Spring is finally here. Flowers are blooming and the recent warm weather has brought out the hairy-footed flower bees, the queen bumblebees, an assortment of solitary bees and the bee-fly. The bee-fly Bombylius major is a comical looking insect – a fluffy body, long proboscis and long spindly legs – and can be seen daintily hovering around Warwick Gardens. A bumblebee mimic, they are the one insect that is most enquired about on the East Dulwich Forum… ‘What is it… is it a bee?’ What is that weird looking insect?’. Its a bee-fly.
They have a preference for low growing flowers. In Warwick Gardens they feed on green alkanet, whereas in Peckham Rye Park you will find them enjoying the grape hyacinth in the ornamental garden. Although they are cute-looking their larvae tell another story. They parasitise larvae of solitary wasps and bees. Female bee-flies predate mining bees by dropping their eggs from the air in Dambuster style, or by flicking their eggs into the tunnels of bee nests. Once in the tunnel, the egg hatches and the larvae find their way into the nests to feed on the grubs. Bee-flies are out and about until June, unless they come to an unfortunate end at the jaws of a crab spider!
Of all the insects I have photographed in Warwick Gardens moths have been sadly lacking in my species count. Most moths are nocturnal. I have photographed daytime fliers – everything from grass moths, clearwings and the ubiquitous Jersey Tiger moth. I needed to sit in the park at night time with a light which somewhat scared me in the middle of Peckham. The solution was to hold a social event – I advertised a Moth Night. So with help from my friends Lou, who came along with lights and a structure to hold a white sheet, and Simon who allowed a long extension lead from his kitchen, we hunkered down with a crate of beer, some books on moths and a camera, and waited for the skies to darken. The turnout was surprising… about 20 of us humans enjoying a balmy evening, sitting on the logs drinking beer and staring at a white sheet waiting to see what arrived. We initially got the lighting wrong and replaced the white lights with a light used for screen printing. Then all hell broke loose – we were bombarded with everything! Bugs, ladybirds, mosquitoes, flies…. and some moths. The moths were mainly small and spectacularly brown, except for the beautiful yellow Brimstone moth. It was hilarious watching everyone scrabble around trying to catch them in jars. Thanks to Mike, who knew something about moths, we were able to identify a few of our finds and I was adding to my species count. We were also visited by a rather gorgeous leafhopper Ledra aurita, which was so bizarre to look at it had us all laughing, and a funky Acorn weevil popped by to bask in the light. And just as we were packing up at midnight a lovely Broad-bordered yellow underwing landed. Moths rock!
We all had a great time. We all learned something new and we all want to do it again. Peckham Moth Night #2 will happen in September.