Don't overlook the insect life

Across the South Devon AONB

From : Geoff Foale

Insect life is often overlooked but can provide a colourful indication of the general health of an area. Exact comparison of fluctuations in specific species numbers within the South Devon AONB area over the past 50 years is difficult due to a lack of regular reliable data, but there have certainly been a couple of new additions.

Gentle bees breeding in the banks

The Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) first appeared in the UK during the 1990s and has spread along the south coast. Between 2003 and 2006 there are only 5 records within the AONB but in 2010 I discovered 2 nesting sites within Salcombe Harbour and another at Soar Mill.

It is likely that this gentle bee, which predominately feeds on ivy flowers, breeds in a lot more south facing earth banks within this area.

Swarms of 500 or more males, searching for females, are known; but although encountering a swarm may appear worrying, this bee will not attack humans.

Rare Harvestman spiders

Another newcomer is the Harvestman Dicranopalpus ramosus which has the appearance of a very long legged spider. Although they have been known in the Plymouth area for a few years there is only one uncertain previous record here. But I have observed a few in my Salcombe garden since 2008 and one female in the Soar Mill area during 2010.

Brightly coloured hoverflies

A wide range of brightly coloured hoverflies, many of which pretend to be wasps or bees, can be discovered feeding on nectar from wild, and garden, flowers.

Once again, previous records are sparse for the less common species but during 2010 I sighted several interesting forms. (Most do not have common names)

A Brachypalpoides lentus, with a dark red abdomen, was in a small wood (only two previous sightings). Also within the same wood several Portevinia maculata males (four previous records) could regularly be found sitting on wild garlic leaves and sunning themselves in the dappled sunshine. Females usually live close to the ground and can be difficult to see; although I did discover one.

Also in the same wood I found one specimen of the strange looking Rhingia rostrata (with no previous records) is almost identical to the common Rhingia campestris except for a lack of black markings on the abdomen. Due to the shape of its snout this species is sometimes known as the Duck-billed Hoverfly.

Nearby, during the summer, I encountered a couple of the brightly coloured wasp mimics, Dasysyrphus albostriatus and a Dasysyrphus venustus (both with only one previous record).

An even brighter wasp mimic, Xanthogramma citrofasciatum (only two previous records) was in the Soar Mill area on two occasions.

Grasshoppers and Crickets abound

A variety of Grasshoppers and Crickets abound in the rough grass within the AONB area but one to particularly watch for is the Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) with only one previous record.

There are a great many other interesting and weird looking species waiting to be seen within the South Devon AONB. And considering the number of uncommon species that I have been able to find, and photograph, within this area it is clear that a lot more regular recording work needs to be undertaken.

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Don't overlook the insect life

Several other common forms of harvestmen can be found within the area, particularly in damp woodland, but also occur in shady areas of undisturbed gardens.

Beautiful Demoiselle 

Dragonflies and Damselflies are commonplace particularly near water and one to particularly look for is the aptly named Beautiful Demoiselle which although not common can be found within the AONB.

We have a wide range of butterflies here, some of which are difficult to see amongst the foliage. Apart from the very common varieties you may also find; Coma, Green Hairstreak, Grayling, Marbled White, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Wall Brown to name just a few.

Beetles scurrying at ground level

A wide variety of strange looking and often brightly coloured beetles scurry around at or near ground level. Some like the Bloody-nosed Beetle are obvious due to their considerable size but many need microscopic examination to determine their identity.

One large obvious species is the Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus) which can emit an evil smelling fluid if disturbed. There are only four previous records but I have seen a few amongst damp Spring grass during 2009 and 2010 so although never common, they may have previously been under recorded.


Thanks to Mr Foale for this delightful contribution to GoldenDays. It's a wonderful world when you look closely.

And here's question for you... Can you identify the bug in picture 12?

Sarah, South Devon AONB office

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