Our Patch: No Sting in the Tail

By on Tuesday, July 29, 2014

our_patch_sj_jarmanWell the summer is turning out quite a peach isn’t it? Lots of dry, sunny days (even at weekends) to keep us outdoors, and even just staying in the garden can reveal some interesting creatures that we share our world with.

birdsThe birds seem to have had a fairly successful spring, our starlings have had two broods, and they are costing us a fortune in seeds and mealworms. I will allow them that, as they are so busy squabbling amongst themselves that they rarely notice me pointing my lens at them.

We’ve had some firsts this year, which is always exciting.

My eldest daughter came to tell me she had seen a wasp carrying a leaf in the garden, and it had disappeared into the base of a plant pot. I was a bit surprised – I didn’t think we had any leaf-cutting wasps in the UK – and when I turned to pot upside down, there was no sign of any insects. I admit it – I thought she had made it up!

A few days later, sat having lunch (outdoors – what a treat), I saw a large bee, making a loud buzz, flying across the garden, carrying a piece of leaf. It had a rest next to the plant pot, but when I came back with my camera, it flew into the base and disappeared again.

flyIt’s usual to find leaf-cutter bees in more southern counties, but it’s not the first recording of leaf-cutters here. I still need a better look to identify which species it is.

Over the last week, the pile of soil at the base of the pot has grown, unlike the poor flower planted there, which I imagine has few roots left! We set our nature camera to try to record the bee. We were hopeful for some images, especially as the adult bee took quite an exception to the camera being placed there, but we literally just got a blur on the screen.

Having researched why the bees take leaves, I’ve discovered that they roll them into a sort of cigar, which protects the larvae as they develop.

The second, rather glamourous visitor to our garden is not a rarity, despite its jewel-like markings and the way it positively gleams in the sun: A Ruby-tailed wasp. Despite what most people think about wasps, there are actually very few species that sting, even though there are hundreds of species in our area.


Ruby-tailed (or Cuckoo) wasps are solitary, as are many species of wasp. They either lay their egg in a burrow (a hole in a wall will do), filled with pollen, and their larvae develop into wasps; or they lay their eggs in existing solitary bees’ nests and let them eat the stores the bee has made for their own babies (hence Cuckoo wasp). Even if you wouldn’t give them an award for parenting, they might get the one for the prettiest!

We have a pond in the garden too – it’s not very big, but it provides a home for myriad creatures, from the tiny daphnia and algae to the frogs, mammals and bird who come to mate or drink.

This year we have had a bumper crop of tadpoles, not huge in number, but about 25% larger than normal. Every time we’ve sneaked up on the pond to see them, hordes of insects have forewarned them of our approach.

These have turned out to be long-legged flies, burnished with the colours of rubies and emeralds. We forgive their indiscretion, as their own show is beautiful, too.

They dance until they have a mate, then the female sits on the surface tension of the water and oviposits her eggs into the pond. Her larvae will be wriggly ‘worms’ until ready to emerge back through the watery film and begin the cycle again.

We only have a small garden, yet without really trying, it isn’t difficult to see and experience the wonderful wildlife all around us.

Ruby-tailed wasp photo: Ian Clark


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *