This week has been full on interesting insects. It was a lovely day on Saturday and I had emptied one of the water butts, so it was time to wash it out. We put disassembled it and I was cleaning it out on the lawn and in doing so I evicted a huge spider. The spiders you see running around hunting on the flowerbed, vegetable patch or across a lawn are probably Wolf Spiders that belong to the family Lycosidae. Females can often be seen carrying their egg cases attached to their spinnerets at the rear of their body. The commonest belong to the genus Pardosa, which can be very abundant. It was once believed that these grey-brown spiders hunted down their prey in packs like wolves - hence their name. In fact, they are not social but are nomads that hunt on their own. For the gardener, they are very useful pest control agents.
On warm spring days, they can be seen basking on the soil, stones or on pieces of vegetation when they can be approached and even gently touched (if that is your thing) before they flee. This one had taken up a position on the water butt stand. I decided that I would stop for lunch to allow it to walk off the scene before finishing the cleaning the water butt area because it is such a great pest control agent I didn’t want to stand on it by accident.
Whilst weeding I found three very different ant nests, which was the opportunity to get out the magnifying glass and the wild life reference books. The first one was quite close to the patio and the house. The Lasius Niger Ant (common black garden ant) is best known ant due to its tendency to enter houses, it's nests can be found on patios, along the edges of lawns and in fact almost anywhere. Lasius niger is a very quick, robust and prolific ant, using formic acid and its jaws as a means of attack/defence. Colonies can grow up to a size of 15,000 workers, though about 4,000 to 7,000 is perhaps the average. They eat insects, nectar, and even the bodies of their own dead or ants from other colonies. They are also very fond of sugary substances which is why they come in to the kitchen looking for food particles.
The second ants’ nest was a colony of Lasius Flavus Ants (yellow meadow ant). This is another common ant found in gardens, these ants build small mounds in our lawns and are often mistaken for red ants due to their yellow-orange colour, yet they are no more harmful than their common black cousins. It is the most skilled nest builder found in the UK and can also be found in fields and meadows, where they build much larger mounds. Lasius flavus tend to forage below ground feeding on small insects and mites that stray into their tunnels, therefore are not often seen, except perhaps when its nest is disturbed. This was a very small colony on the edge of the flower bed and lawn so I quickly weeded the area, pulling out as many tree seedlings as I could and left them alone. Making the area with some plant labels to I didn’t put my hand on to the nest by accident.
The final nest I found were Formica Rufa ants (Red wood ant). Another common British ant are those belonging to the species Formica, also known as the Wood Ant. There is an area under the biggest apple tree what is very woodland like. Many of these species build huge mounds from pine needles and other woodland litter on the edge of forest clearings or pathways, and can have more than 100,000 members per colony. These ants are large, aggressive, and attack by biting and spraying formic acid very effectively if disturbed. This was a very small mound in an area that had been left alone since last year and in need of a lot of weeding, it is the area that had become semi wild. I have been bitten by these before and very carefully worked around the area trying not to disturb them too much.
The last creature to spend quite a lot of time in the garden has been the grey squirrels. No longer able to steal the food from the bird food station they have taken to criss-crossing the lawn and can be seen checking out the areas of the garden where the most buried tree seedlings are to be found.
The warm weather over the weekend has meant that I have got a lot of the weeding done in the fruit tree and vegetable areas and I am now starting to work on the flower beds. Imagine my face when I found a tree seedling measuring one and a half the size of me hiding in the dog rosés. These are very prickly steamed roses and it is going to take some hard digging and a lot of protective clothing, on a much cooler day to get that huge sapling out. And yes - I am blaming the squirrels as this is an area of the garden they visit a lot!
If you would like to - why not share your garden stories and photographs with us. We would love to hear more about how you are using the different garden spaces however small or large.