than our domestic oil beetles can deliver). Indeed, it has been used since antiquity to treat all sorts of ailments, particularly sores, warts etc., targeting cells that need removing; but also as a poison. In 1772, the Marquis of Sade was thought to have used it to poison prostitutes and was sentenced to death (even though no deaths occurred, including his own, since he evaded capture and fled to Italy). Still, it might have been nasty, for both females and males, since if ingested cantharadin is filtered out by the kidneys, causing a tingling sensation in the urinary tract; and, in men, potentially causing a prolonged, painful erection. Viagra? … hmmm, I don’t recommend you try!
  2. The Brachininae, a subfamily of the Carabidae, feature the ability to set fire to their farts! More specifically they have a pair of glands near their anus which can secrete hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones, respectively. Each of these could itself be a chemical repellent to ward off potential predators. However, better than that, each chemical is stored in separate vesicles just inside the anus and can be released under pressure through a one-way valve into a ‘reaction chamber’. Enzymes in the chamber help the H²O² to decay rapidly into water and oxygen which then reacts with the hydroquinones at such a rate that the exothermic nature of the reaction can heat it to 100°C. Under pressure this is released through the anus with a ‘hot pop’. The beetles can repeat this trick at 70 pulses in 1/10th second, firing off a loud enough ‘pop’ to ward off enemies.
  3. Like many beetles, Silphidae retrorsus has adapted to steal the young of other creatures – in this case the larvae of the eusocial red wood ant (Formica rufa) which is common in British woodland. It has several tricks for doing this. First, the elytra [the the hardened wing casings covering the abdomen] are specially adapted so that the sutural angle forms two sharp ‘spikes’ which it utilises in its second trick. Whereas other ant parasites will sometimes rub themselves into the ants’ nest to acquire the smell of the colony, S. retrorsus plays the opposite game. Secretions of hormones from glands in the legs mimic the smell not of the wood ant, but of badger, a natural predator of F. rufa nests. Fooled into thinking their young are at risk, the wood ants start moving them, not just inside the main nest but also between nests since F. rufa colonies can have several ‘satellite’ nests which are part of the social group. At this stage retrorsus plays its trump card, after which it is named. Specially adapted joints mean that the wings can be tilted to allow it to fly backwards at speed and ‘skewer’ the ant’s larvae as they rescue them, before flying off with its prey. Though many beetles use their jaws to grab prey, such ‘reverse’ flying offers the advantage of protecting the beetles vulnerable head and thorax … as well as allowing for a potentially quicker getaway.
  4. Whilst the other contenders have focused on capturing prey, or avoiding becoming it, Xestobium rufovillosum is able to talk! Ok, strictly speaking it’s a form of code which, like Morse, relies on tapping sounds, but it’s still used for communicating with other beetles, allowing mating pairs to find each other. The reason finding a partner is tricky is that X. rufovillosum is buried in wood. Not a coffin; the wood is a food source which it is gradually gnawing away at, often in old houses. To find its mate in a labyrinth of tunnels it bangs its head down on the wood, like a headbanging rocker, not just once but 9-13 times a second. After a pause, it ‘taps’ again, hopefully eliciting a reply from a prospective mate and communications continue until the two partners find each other. I would love to report that the code was dot-dot-dot, dah-dah-dah, dot-dot-dot, but it seems X. rufovillosum doesn’t consider itself in need of saving … though the house owner might, since the tapping is clearly audible to our ears too and can be unnerving in the dark at night!

So, a toxic poison, a flamethrower, reversing skewers or Morse code. They are all incredible … but, with thanks to Richard Jones for his fascinating book, only three are true. Can you identify the parasite?

I’ll post answers next weekend …




Looking to the future

There has been nothing much happening for me in the world of moths, or other insects for that matter, with the cold snap extending into February. I’ve run the trap a couple of times since the new year and managed a grand total of one moth: Acleris ferrugana/notana. You can’t tell the two species apart on sight, hence the ambiguous slash between them.

With little to see, and being a bit lazy with birding too because of some busy weekends and cold mornings, I’ve been doing plenty of reading instead, which has meant ‘investing’ in several new books. A new spider field-guide, some generic books on conservation, and this text by Dave Goulson on Bumblebees which I can’t wait to start …


However the first one that turned up was Richard Jones’ new book on the life of Beetles, so the Bumblebees and spiders will have to wait …


It’s a wait that will be worth it though, because this is a fabulous text. I’d been waiting for it since September when I ordered, only to find that there was a delay in publication. Now, having got it and plunged in, I’ve found that it gives a very complete account of the life history and biology of the this massively diverse group. There is wonderful detail about every aspect of beetles you could imagine, but one particular section captured my attention because it relates to Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae). This is a species that was only first recorded in the UK in 2001 but which has spread quickly and has certainly become abundant in Exmouth. In the late Autumn, as the ivy flowered, these bees were all over the place, nesting on the Maer and visible even on ivy in Exmouth town centre. I was really excited to see them, not least because they seemed somehow special having so recently colonised the UK from mainland Europe. This one was feeding amongst many others, on October 1st, just by the entrance to Exmouth Cricket Club:


But back to the beetles. I’m a complete novice at the Coleoptera and so from this point on I’m simply using Jones’ account to tell his own story; one that I found fascinating. It relates to one particular species, Stenoria analis, a beetle that has a special relationship with ivy bees. Indeed, its English name is the ‘ivy bee blister beetle’ and it is parasitic on them. You can see images  of the adult beetle on Steven Falk’s brilliant Flickr resource, here.

Before recounting this relationship it’s worth noting that for most beetles it is the adult stage – what we usually call ‘the beetle’, though of course from the beetle’s perspective it’s often just a short part of their life! – which disperses the species. That’s, of course, why most beetles can fly. Flight allows them to move efficiently to new areas to find good locations for laying eggs and having young. Most beetle larvae are fairly immobile, being a ‘grub’ of some sort. Once hatched they eat their through food that is local to them, and through several changes of skin, then pupate and hatch (though there are lots of variations on this theme of course). This inability of the larvae to move far is why it is so important for beetles to lay eggs, or produce young, in the places where the food source is located – dung beetles being a nice example. 

S. analis, however, has a different trick up its sleeve. When the eggs hatch the first instar larvae (called triungulins for their three, rather than two, claws on their tarsi) are mobile, allowing them to run up the stalk of the ivy on which they were carefully laid, and to prepare for a hijack. I’ll let Jones take up the story in his own words from here …

For larvae of this beetle, ‘hijack’ is the right word. Clusters of Stenoria triungulins, huddling on the flower or tall stem, actively attract males of their host bee species. The arrival of the male bees, in a manner exactly reminiscent of the pheromone attraction by which they detect newly emerged females, suggests a chemical lure … The male bees attempt to mate with the triungulin cluster, easily allowing the Stenoria larvae to clamber aboard. These are later delivered to female bees during genuine copulation, and end up back in the nests being excavated by these females as they unload pollen masses into the brood cells. The Stenoria larvae then go through similar hypermetamorphosic costume changes [similar to other ‘normal’ beetles]. It seems too easy.

Too easy indeed! Though the process of getting there is spectacularly clever. What’s also clever is that S. analis has found this way to increase its distribution mobility. Not only is the adult beetle able to fly, but the larvae too, by having legs that allow it to crawl and the genetic cunning to lure male ivy bees in,  can mobilise the species across wider distributions. Jones predicts that, particularly with this mobility, it won’t be long before it is in the UK … which makes it something exciting to look for.

Still, finding new beetles might not actually be that difficult worldwide. In a wonderful section (pp.326-8) Jones describes the many different estimates for beetle species and the history of attempts to calculate it. Whilst estimates vary wildly, the current best ones come in at between 1 and 3 million (yes, that’s 1 – 3,000,000) different species … the vast majority of which have not yet been identified and named!

I’ll stick to the UK. Still plenty of ID for me to work on, starting with the 102 different families of beetle that Jones lists in his book.

Annual update

As 2017 draws to a close I’ve been tidying up my records ready to submit to the CMR and it has prompted me to pen a quick summary of the year. The brilliant National Moth Recording scheme has, once again, meant that I’ve been able to record all the moths I’ve caught and/or seen and a press of a button allows me to download them as an Excel file and organise them. If anyone is daft enough to be interested, the full spreadsheet is here, but what follows is a brief summary.

In 2016 I caught 242 different species in the garden MV trap; in 2017 that number has risen to 261. I uploaded 1203 records from the trap, some of which were for multiple records of the same moth and so probably represent around 1600 moths in total. The difference in species totals is largely due to my improvement in identifying micros I think, with 89 this year and only 61 last year, meaning that I was actually slightly down on the number of macros.

In addition to those I trapped myself in the garden I found two species in the field and also saw another nine trapped by other people, bringing the annual total to 272 different species. It’s tempting to assume that these are all the same as last year, but my total lifetime species list is 370 meaning that I’m finding new moths – and also not re-finding ones previously seen. I’ve picked a few highlights from various months, as follows below.

The first trapping was in March and resulted in an addition to my Orthosia moths: Twin-spotted Quaker.


April brought another moth that I’d been hoping to see in the form of Streamer, a wonderfully outlandish moth.


May was a month in which I didn’t find much that was new, but spent lots of time looking at the micros that were coming in greater numbers to the trap. Nonetheless, the winning photo in the beauty contest was of this Muslin Moth, a common visitor, but one that I think is close to perfection.


In June my focus was more on bees than moths. However, the month still brought lots of beautiful species and I’ve picked out Obscure Wainscot and Beautiful Brocade as two highlights for me, both new for the garden.

By July the trap was filling up each night I ran it, but a tricky period of life meant that this wasn’t as often as I’d have liked. However, I enjoyed examining the bird-dropping moths and spent a number of days trying to get to grips with them. There are too many to feature so I’ve simply picked one that I like, Pammene fasciana, a common visitor during the summer months.

Pammene fasciana (2)

August is easier for me because it coincides with the summer vacation and allows me to trap more often. The number of moths is sometimes intimidating, but at least it offers opportunities for new species. Again, I also spent a good deal of time looking at bees and finding new species (for me) everywhere, but the moth I’ve picked out wasn’t new to me. It is, though, an incredible species in terms of the colours it shows and, from that point of view, one of my favourite trappings of the year: The Herald.


September brought many of the Autumnal moths including the thorns, but my pick is this Vapourer, one I’d been trying to catch having somehow missed it the first year. The white patches and the overall shape make it unmistakable.



October brought two of my favourite patterned moths, both of which mimic the green and browns of late summer moss and bark: Merveille du Jour and Green-brindled Crescent.

I’ve also slipped in another moth from October here because November was a write-off for me due to poor weather and heavy workload. It’s The Vestal, a lovely migrant moth from the warmer climes of southern Europe and Africa. In part it makes me feel guilty because there was a wonderful period of migration at this time which I didn’t take advantage of, but at least this one was new for the garden, and a nice catch.


December could only feature on choice: December Moth. I caught several, of which this was perhaps the best looking.


So that’s it for another year, but the prospect of a new one starting soon is exciting … and means I can open a new folder in the Moth Recording Scheme named 2018. Roll on Jan 1st!

Where there is light …

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last ran the trap thanks to a combination of cold weather and busy weekends so I was delighted to find two December Moths in there on the night of 2nd December.

I love these moths. The very fact that they come out when the weather is at its coldest, their ‘woolly’ appearance, the smart patterning and the fabulous antennae of the males makes for a great catch every time.

Other than that it’s been very quiet with insects – the odd Silver Y being the only other moths of interest (see photo at top) – and so I’ve been taking the opportunity to do some reading. One thing I came across via Twitter was an article which went some way to answering a question that I’ve been thinking about for some time now, namely, what fraction of the moths near my trap am I actually catching? Do moths come from miles away to the MV light, or do they need to be passing close by? And does it depend on the moth? This seems like an important question to me, not just from the point of view of wanting to catch as many species as I can, but in terms of keeping records and contributing them to the National Moth Recording Scheme.

I know already, of course, that not all moths come to light. Some species/families need pheromones to attract them, for example the elusive clearwings. I’m also aware that keeping records that are informative about populations and commonality requires other factors in place, such as constant effort, as well as expertise in identifying the more difficult ones. However, if these things are controlled it still assumes that moths come in equal proportions to any single trap. In a 2014 volume of Insect Conservation and Diversity Merckx and Slade (2014) report on a field study in which various species of moths from three families – Geometrids, Noctuids and Erebids – were captured, then marked (with a pen) and re-released to see if they could be recaptured in a nearby portable, actinic trap; a so-called Mark, Release, Recapture (MRR) test. I have quoted the full abstract below, but in essence the experiment suggests that moths from different families are attracted at quite different ranges and that even for those flying within a metre of the light the proportion becoming trapped was significantly different in each family.

In terms of the first of these, erebids (the family including Snouts, Herald, Straw Dot etc.) had a range of 27m, measured in terms of a minimum 5% recapture limit(i.e. beyond 27m the fraction of moths recaptured dipped below 5% of those released). In contrast, Noctuids had only a 10m radius for the same 5% limit for recapture.

In terms of the second, of moths flying within 1 metre of the trap 55% of erebids were recaught, but only 10% of noctuids and 15% of geometrids. It’s also worth mentioning that the experiment was conducted in two locations – woodland and open space – and that moths were released from the same radii at different angles round the trap (N, S, E, W etc.). The direction round the trap had some small wind-speed effects, but the traps in (dark) wooded areas had much better recovery rates pointing to the negative effect on recapture of extraneous light in the atmosphere (and see also here for another paper which has demonstrated the quite severe effect on breeding success of light for geometrids).

So what does all this tell me? Well, first that it’s still fun to trap moths! … but also that I may need to be more cautious about drawing conclusions about the relative density of particular species in the area. It is about 10m from the space at the back of my house to the end of the garden and hence if noctuids’ range is about this distance that will be telling me the numbers that are in, or flying over/close to my garden itself. On the other hand, if erebids and geometrids are more likely to be pulled in from distances of 25m+, I’m likely to be gathering these moths from the local surroundings, which for me include a number of mature trees and shrubs. Moreover, of the moths coming close-in to the light the noctuids may be under-represented in terms of numbers compared to other families. Nonetheless, it’s worth also being aware that the experiment was conducted with a low-wattage actinic lamp and I run a high wattage MV bulb, so it may well be different. Moreover, as Merckx and Slade note:

[C]are must be taken in relating the abundance of the sample to absolute local abundance. Frequent sampling can provide adequate data on relative temporal change in the local macro-moth fauna, however.

As we enter the end of the year I’m looking forward to reviewing my catches from 2017 and comparing them to 2016 … but with appropriate care in terms of my conclusions.



Merckx, T., & Slade, E. M. (2014). Macro-moth families differ in their attraction to light: implications for light-trap monitoring programmes. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 7(5), 453-461. doi:10.1111/icad.12068

Abstract. 1. Light traps are used to make inferences about local macro-moth
communities, but very little is known about the efficiency with which they
attract moths from varying distances, and how this may differ among families.
2. We released 731 marked individuals, from three of the most common and
species-rich macro-moth families, at several distances from low-wattage actinic
light traps in open and woodland habitat.
3. Logistic regression showed family-specific sampling areas: erebids were
attracted from up to 27 m, geometrids from up to 23 m, and noctuids from up
to 10 m from the light source, with these distances corresponding to a 5%
recapture rate. Sampling size was also family-specific: a maximum of 55% of
erebids, 15% of geometrids, and 10% of noctuids were predicted to be trapped
when flying near (0–1 m) light traps.
4. Our study demonstrates that weak light traps: (i) have remarkably local
sampling ranges, resulting in samples that are highly representative of the local
habitat, and (ii) attract small, and family-specific proportions of individuals
within these ranges.
5. We suggest that the local sampling ranges of weak light traps make them
excellent tools to monitor nocturnal macro-moth communities. As trap efficiency
differs among macro-moth families, care must be taken in relating the
abundance of the sample to absolute local abundance. Frequent sampling can
provide adequate data on relative temporal change in the local macro-moth
fauna, however.

A quick update …

After a long, frantic period at work I finally found the combination of time and dry weather to set the trap a few times. The strong winds of the last few weeks, with storm Brian bringing warm air up from Africa and Southern Europe, have disappeared and with them many of the rare moths that have been cropping up all over the Southern half of the country. Having missed all the action I was still optimistic of catching something rare … but lady luck was not on my side.

Nonetheless, there were a few immigrant moths. The best was this beautiful Vestal:

The fieldguide notes that the colour of the moth is dependent on the temperature to which the pupa was exposed, with warm straw colours such as this one associated with cooler (relatively) temperatures. Warmer pupae tend to develop as paler moths with brighter pink-ish stripes. I suspect, therefore, that this one was from somewhere in the Southern France area, rather than further south in African climes.

It might well have blown north with the second migrant, this beautiful silver Y. I just love the subtle colours of this moth …


The remaining moths are less interesting in terms of journeys travelled but are wonderful in terms of the way they reflect the Autumnal colours that are everywhere around us. The damp weather brings out the greens and browns of tree trunks and the sparkle of water droplets and wet leaves and, with them, the moths at this time of year are similar hues and patterns.

Examples are plentiful but here I have Cypress Carpet, imitating the bark of a Cypress tree …


… this November moth (agg.) uses a similar pattern to blend into the browns of Autumn leaves …

… Spruce Carpet, again looking for all the world like the pattern on the bark of an evergreen of some sort …

… more splendidly, the shining green and brown of this Green-brindled Crescent which fits perfectly into a damp tree canopy …

… and finally, my favourite, the wonderfully named Merveille du Jour which one would be hard pressed to see hidden in a patch of moss …


The only other moth of note was this micro, new for the garden, which is Phyllonorycter messaniella:

With work easing off just a little in the next few days, I’m hoping to add to this tally and pull in some more of these Autumnal moths.

Insects update

We’ve had a sustained spell of quite wet and windy weather, though with sunny spells, if you can find them, punctuating the cloud in places. I’ve not even set the moth trap – though I did miss one potentially good, muggy night and was kicking myself. Even so, insects are still on the move, as are the birds with swallows making their way slowly south. I walked the dog on Orcombe Point this morning and four juveniles were hawking for prey over the top field, hanging motionless in the strong wind and then wheeling and diving with consummate skill. Meanwhile, in the estuary, the Dawlish Warren website was reporting a Grey Phalarope in the Bight, perhaps epitomising the stormy nature of the weather. Nonetheless, Matt has also found three Portland Ribbon Waves in a local site, attracted to overnight security lights, suggesting that there might be a colony nearby – see his post about them here.

Meanwhile, whilst I’ve seen nothing out of the ordinary in terms of moths, I’m still finding bees and hoverflies. This Bombus lapidarius (Red-tailed BB) was enjoying a bit of sun at the weekend in our garden.

Though it’s faded slightly in the sun, it still retains much of its red colour, the males, such as this, being more orangey than the queens and workers in the first place. Meanwhile, back on Orcombe, Common Carder Bees (Bombus pascuorum) remain active.

The lower photo shows how variable the colouring can be. Though the thorax is usually chestnut brown/orange with pale sides, from the reading I’ve done the abdomen can have varying amounts of pale, but always at least some black hairs. This separates them from the much rarer Brown-banded (B. humilis) and Moss (B. muscorum) carders both of which have only pale hairs on the abdomen. Even in windy, damp weather these bees are still active, nectaring on the few flowers remaining, the farmer having cut the hay in the main National Trust fields last week.  It felt a bit early to me, with some flowers still out, but I guess that farmers must take advantage of dry weather and, to be fair, he’d obviously been looking at the forecast!

My other find this weekend was a new species of hoverfly – new to me that is, not to science, it being a common one nationally.

This is Rhingia campestris. It’s one of two species in the genus Rhingia, both of which, uniquely, have the same, extended rostrum – the long ‘nose’ containing the proboscis, allowing it to feed on deep flowers. It’s relatively common across the whole of the British Isles and bivoltine – two brood generations – with the second coming to an end now. As with all the hoverflies it’s easily overlooked if you are not actively searching for them.

But then that’s true of so much, isn’t it? Seeing is easy; it’s noticing that’s difficult.