Did you know there are more than 4,700 species of invertebrates that make their homes in the Royal Parks?
Invertebrates are a group of animals who are invaluable to the ecosystem of the parks: they support our populations of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, underpin the quality of our water bodies, the abundance and variety of plant species and the health of our trees. They are recyclers, pollinators, pest-controllers, sources of food and the cornerstone of biodiversity in our parks – in short, they are more than just bugs!
These beautiful and unusual insects (scientific suborder Anisoptera) have been in our skies since before the dinosaurs roamed the earth and have survived several mass extinction events! They are ferocious predators, helping to maintain the parks' water and terrestrial ecosystems. The larvae, or ‘nymphs’ live in water, eating small aquatic animals such as worms, snails and tadpoles, and help to keep mosquito numbers in check by feeding on their larvae. Adult dragonflies exhibit aerial manoeuvres that a stunt-pilot would be proud of to catch smaller flying insects ‘on the wing’. Look out for dragonflies and their cousins the damselflies near our lakes and ponds in the Royal Parks.
The chirping of crickets and grasshoppers on a warm day is a quintessential sound of Summer – you’ll often hear them rather than see them in the long grass or in our many areas of wildflower meadow. It can be difficult to tell the difference between grasshoppers (Caelifera) and crickets (Ensifera). One of the easiest ways to tell is by the time of day – grasshoppers are diurnal so more likely to be heard in the daytime, whereas crickets are crepuscular so are more active at dusk. If you spot one, you can also generally tell by the length of its antennae: short on a grasshopper and long – often longer than the length of its entire body – on a cricket.
Did you know that not all bees nest in hives like honey bees? When visiting the parks, you may have noticed little holes in the bare earth? They may well be nests made by solitary bees such as the tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva) - pictured here - the hairy-legged mining bee (Dasypoda hirtipes), hawksbeard mining bee (Andrena fulvago) or the ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria). All of these species make their home in the Royal Parks. If you're lucky, you might see an adult emerge from one of these nest holes. Don’t be afraid if you do, as mining bees are among the most gentle of all be species and rarely sting. They are brilliant pollinators, their burrowing doesn’t harm vegetation and may actually be beneficial in aerating your lawn!
The cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) is a striking black and red moth which, unlike most moths, does its foraging in the daytime. Cinnabar moth caterpillars are no less conspicuous with their bright yellow and black banding, which helps to deter predators. They are usually seen munching on common ragwort, being unaffected by the toxicity of plant. While ragwort is poisonous to most animal species, the cinnabar moth has actually evolved to use the toxic compounds for its survival. They're stored in the caterpillar’s body, so that any predator that hasn’t been put off by its appearance will be left with a nasty taste if they try to eat it. The chemical even remains in the body of the moth in its adult form, helping to promote its survival.
The hoverfly is not just a single species, but a colourful group of flies - over 270 species in Britain alone - which make up the family Syrphidae. As suggested by their name, they are often seen hovering at flowers, feeding on nectar and collecting pollen. Many hoverflies are masters of disguise – they have evolved to mimic wasps to help deter predators – you’ve probably been fooled yourself. Hoverflies can be distinguished from wasps as they have just one pair of wings, whereas wasps have two pairs. If you can’t get a good look you can also tell by their distinctive flight style, being able to remain still in one spot for several seconds (hence the name hoverfly), before zipping off in another direction.
The painted lady (Vanessa cardui) is a migratory butterfly, journeying to the UK from North Africa each year. The species has a very short life-cycle, going from egg, through larval and pupal stages to emerge as an adult in a matter of weeks. Painted ladies begin to arrive on our shores from late Spring, with females laying their eggs on thistles, nettles and mallows. The next generation of adult butterflies emerges from July, with their numbers peaking in early August. In warm years there may be enough time for the newly-emerged adults to lay eggs for a second generation to be produced, but unfortunately our Winters are not warm enough for them to overwinter here. Some adults may attempt the flight back to warmer climes in Autumn, flying at high altitude so we don’t notice their migration in the same way as can be seen in Spring.
This blog was written by Alex Rainford-Roberts, Marketing and Communications Officer for Mission: Invertebrate