Sunday, 6 July 2014
Making friends in summer
The hogweed flowers are majestic at Filnore Woods at the moment. Each plant carries several flower heads at the top of 2m tall, branching stalks, and each flower head divides into a dozen or so smaller flower heads. This is called an umbel because it branches like the spokes of an umbrella - well, sort of. The petals of the flowers are unequal in length so that a fringe of longer petals hangs round the outside of each flower head.
At this time of year these hogweed flowers are visited by Common Red Soldier Beetles (Ragonycha fulva). They are carnivorous but spend a lot of time on flower heads catching small insects that come visiting. They also meet up with members of the opposite sex on the flower heads and, as it takes them a relatively long time to copulate successfully, they are often seen mating. This gives them one of their other names, the Bonking Beetle.
Bonking Beetle is more appropriate than Blood Sucker, which is quite inaccurate - they don't bite humans. The name probably comes from their reddish colour.
There are several Soldier Beetles, so called because their colours evoke military uniforms. This common species is more accurately called the Black-tipped Soldier Beetle as the wing cases have black tips.
They over winter as larvae, which also prey on other creatures in the soil from tiny springtails up to slugs, snails and even earth worms. The adults have a short but apparently enjoyable life from late June to August.