Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 31, 2012

An unlikely beetle

Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis). Ross Gardner

It is an odd thing to find longhorn beetles crawling about on the furniture beneath the stairs.  Especially as the beastie in question shouldn’t emerge in its adult state until May at the earliest!

The Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis) is one of the more common of the British longorns and decent wasp mimic, as the name would suggest.  As larvae, they spend a couple of years feeding within the dead wood of a wide range of trees.  The adults emerge during late-spring, after which they are a frequent sight sunbathing on wooden posts, logs, etc, or feeding on pollen, particularly that of umbelliferous plants, such as Cow Parsley and Hogweed.

What then, it would be reasonably enquire, was it doing in my house at the end of January?  I suspect the answer would begin on the east coast of Suffolk.  We have just enjoyed a long weekend staying beside the Walberswick nature reserve, an 810 hectare expanse of reed-bed, marshland, heath, scrub and wet woodland.  It is a place where one rather expects the sight of Marsh Harrier rising from cover and quartering languidly over the reeds and where the ‘pinging’ of Bearded Tits will often be heard.  We found Marsh Tit and Siskin among the Alders and were thrilled at the sight of 3000 odd starlings preparing to roost.

Walberswick National Nature Reserve, Suffolk. Ross Gardner

But what of our beetle?  Our accommodation included a very efficient log-burner and a ready supply of firewood.  It seems very possible that the beetle had been living indoors as a larva in some piece of wood that had remained unburnt, before emerging into the artificial warmth inside the cottage (maintained by the storage heaters) mimicking the warming climes of spring.  All it would then have needed to do to appear miraculously back in South Essex was to hitch a ride undetected inside or on a bag while we were packing to come.

Not all emergencies that I have heard about lately have occurred under such contrived circumstances.  My brother reported on two occasions at the same site near Southend in Essex, seeing a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) nectaring on winter flowering garden shrubs, with the temperature never topping a meagre 6 degrees Celsius.  I have recorded early queens flying in 8 or 9 degrees, but to be active with the temperature peaking, as it did one day, at 4 degrees is somewhat remarkable.  Certainly one tough bee!

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