Posted by: Ross Gardner | March 8, 2014

The Hibernating Entomologist

Ah yes, a proper spring day.  The gentle warmth; the lifting of the birdsong in the woods; the days slowly lengthening towards the clocks going forward.  And there is something else…… the awakening of the entomologist in me; the opening  of that eye for the small things, that over the winter opens only slightly, to the flicker of occasional moth wings or the chance sighting of a shield bug or spider hardy enough to venture out if the winter sun shines strongly enough on their little corner of the world.  Okay, perhaps things that are not everybody’s cup of tea, but here begins the steady surge of life towards that burgeoning later in the season, no matter how it might waver with any returning inclemency.  And who doesn’t love to see the first of the year’s butterflies fluttering over the shoulder?

Today brought its butterflies, Peacock in fact, warmed sufficiently to be only glimpsed racing past, rather than basking and eager for heat.  But another creature provided the inspiration for this particular post.  I was out on a small patch of heathland, a clearing among birch trees and stunted oaks.  I was actually Adder hunting, but I have noted many times before that when scouring intently for something, one will always learn something else about a place.  I did find a snake, a young female that soon sloped of into the undergrowth, but before then my eye had been drawn to the movement of a small insect, flying low over the ground, frequently settling to bask on the browned oak leaves scattering the edge of the clearing.  It was a mining-bee.  Not a small one, as mining-bees go, probably about 15mm in length and distinctively hairy.  I recognised it as an Andrena, a very difficult group for identification, but this one with its long hairs and striking colouration (note the orange hairs of the pollen basket on the hind leg) I am fairly confident to say was Andrena clarkella.  It is a species of AndrenaA. fulva (the Tawny Mining-bee) – that is reasonable for those little volcanoes that we find appearing on our lawns in the spring – the ‘mines’ into which their eggs are laid and which give the insects their popular name.  I had seen such an excavation in the sandy soil shortly before discovering insect itself.

So yes, here is the spring and with it the unfolding world of little things.

A mining-bee (Andrena clarkella).  Copyright 2014 Ross Gardner

A mining-bee (Andrena clarkella). Copyright 2014 Ross Gardner

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