Not a wasp!
Not a wasp!
Last week a WNS friend invited us to come and admire her August-flowering magnolia. The creamy-white flowers open out to the size and shape of soup bowls, and smell like freshly-sliced lemons. The tree is just outside her kitchen window, and while doing her chores she had noticed a bevy of ten or more hover-flies around the first of the unopened flower buds. They waited patiently for several hours till it unfurled enough to allow them to get at the nectar within.
Hover-flies hit the headlines recently when the south and east coast were invaded by waves of migrating Marmalade Hover-flies, probably the commonest of the 270 British species. Millions of dead lay in heaps on the beaches and the survivors caused considerable alarm among holiday makers. This kind of migration happens every four or five years, apparently, when particularly large numbers of aphids are available. Though it superficially resembles a wasp – striped yellow, or orange and black, and making a buzzing sound – a hover-fly is completely harmless. It has no equipment to bite or sting, and in fact is the gardener’s friend, adults being great pollinators and the larvae enjoying a diet of greenfly. So don’t immediately swat any medium-sized black and yellow insect that approaches you: pause a moment and check. Wasps are generally larger, have a clear wasp waist, and two pairs of wings. Less curvaceous hover-flies have one pair of wings, and they hover! They are expert fliers, able to stay suspended for what seems like minutes on end and can even fly sideways. Any insect in huge numbers is disquieting, of course, (remember the ‘ladybird plague’ of the 1970’s), but it’s good to recognise one’s friends.
Another phone call – and another Broad-leafed Helleborine. This one appeared in a Ben Rhydding garden, the opposite end of the town from our last report. Its owner had lived in the house for forty years and never seen the plant before – further evidence of the unpredictability of this intriguing species!