Wednesday, 9 July 2014

All The Small Things

I am Very Keen on the minutiae in our garden and this year have been running a garden survey with the aim of noting down everything that I see there. Ispot has been a fantastic resource for this, proving instant access to some very knowledgeable people who have given identifications for tiny wee insects I would have been struggling to id for years otherwise.

The total number of species in our garden (and that's everything from plants to newts to birds to butterflies, including plants we've introduced) currently stands at 588, divided thusly:

Birds- 31
Plants- 248
Butterflies- 15
Moths- 209
Amphibians- 3
Molluscs- 8
Mammals- 6
Bees- 7
Other invertebrate- 68

It's a really interesting project to run; it can take up as much or as little of your time as you want to give it (although if you're like me you'll get Quite Obsessed and spend much of your spare time crawling on your hands and knees staring at blades of grass with camera in one hand and pen and paper in the other, while your tongue sticks out between your teeth in concentration and your husband falls about laughing as you try to capture a wiggly insect on film). 

It makes no difference whether your garden is huge or tiny. You'll find insects in a plant pot or under a stone in any garden, and pollinators will of course fly in to flowers anywhere, and birds will come to feeders, and butterflies to nectar sources etc etc....

I have learnt a HUGE amount by studying the flora and fauna in our garden and firmly believe that this is the best way to reverse the trend in extinctions and population losses that our wild things have been subject to over the last century. 
This kind of Citizen Science is the way forward - it provides VAST amounts of data in very quick time to organisations that would otherwise take years to pull together a similar mass of information; it doesn't have to wait for Governments to pull their finger out and pass laws; it doesn't have to wait for scientific arguments to be settled and the latest theory to be examined: it can simply get on with making things better for wildlife immediately. 

The truth is that if we all made even a few small changes to our gardens we could provide an ENORMOUS cache of food and breeding resources for a great many creatures. Better still, if we can persuade our neighbours to join us then we would create huge wildlife corridors linking up all round the country which would help combat the threat that isolated pockets of populations face.

There is another reason to do all of the above as well: it's extremely good for the soul. If you've had a crappy day there is nothing more cheering, restorative and soothing than wandering around your garden looking at flowers and watching butterflies or buzzy people nectaring on them. It is (and I say this with authority) even better at soothing, lightening and restoring the spirit than a glass of strong gin and tonic at the end of a long day :-)

Before I stop rabbiting and get to the pictures, there is one more thing I want to say. Well, it's more of a plea, really, and it's come about precisely because I have been spending so much time studying All The Small Things and it is this: flies are not all disgusting or dangerous. They won't all sting or bite and they don't all have horrible habits. My attitude to flies has undergone a sea-change in recent weeks. We don't generally know enough about the creatures that we share this planet with and wherever possible I am trying to give buzzing things the benefit of the doubt. It's too easy to be frightened of them and squash them when most of them are harmless, and even those that do sting usually won't unless they are themselves frightened. 

Nature does something called Batesian Mimicry, which is essentially when a harmless creature borrows the appearance of one that stings or carries poison. Hover flies are a great example of this. They pretend to be bees or wasps but they aren't, only they don't realise that looking like a wasp makes you appear dangerous to people, and if you're dangerous to a person and you are an animal, watch out!
What I'm trying to say (in a rather long-winded way) is not everything that looks like a wasp behaves like a wasp so we don't really need to act around them as we would around waspies.

PS- I know that many of you who read the blog already know all of this and garden for wildlife with fantastic results, so thanks for bearing with me. I just feel very strongly about helping nature and getting the message over that even a small space with a few crucial changes such as growing flowers of veg or adding a water source can make a significant difference to wildlife :-)

Right, I will now stop Going On and show you some illustrations of what is to be found in the average garden space.... These are the insects today...wild flowers will follow in a separate post.

Harlequin Ladybird Larvae (our clematis was crawling with them)
14 spot ladybird larvae (ditto for the clematis)

cream-streaked ladybird larvae

Harlequin ladybird pupa

harlequin ladybird pupa after the ladybird has come out

Early Instar (developmental stage) Dock Bug
Yellow Shell moth (flew in through the back door. A day-flying moth)

White-legged snake millipede
Heliophilus pendulus (type of hover fly. Harmless)

Mirid (plagiognathus arbustorum)
Early instar Dock Bug
Marsh Fly (Sciomyzidae). They characteristically rest head-down like this and frequent anywhere there's water nearby.

Rhopalid bug (Rhopalus subrufus possibly)
Kentish Snail
Kentish Snail again

Common Earwig (they like to nibble flowers, especially dahlias!)
Mining bee. Look out for these characteristic little mounds of earth with a perfect round hole in your lawn. If you're lucky you'll see the little bee inside staring up at you!

And a new flutter in the garden today....The Gatekeeper...

If you do decide to have a go a garden survey I'd love to hear what you find.

Have a nice evening all. I'm off to look at Wildflowers on our nearest chalk downland, part two of a course I started last week....

CT :-)


  1. Some great finds! I love those kentish snails. I've been noticing bugs in the garden a lot lately too - I've really got in to insects over the last few months and am identifying everything I find myself and learning lots! I've been following a tree wasps nest in a bird box too :)

    I found a little moth yesterday and have had no success identifying it so far. I thought perhaps you may know?! I'll have to put the photo up on my blog soon.

    1. Fascinating about your tree wasps :-) Yes do put the moth on your blog and I'll have a look (although if it's a micro your guess will probably be as good as mine!) :-)

    2. I recently signed up on twitter for access to more nature related info so put it up there last night... here's the pic

    3. Have left you a comment on your blog...It's a Eudonia of some sort :-)

  2. A lovely post. One of the reasons that I started to garden was after watching a Sarah Raven documentary about attracting pollinators into the garden. It coincided with Olly toddling around the garden.
    Apart from what I get out of it (which is all of the above), he gets a lot out of it too. He will happily sit amongst bees other flyers. Their sound and movements don't faze him at all. He usually finds the most interesting bugs, because he is closest to the ground and isn't at all squeamish. He visits the bug hotel daily to see what he can find, and quite often brings it into the kitchen to show me. I think it's so important that we get into our gardens with the little ones and teach them to be familiar with all insects. It fosters understanding and respect for creatures that are often maligned.
    Leanne xx

    1. I think educating and familiarising children to the outdoors and all the things big and small that call it home is vital if we're to ensure everything survives in the future. Wonderful that Olly isn't at all worried by the small things and even more that he is fascinated and brings them in to show you. What a great grounding he is having in nature - something that I'm sure will always be with him in one way or another. Well done you xx

  3. Definitely worth saying about sparing the little creatures. Reinforced just now on the Hampton Court Flower Show programme. Every insect has a purpose and is valuable to the garden and the eco system.

    Jean x

    1. That's very interesting about Hampton Court- I'm so pleased these things are getting the attention and support they so richly deserve and need. Small things have suffered from people's squeamishness for too long. As with everything, it's all about exposure and learning. And as you so rightly say, we're all interconnected one way or another and we should look after everything better than we do. xx

  4. I like the snails, well everything, but the Kentish snail shell is so pretty - the dock bug is interesting too. I love to walk in the countryside, as we have lots of it here, including the Bay of Fundy and pause here n there just looking at and enjoying all the critters Mother Nature has so splendidly layed before us. Kinda cool and its fun to visit your Blog and learn all about these and more. Have a wonderful day :) We have power now, but many still do not and may not till next week, with Storm Arthur that passed through our area. First time ever we felt worst effects of hurricane - usually they just come up the coast and go out into the Bay - not this one. Cheers.

    1. Glad you enjoyed all the small people. Have just read your post about Arthur- my goodness, that was some storm! Very glad you are OK and undamaged :-)

  5. Some great finds there CT. Its wonderful how many species you can see in a garden if you take the time to look :)

    1. That's so true. I'm sure I have barely touched the tip of the ice berg in terms of insects here. I've learnt a lot from them this year :-)

  6. Great photos, love the Kentish snail and the Gatekeeper, so many little bugs can been seen in our gardens, I guess we just have to find the time to look for them.
    Just one thing, please, please don't do a post on spiders!!!!! I'm really not a lover of spiders!!

    1. I promise I will not do a spider post as I'm not overly keen myself! I may add the odd photo of smaller ones but will warn you in the title....:-)

  7. Lovely set of tiny things! I've not seen a Gatekeeper yet - seems a bit quiet on the butterfly front here apart from promiscious female Small Whites upending their abdomens at any passing male.... (or is it the other way round, I dunno, haven't studied butterfly sex really!)

    1. The Gatekeepers have only just arrived but seem to be doing well, like everything else this year :-)

  8. Lovely post, great list so far and good photos..I have seen a Gatekeeper in the past but not this year so far, I'm so wanting to find a Dock bug after seeing one on JJ blog, then Mandy found one in France and now you , they look soooo cute.
    Amanda xx

    1. Gatekeepers have just started to emerge here this week so hopefully you'll see one before long. I know they are more common in the South but was just reading that they are extending their range Northwards, which is good news x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x