The very hun­gry cater­pil­lars

Wendy To­bitt from BBOWT is go­ing wild in her gar­den

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - COMMUNITY -

BEES are not the only pol­li­na­tors. 1,500 species of in­sects pol­li­nate plants in the UK, in­clud­ing bum­ble­bees, honey bees, soli­tary bees, hov­er­flies, wasps, flies, bee­tles, but­ter­flies and moths.

If you’ve been en­joy­ing your gar­dens this sum­mer I hope you will have seen but­ter­flies, hov­er­flies and moths flit­ting be­tween flow­ers; they’re busy pol­li­nat­ing as they feed on the nec­tar-rich pollen.

The plight of the bum­ble­bees and honey bees is well-known, and as it’s Bees’ Needs week from July 9 to 17 there’s plenty of pub­lic­ity around now for cam­paigns to avoid us­ing lethal in­sec­ti­cides, make more ‘bee ho­tels’ as well as cre­at­ing bee-friendly habi­tats in gar­dens.

What may be less well-known is the value of other pol­li­na­tors, which also need our help.

The Wildlife Trusts, along with sev­eral other en­vi­ron­men­tal NGOs, are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple with gar­dens, no mat­ter how small, to give all pol­li­nat­ing in­sects ex­tra help.

The Ur­ban Pol­li­na­tors Project, a three-year sys­tem­atic sur­vey across the UK showed that ur­ban ar­eas are grow­ing and im­prov­ing their value for pol­li­na­tors, and should be part of any na­tional strat­egy to con­serve and re­store the pop­u­la­tions of bees and other pol­li­nat­ing in­sects.

In­sect pol­li­na­tion has been val­ued at around £600mil­lion per year for crop pro­duc­tion in the UK, and that in­cludes the fruit and veg­eta­bles grow­ing in our gar­dens and al­lot­ments.

Sum­mer plants for pol­li­na­tors in­clude hon­ey­suckle, bud­dleia, laven­der and sun­flow­ers – all of them rich in nec­tar. Lesser known but just as es­sen­tial are food-plants for cater­pil­lars!

Gar­den­ers can some­times be too quick to elim­i­nate cater­pil­lars, but with­out them we won’t have the but­ter­flies and moths that are so vi­tal for pol­li­na­tion – and in turn be­come a food source for bats and birds.

Cater­pil­lars of pea­cock, small tor­toise­shell and comma but­ter­flies will munch through patches of net­tles in a few days; and the furry tiger-striped cater­pil­lars of cinnabar moths devour rag­wort leaves.

In my gar­den I’ve seen a striped ly­ch­nis moth cater­pil­lar feed­ing on Erysi­mum, the ev­er­last­ing wall­flower, which also at­tracts but­ter­flies, al­though this cater­pil­lar prefers Ver­bas­cum or mullein flow­ers.

The But­ter­fly Con­ser­va­tion site at Holt­spur Bot­tom in Beaconsfield is a noted site for the striped ly­ch­nis moth, which you’re likely to see feed­ing on the flower spikes of dark mullein dur­ing July and Au­gust.

Al­though most cater­pil­lars pre­fer to feed on na­tive plants and grasses, some favour ex­otic plants and can re­ward you with sight­ings of amaz­ing in­sects. The cater­pil­lar of the ele­phant hawk­moth feeds on fuch­sia plants, and pu­pates into a par­tic­u­larly colour­ful and large moth that feeds on fox­gloves and bud­dleia flow­ers.

The gen­eral rule about plants for pol­li­na­tors is to give as wide a va­ri­ety of food sources as pos­si­ble through­out the year. If you want to see bees fly­ing on warm win­ter days, con­sider plant­ing shrubs such as lon­icera fra­grantis­sima that will be flow­er­ing from Jan­uary.

There’s still time to plant flow­ers to at­tract moths and but­ter­flies into your gar­den now. Look out for Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis – seen here with a newly hatched gar­den tiger moth – Echi­nacea and Monarda plants in your lo­cal nurs­eries, and find spaces in your gar­dens and bal­conies for pol­li­na­tors.


Co­coon boom: Beau­ti­ful pink and brown ele­phant hawk­moth, a gar­den tiger moth on Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, the colour­ful cater­pil­lar of striped ly­ch­nis moth



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