Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 1, 2021

Garden flowers, caterpillars and bees

Purple Toadflax and an attendant bumblebee

Purple toadflax (Linaria purpuria) is a widespread plant in the UK. Familiar it may well be too. It is often a plant of the waysides – of the hedgebank or the wasteground. Just as much, it can be a plant of the garden, urban or rural and everything in between. Such habits smack of the opportunist, which is very much what this plant is. It is not a native to these shores, being a species indigenous to Italy, but which has long escaped as an exotic from the garden and become firmly naturalised across the greater part of the UK. Some may well regard it as weed. I (as I suspect many others do) rather like it, with its generous spikes of eponymously coloured flowers.

Among the many around my locality, it grows in my parents Essex garden. Much appreciated it is too, by the bumblebees that seem drawn to the flowers for as long as they are in bloom. Indeed, it was an eagerly foraging early-nesting bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) that led to the discovery of another creature that prompted the subject matter of this post. Stretched out along the stems were two strikingly marked caterpillars, which judging by the rather threadbare look of some of the leaves had evidently been enjoying a decent day’s munching.

Toadflax Brocade – caterpillar

They were larvae of the toadflax brocade (Calophasia lunula) that as an adult will have transformed into a smallish grey-brown moth, quite the opposite of the colourful caterpillar from which they develop. Also at odds, is the fact the moth is a good deal scarcer than its larval foodplant, known as a resident species (it also occurs as an immigrant) only in the south and south-east of England.

It was ample reminder that sometimes we need look no further than our own doorsteps for something out ordinary. Within a few minutes I had discovered a rare moth, three species of bumblebee and even the curious, brown, pear-shaped pupa of hoverfly attached firmly to one the leaves. What, I wonder, might I have overlooked?

Toadflax Brocade – adult (photographed 2010)

Hoverfly pupa (possibly Episyrphus balteatus)

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