Stripes are in Vogue

As featured in the latest issue of BQ magazine

Its early October and the insects of Warwick Gardens are so excited – it’s time for the annual Autumn Fete. The grasshoppers are fat and fully grown and the mottled shield bugs are finally adults after several moults, whilst the Roesel’s bush-crickets, whose love songs kept up the spirits of Summer, can barely wheeze after weeks of wooing. The long grass is faded and falling over and the blackberries have been picked. Thankfully the green alkanet, a Trojan of the plant world, is still opening its blue flowers to everyone. It is time for one last party before the winter sets in. And as usual the Fete will be held at the most popular bar in the park – the Ivy Bush – currently in full flower and offering free nectar and pollen on tap.

This year there is a fashion show for the pollinators and the theme is stripes. There is a real buzz in the bush as the designers step up onto the stage.

Lesser hornet hoverfly – Volucella inanis

First up are Diptera & Gabbana presenting their new ‘Bella Volucella’ plus-sized range. The lesser hornet hoverfly showed off an elegant bodycon frock in light orange and black striped suede with a shiny black and chestnut patterned collar. Everyone loved their creation and applauded the designers for their inclusivity.

German wasp – Vespula germanica

Next up is Vivienne Waspwood waving a placard shouting ‘God Save the Pollinators’. Having spent years dressing the individualistic ichneumon wasps in her retro punk black leather-look catsuits she finally had a chance to bring in some colour and produce a uniform for the social wasps: black and daffodil yellow stripes with a few dots and a scanty black hairy ruff. Everyone cheered except for the tiny flies who flew away in fear of being eaten.

Ivy bee – Colletes hederae

Ivy Saint Laurent chose to dress the ivy bee. A sleek black and beige striped pencil skirt with a massive furry stole in rich caramel. The other insects oohed and aah’d at the sheer beauty of her, as they had only seen her a couple of times since she arrived from France a few years ago. The stylish design was one step up from the honey bee deemed rather dull at last years’ show.

Holly blue – Celastrina argiolus

Then Galliano rocked up with a butterfly. He hadn’t read the brief and presented a holly blue. Not a stripe in sight, but a thin white border around the lustrous blue ombre wings. To the audience this was a breath of fresh air – the stripes were getting confusing and all too similar.

Wasp spider – Argiope bruennichi

Meanwhile down amongst the grasses is the circus of wasp spiders who have been dressed by Gaultier, flamboyant in cream and lemon yellow stripes outlined in black. They have spent the night spinning their famously chaotic webs with its striking zig-zag pattern ready for the classic game of Catch The Grasshopper. As for the grasshoppers they are enjoying outwitting the spiders with spectacular leaps and bounds over the webs, though occasionally one mis-steps and gets quickly pounced on and wrapped up in silk.

It was a day to remember. And now to look forward to spring.

“The things nightmares are made of….”

That is the comment my friend Keeley Von Spambot posted on my Facebook status when I stated I was off to check the wasp spider in my park hadn’t been squashed by a football! Wasp. Spider. Two insects that put the wind up most people. In the press recently there have been scare stories about “deadly” false widow spiders, and the killer Asian hornets poised to jump the Channel and kill all our honey bees. False widow spiders are ‘… no more dangerous than eating a peanut. But quite often alarming headlines are used to draw people in.’ Bad press invades. We have no deadly spiders in the UK. The Asian hornet scenario, though, is rather real… even Defra have put out a nationwide warning.

Wasp spider Argiope bruennichi

Wasp spider Argiope bruennichi

Meanwhile… in Warwick Gardens I have found a Wasp spider. One of our prettiest spiders, it arrived in the UK in the 1920s and has slowly established itself in the southern counties. This is the second time I have seen one in the park. There has been a gap of 4 years since the last sighting – hence why I am super-excited! They build large orb webs in grassland and heathland. Our wasp spider has built her web low down in the grass, stretched between a nettle stem and a leaf of green alkanet. Their distinctive web has a wide, white zig-zag strip running down the middle, known as a ‘stabilimentum‘. Mating is a dangerous game for males; they wait at the edge of the web until the female has moulted into a mature form, then take advantage of her jaws being soft and rush in to mate. However, many males still get eaten during this time. The female attaches her silk egg-sacs to the grasses.

At the weekend the local boys come out to play football in the park, dangerously near to where the wasp spider sits. I have to hover in the background trying not to draw attention to our little lady hanging tightly onto her web. I couldn’t bear her being squashed by a stray kick…