Aphids of every hue

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A few weeks ago, I told a story about a conflict between three species of minibeast in my garden. This week, I thought I might take three days to focus on each of those same three species individually. I promise to do something non-buggy on Thursday.

I am starting with the bottom of the food chain, the lowly aphid. The top image is hot off the presses, taken in my garden yesterday. We actually had some sun this weekend! Back to rain today though. Anyway, I call it “Bringing up Baby”. Babysitting is such hard work, especially when the toddler will keep running away from you!

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Aphids are a lot less attractive in numbers, especially when sucking the life force from one of my rose bushes. The picture above makes me think of sci-fi and contagion-style movies. Euch.

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Still, aphids are a vital part of the garden food chain, like the wildebeests or antelopes of the African plains. I call the shot above “The Bubble Trap”. A blackfly is caught in a double trap of web and water droplet.

Here’s another capture of the same doomed aphid:

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All that is left of the aphid in the next shot is a single wing:

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Singly, however, the greenfly remains an unexpectedly graceful creature, its delicate form suggesting vulnerability:

“He didn’t want to stop cutting, and hacked away so furiously that he shook with the vibrations, wedged between his two levels of rock, like a greenfly caught between the pages of a book which threatened to slam suddenly shut.”
Emile Zola, Germinal, trans. Peter Collier

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Tomorrow, it’s the aphid farmer’s turn, the garden ant. I bet you can’t wait. 😉

Bee fly

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The subject of my natural history post for this week is the bee fly or bombylius major. This bee-mimic is common in my part of the world (Southern England) in early spring.

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Its rather imposing appearance can lead people to assume that it is dangerous but it cannot harm you: that long proboscis is merely a very efficient nectar guzzler. In fact, I think the bee fly is rather cute. Just me, perhaps.

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They certainly look quite cute on the wing, with their spindly legs flying out Superman style from the chubby body. However, while they may not be harmful to humans, they have a sinister life cycle if you happen to be a bee.

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This bee mimic lays its eggs by the nests of solitary bees. When the larva hatches, it uses a crown of spines on its head to batter its way into the cell of the bee pupa and slowly sucks the pupa dry.

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Afterwards, the gorged larva pupates and finally emerges in its final form by battering its way out of the cell.

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Needless to say, I have not been able to take photographs of the full life-cycle, just the disingenuously cute, fluffy fly.

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For some more (and frankly better) pictures and two poems (yes!) about bee flies, visit my friend Giles Watson’s Flickr photostream. The second poem (which treats the life cycle) appears in a comment there.

PS Some of the images appear pixelated here.  They do not in the files I uploaded.  If anyone knows what I’m doing wrong, please can you help?  It’s a shame for them not to appear their best.

Grizzlies

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In Summer 2010, we spent three weeks in British Columbia, Canada. The standout highlight of the trip was the three days we spent at Knight Inlet Lodge in Glendale Cove.

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The floating lodge is deep within Knight Inlet, one of the many huge inlets that serrate the coast of this beautiful province. It can only be reached by float plane or boat.

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Like most visitors to the Lodge, we travelled by float plane from Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Living just outside London, England, we don’t get to travel this way very often so our stay was off to an exciting start before we’d even arrived!

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The views were superb despite the weather; it rains a lot here.

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On arrival, after a short introduction to the guides and resident dogs, we were soon in a boat out in the Cove scouring the banks for signs of bears. Although we were too early for the salmon run when bears gather in numbers to fish and can be watched from hides, there was a good chance of finding some foraging on the shoreline.

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We saw some mergansers, a kingfisher, several curious seals and a loon before a call came over the radio to return to base immediately; bears had been spotted near the lodge!

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I wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking it was to see these wonderful creatures in the wild.

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We watched this female, ‘christened’ Bella by the guides, and her three cubs as they foraged along the shoreline. Although we were separated by several feet of water, I felt very aware of my proximity to this powerful mother, who would not hesitate to defend her cubs.

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We would be lucky enough to watch Bella and her cubs several more times during our stay as well as two other grizzly families. Wildlife abounds in Glendale Cove; we also saw a black bear and some black-tailed deer.

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There were many bald eagles and herons as well as numerous smaller species of bird, including swallows who nested in the eaves of the lodge.

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Not to be outdone, some smaller mammals shared the limelight. We saw mink on the shore and the lodge was frequently visited by a cheeky band of river otters.

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For a change of pace, we could bear-watch from kayaks.

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Or go on a guided forest hike. Here, my town-bred daughter can’t quite believe I am letting her stir her hot chocolate with a twig!

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The evenings were spent socialising in the bar or enjoying entertaining and interesting talks by the friendly and knowledgeable guides. We had read on Tripadvisor that the food was great but it was even better than we expected.

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Knight Inlet Lodge is a founding member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of British Columbia (CBVA). The CBVA campaigns to ban the currently legal trophy hunting of grizzly bears in British Columbia. Watching these magnificent creatures in the wild, I could not imagine ever being able to shoot one with anything other than a camera.

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It was a privilege seeing these animals in their natural habitat. To be able to share an experience like this with my children, and to hear them talk about it still, is even better.

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Not-so-solitary bees

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At this time of year there are already many bees busy in the garden but not yet many honey bees. The bumble bees are around, fat, noisy and fairly recognisable. But there are also a lot of solitary bees. In Britain we have more than 250 types of solitary bee, bees that have single nest cells rather than communal hives.
With so many types, I am not going to try to identify the subjects of today’s photographs. To know more, try here. Suffice it to say that solitary bees do have to get together occasionally to obey one particular biological imperative!

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And, just to prove that they do appear in ones:

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