How to Identify Common British Butterflies
Do you know your red admiral from your peacock? Or your meadow brown from your tortoiseshell? Get to know and identify the most common British butterflies with our handy butterfly guide:
The gatekeeper butterfly is found around hedgerows and in clumps of flowers around gateways, hence its name. Its wings are orange with a brown border. There’s also a black eyespot on each forewing with two white pupils on each.
The red admiral has brown or black wings with red bands towards the edges. Little white spots can also be seen at the tips of the forewings. This is a butterfly that can be found in wide variety of habitats – gardens, town centres, seashores and mountain tops!
One of our more understated butterflies, the meadow brown is brown with an orange tint. It has two eyespots near the tip of the forewings, with just one pupil in each.
The small white has bright white wings. The forewings have small black tips and a few black spots. Underneath, wings are creamy white. The large white is very similar – just slightly bigger and with a larger spot on the forewings.
Peacock butterflies are as striking as their avian namesakes. Mainly red but with vibrant eyespots on all wings, they’re a regular and easily recognisable garden visitor.
The comma butterfly is orange with brown spots. Its wings are scalloped making it look a little ragged. This butterfly gets its name from a small silvery comma shape which you can just about spot on the underside of its wing.
The small tortoiseshell can be seen almost all year round in urban areas. It has right orange and black wings, the bottom edges of which are fringed with blue spots. Another distinguishing feature is a white spot at the tip of the forewing.
Common blues are delicate looking butterflies, usually found in grassy habitats. Males have blue wings with a brown and white border. Females tend to be brown in colour. They have a touch of blue close to their bodies and a speckled pattern at the bottom edge of their wings.
Often found in woodland, but in gardens and hedgerows too, the speckled wood butterfly is mainly dark brown in colour. It has creamy white patches on its wings, designed to act as camouflage in the dappled sunlight of forest habitats.
- Nikki Boxwild
6 Interesting British Insects to Spot in your Garden
Here are a few interesting British insects you can try to spot in your garden this year:
Common Darter Dragonfly
If you have a pond in your garden, you might be lucky enough to spot the common darter dragonfly. This species is very common in England, Ireland and Wales but less so in Scotland. Males have a red body. Females and juveniles have a pale green brown body. And you’re most likely to see them from June through to November.
Lacewings are a very beautiful and delicate looking insects. They have bright green bodies and lacy, transparent wings. They feed on aphids and other small insect pests, making them a firm friend of gardeners. Make them at home in your garden by providing a bug hotel, perfect for winter hibernation.
The magpie moth has striking markings. Wings are white with black spots and yellow stripes. It can be found throughout the UK (apart from the far north) from June to August. Adults drink nectar. When they’re in the caterpillar stage they love to feed on blackthorn, hawthorn and gooseberry bushes.
Ruby Tailed Wasp
Unlike the common black and yellow variety, these wasps have a ruby red abdomen and metallic colouring across the rest of the body. You’re most likely to find them running over walls and tree trunks from April to September as they look for the nests of solitary bees. Once they’ve found the perfect spot, they lay their eggs alongside those of the bee. Hatched larvae then eat the bee’s eggs before emerging from the nest in the spring.
The froghopper is a small, brown insect with the ability to jump many times its own length, sometimes up to 70cm. Their larvae can be found on plant stems, covered in a frothy coating. Larvae produce this froth to protect themselves from predators as they feed on leaves and shoots. Froghoppers are most often seen between June and September.
Stag beetles are the largest beetles in the UK. They can be found in the woodland and gardens of South East England from May to August. The stag beetle’s impressive head gear is used to attract a mate and to fight off rival males. Unfortunately, the stag beetle population has declined over recent years. We can help by providing logs and compost heaps in which they can hide, feed and breed.
So keep an eye out for these less common garden bugs this summer. And, create your own bug habitats if you’d like to attract more them.
How to Choose an Insect House
Insects are an essential part of the food chain. Some garden-friendly insects can also lend a hand to gardeners. Bees and butterflies help to pollinate our plants. Ladybirds and lacewings eat aphids. They’re an important part of any garden eco-system.
Well-kept gardens don’t always provide the damp, dark hiding places that bugs love to live in. But, even if you don’t want to place a pile of rotting wood or leaf litter in a corner of your garden, you can still provide a welcoming habitat for insects.
Many creepy crawlies will set up home in an insect house. These small and attractive garden additions allow you to look after your garden bugs without compromising on aesthetics. If you’d like to install an insect house in your garden, here are a few tips on what you should be looking for:
A Variety of Hidey Holes
Different insects look for different things in a home. Ladybirds like to hibernate in amongst dead wood. Lacewings look for a place with separated chambers. Solitary bees like hollow tubes that imitate the plant stems in which they usually lay their eggs. Your insect house should provide a variety of different sized holes, nooks and crannies if you’re to attract a wide selection of insects.
When choosing an insect house, you need to look for a sturdy structure that can stand up to the British weather. A roof needs to protect internal nooks and crannies from the rain – insect houses can be damp but not wet. You should also be able to secure your insect house to a wall or fence – you don’t want it to blow away in the wind.
Made from A Variety of Natural Materials
You’re much more likely to attract residents to your insect house if it’s made from natural materials. Bugs tend to look for homes that resemble their natural habitats. Wood and muted colours are a must. You can also look for insect houses that incorporate a number of different natural materials – pine cones, wood bark and straw are all appealing to different insect species.
Once you’ve chosen your insect house, be sure to place it in a cool, shady place that offers plenty of cover from predators. Fix the box firmly to a tree trunk, wall or post and wait for your garden creepy crawlies to take up residence. If it’s in the right place, your insect house should be full of life within a week or two.
What do Butterflies like to Eat?
Butterflies are welcome visitors in any garden. They help to pollinate plants and look beautiful to boot. If you’re keen to create your own butterfly garden, you need to know just what these colourful insects like to eat.
Butterflies eat (or drink) through their proboscis – a tube that works a bit like a straw. But they actually taste using their feet! Here are a few of their favourite foods:
The butterfly’s primary source of food is nectar. It gets nectar from plants and flowers. Butterflies prefer to visit flowers that are placed in a sunny but sheltered spot. If you’re planting your garden with butterflies in mind, try to include plants that flower throughout the season. That way you can provide a reliable supply of food from spring to early autumn.
A few nectar-rich plants you could consider for your garden include:
Verbena – This is a tall plant with lots of purple flowers on wiry stems.
Hebe – This is a reliable shrub all year round, with flowers that attract butterflies in the summer.
Perennial Wallflower – This plant produces pretty purple flowers from spring until autumn.
Buddleia – Known as the “butterfly bush”, buddleia comes in a number of colours and flowers in July and August.
Marjoram – This is a perennial herb that can grow to 80cm tall. White, pink or purple flowers grow from June to September.
Butterflies love a sweet treat. And in the autumn months, a sugary boost can help to keep them fit and healthy. If you want to provide your butterflies with an autumnal feast, leave out an overripe banana. Alternatively, if you have fruit trees in your garden, leave fallen fruit on the ground. Butterflies seem to have a particular taste for pears, plums and apples.
Butterflies are often sleepy when they first wake from their cocoons or from hibernation in the spring. If you come across a butterfly struggling to get going, you can prepare a boiled then cooled mix of sugar and water. Use a brightly coloured sponge to soak up the solution. A butterfly will take sips from it and get the boost it needs to take flight.
The glucose in nectar and fruit give butterflies their energy. But butterflies also require other nutrients. That’s why you may sometimes see them crowded around a muddy puddle. By sipping from the puddle they take in minerals and salts from the soil, which are thought to be important for reproduction.
By including a few of these food sources in your garden, you can attract butterflies for the whole of the season, making your garden into a festival of colour and life.
- Nikki Boxwild
Best Father’s Day Gifts for a Birdwatching Dad
In 2018 Father’s Day falls on Sunday 17th June. So now’s the time to start gift-hunting. If your dad is a keen birdwatcher, there are some great presents out there. Show him how much you care with these Father’s Day gifts, all perfect for bird-obsessed dads.
Any birdwatcher worth their salt will own a pair of binoculars. But find out whether your dad’s pair offer the best magnification and lens size. You could treat him to a state-of-the-art pair of birding binoculars to take his hobby to the next level.
Bird Feeding Gift Box
Let your dad enjoy his twitching hobby from the comfort of his own home. With a bird feeder gift box he can attract a wide variety of birds to his garden. You could even set up a bird seed subscription so he receives seasonal seed blends throughout the year – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Bird Watching Day Out
Why not book a trip for two to a local wildlife reserve? Your dad will be able to spot a wide variety of bird species and enjoy some quality time with you to boot.
Bird of Prey Experience
Perhaps your dad would like to get up close to some of the biggest birds in the UK. Take him on a bird of prey experience (there are tons of options around the country). Depending on where you choose, he could have the option to fly eagles, falcons or owls and learn all about these top avian predators.
If your dad likes to photograph the birds that he comes across, he might appreciate some new camera equipment. A new tripod, a new lens or just a fancy new camera case could be just the ticket.
Birdwatching Books or Apps
There are plenty of great books out there for birdwatchers. Many offer a comprehensive guide to identifying birds in the UK. And if your dad is a little more tech-savvy, you could treat him to a birdwatching app for his smartphone instead. These interactive guides offer recordings of bird song, bird identifying tools and the option to record bird sightings too.
Whether your dad is a budding birdwatcher or a dedicated twitcher, he’s sure to love one of these fantastic Father’s Day gifts.
9 Interesting Facts about Bees
As the weather warms up, bees make a welcome return to our gardens. These buzzing insects are incredibly important to the planet’s ecosystems. They pollinate flowers and food for humans and other animals, meaning they occupy a crucial role within the food chain.
Here are 9 more interesting facts about bees:
#1 There are several hundred different varieties of bee in the UK. They may be social (living in hives) or solitary (nesting alone). Some sting and some don’t. And they occupy a wide variety of different habitats.
#2 Bees are responsible for pollinating a huge proportion of the food we eat. Fruit, chocolate, coffee – all of these items rely on bees. In fact, according to Friends of the Earth, it would cost British farmers £1.8billion a year to pollinate their crops without them.
#3 Bumblebees emerge from hibernation in the springtime. But they may be sluggish after their long sleep. If you find a sleepy bee, vets advise leaving some sugary water in a spoon so bees can take a sip and get the energy boost they need to take flight.
#4 The average worker honeybee produces just 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
#5 Bees rack up some pretty impressive stats. They flap their wings about 200 times every second. They visit up to 2,000 flowers in a single day. And honeybees fly approximately 500 miles during a lifetime.
#6 Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 different bee species. There are currently 35 species at threat of extinction. It’s thought that loss of habitat, disease, pesticides and pollution could all be to blame.
#7 Planting nectar-rich flowers in your garden provides food for your local bee population. Ideally you should pick a variety of plants and try to maximise your garden’s flowering season.
#8 A bee hotel can provide the perfect nesting spot for solitary bees. It should be placed in full sun and at least a metre off the ground.
#9 The EU recently announced that by the end of 2018 it will have banned bee-harming insecticides. These widely-used pesticides protect crops but are also thought to have a negative effect on bees. It’s hoped that the ban will help reverse the decline in bee populations seen over recent years.
Bees are amazing creatures. But they’re currently facing some tough challenges. If you’d like to help, try creating a bee-friendly garden at home.
- Nikki Boxwild