Garden Wildlife Gallery 2023

▲ This harvestman is a recent introduction from the continent. It was first recorded in the UK in 1999. Little is known about its feeding habits, ecology or effects on our native harvestmen.

In this post I document the insects and arachnids I have photographed in my garden over the last two years. It’s a kind of informal (and unscientific) survey, where I look back through my garden photos and try to identify all the insects I have captured digitally. It is always thrilling to discover a new species of butterfly, beetle or bee in the garden, and although some are only passing through and are seen just once, others take up residence and become a common sight.

This summer, the Pond Garden was buzzing with pollinators and the air was filled with their flutterings and zipping about. Such busy activity adds a rich ‘aliveness’ to the garden which flowers alone cannot achieve.

A majority of the insects in this article were photographed in my Pond Garden which was designed and planted specifically to attract pollinators, and it seems to be working. I have written previously about the pollinator plants in my garden and the insects I have recorded, so this article provides an update.

Although I don’t own any special close-up (macro) lenses, I have managed to photograph the little creatures that live in my garden using relatively straightforward and low-cost kit (see end of article for my camera and lenses.) Once digitally captured and displayed on a screen, it is much easier to look them up, identify them and learn a little bit about them. (TIP: Uploading a tightly cropped insect photo into Google Image Search (AKA “Google Lens”) proved to be a quick way to identify many species.) I find the whole photography and identification process enjoyable and instructive. It certainly adds to the pleasure and appreciation of my garden.

Each gallery below can be swiped or scrolled sideways to see all the pics (like on instagram). Please enjoy taking a mini-safari through my garden!

DISCLAIMER! I am no entomologist! If I have made any mistakes in my identification, please let me know and I will update the post.

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6
Meike extension tubes
Panasonic GX80

Volucella zonaria

In early August this year, I noticed a particularly large insect among the pollinators buzzing around Allium “Millennium” which was growing in a pot at the front of my house. The black and yellow striped creature looked like some strange kind of bee — much too large for a hoverfy I thought… Turns out it’s a Hornet mimic hoverfly. The largest hoverfly in the UK, at a full 2cm long. Despite their appearance they are totally harmless. Previously known as an occasional summer visitors from the continental, they are now established in the South of England.

In October, I again spotted the Hornet Mimic, this time feeding on late-flowering Asters and roses (photo 5 and 6 above)

It’s only when you start looking really carefully — or in my case, start photographing them — that you realise just how many different species of hoverfly there are. In fact, they are mostly unrelated, coming from a wide variety of genuses and with diverse life-cycles and ecological niches. The only thing they have in common is their loose resemblance to bees. Apparently, this evolutionary trick helps ward off predators for fear they might deliver a nasty sting. None of them do, which make them particularly welcome pollinators in the garden.

  1. Stripe-faced drone fly (Eristalis nemorum)
    [Sep 2023]
  2. Marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus)
    A common but pretty hoverfly. It can be seen throughout the year. I managed to photograph it approaching these Hosta flowers. It’s lava feed on aphids, making the Marmalade hoverfly welcome in the garden. [Sep 2022]
  3. Common twist tail (Sphaerophoria scripta)
    Very difficult to distinguish from other species of the genera, so don’t quote me on this one! It seems to have a particularly twisted tail, more than in most photos I have compared. Perhaps it had suffered a bird peck? [Sep 2023]
  4. Eurasian drone flies (Eristalis arbustorum)
    A lovely hover fly with variable markings. It breeds in polluted or stagnant water, which probably meant my pond before I cleared it out this summer. I may have just left it with no where to breed. [Jul 2023]
  5. Eurasian drone fly (Eristalis arbustorum) — courtship ritual
    In this photo you can see the male hovering a couple of centimetres above the female. He will hold this position for minutes at a time.
  6. & 7. Xanthogramma (Philhelius pedissequus)
    This striking hoverfly flew into my kitchen, where I was able to photograph it easily while it remained in one spot cleaning itself. It doesn’t have a common name, which is odd as it is such a striking insect. [Aug 2023]

Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7
Meike extension tubes
Panasonic GX80

Araneus diadematus

I remember from my childhood being fascinated by the fat-bodied garden spider that was ubiquitous every Autumn. It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t noticed them in my garden. This year, with that thought in my mind, I discovered them all over the place. Dozens of them. They are, however, a bit different to those of my childhood. The body (abdomen to be precise) of my childhood Araneus was much more bulbous — almost like a marble in shape. The ones in the photos above all have a narrower, more tapered shape. It turns out, they are quite a variable species.

Their body colour can vary a lot, from grey to brown and even orange/red plus yellow and white. The distinctive “+” markings on their back has led to them being known as “cross spiders”. Considering all the colours, sizes and shapes they come in, this cross is the best way to identify them.

They are particularly active in September and October when they create large webs about one metre above the ground on shrubs and trees. These are very effective at catching flying insects, and most of the webs I observed had several “larders” — prey wrapped in silk which the spider is saving for later. In several of the photos above the spider is in the process of eating one of its earlier catches. Although they can bite, they only do so if mishandled.

Looking back through my photos I discovered several species of spider and didn’t know what any of them were. Apart from the common garden spider, most of them are rather small and difficult to identify reliably.

  1. Crab spider
    One of the many species of crab spiders / flower spiders that hunt visitors to flowers. Here living on a white Marathon lily. [Jul 2023]
  2. Unidentified spider
    A small red web-building spider above white hydrangea flowers. Possibly a young common garden spider. [Jul 2023]
  3. Unidentified spider
    A small spider hunting a beetle that has strayed into its web. [Aug 2023]
  4. Crab spider
    A pink bodied crab or running spider hunting in the centre of an Echinacea flower. [Jul 2021]
  5. Pink prowler ? (unconfirmed)
    This tiny (2mm) long spider was busy spinning silk on a late-flowering Agapanthus bud. Visually very similar to the two UK Pink prowlers (Oonops sp.), although only one of these is found outdoors, they seem to be nocturnal and mainly ground scavenging. This one is busy in the day-time and web spinning. So, a bit odd.

Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7
Meike extension tubes
Panasonic GX80

Lycaena phlaeas

I was crouched down, photographing bees, turned to my right, and there was this little beauty: a Small copper butterfly. I grabbed a couple of shots, then it took off. This is the first time I have seen one in my garden. The coiled proboscis shows up well in the second photo.

I think the number and variety of butterflies is increasing each year in my garden. September 2023 was particularly notable, when, thanks to a late-season warm spell, the garden was alive with their fluttering wings. Late flowering verbenas, alliums, asters, sedums, roses and vitex were popular. More skittish than bees and hoverflies, I had to use a telephoto lens to get these shots (Lumix 35-100mm f4-5.6)

  1. Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
    Allium ‘Millenium’ is certainly a magnet for pollinators and many times I saw butterflies feeding on it. This small tortoiseshell was punch-drunk and let me get close enough to take several good shots.
  2. Peacock butterfly (Autographa gamma)
    Beautiful and more common in the garden this year. The ‘eyes’ on their wings are iridescent.
  3. Comma (Spilarctia luteum)
    Not seen often in my garden. As soon as I got this shot, it darted off over the fence.
  4. Red admiral (Macroglossum stellatarum)
    Increasingly common in the garden throughout the season. I have photographed it as early as June.
  5. Small White (Macroglossum stellatarum)
    There were a dozen of these flitting through the garden, alighting on the tall verbenas which they favoured, but as soon as I got close they took off, landing ten foot away where my camera couldn’t reach them.

(1) Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7
(2) Lumix G 12-32mm f3.5-5.6
Panasonic GX80

Pholidoptera griseoaptera & Leptophyes punctatissima

We don’t have much in the way of rough grass in our garden but that does not stop grasshoppers and crickets appearing now and then. The grasshoppers were here for a month or two in the summer, hopping furiously out of the way when we mowed the lawn. The crickets, on the other hand, I’ve only seen in flowers or on adjacent walls or fences. Coincidently, the two species of bush crickets (photo 1 & 2) were found snugly settled inside roses. Flowers and leaves form part of their diet.

Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7
Panasonic GX80

Callimorpha dominula

In mid-summer, I found this brightly coloured moth resting in the cool shade of my woodland garden. It was crawling around slowly, so I got some good shots. In the last one, the moth crawled under a leaf, where I noticed later, there was an (as yet) unidentified beetle.

The scarlet tiger moth has incredibly bright red underwings, but these are mostly covered by the top wings in my photographs. Even so, this wonderful moth is still dramatic and beautifully coloured. Apparently, they like damp areas and are usually found close to ponds and rivers. Not that there are any near me!

Many moths are night flying so rarely seen in the day. I see many small moths in the garden, disturbed from their hiding places as I work in the garden, but these fly off immediately giving me no chance of observing them. Here are a few that I did manage to photograph:

  1. Five spot burnet moth (Harmonia axyridis)
    These beautiful little moths were resting as the sun went down in a seasonally damp water catchment meadow near my house. Dozens of them were there on the abundent wild vetches.
  2. Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma)
    Moths usually rest with their wings folded down. This Silver y was flitting from plant to plant only revealing the underwings, so appears quite plain. The hidden wing tops are tawny brown with a distinct silver y glyph — hence the name. The eyes are rather eerie as they appear to have a pupil.
  3. Buff ermine moth caterpillar (Spilarctia luteum)
    I found this large golden-haired caterpillar crawling on Liriope in my woodland garden in October 2022. It may have been feeding on the nearby current which is one of its known food plants. I have not seen the adult in my garden.
  4. Humming bird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)
    I didn’t recognise this hawk moth at first because it is usually seen hovering distinctively while feeding. This one was at rest, wings closed hiding the vibrant orange wing markings. The red spot on its back may be damage from a bird peck. The tail is notable though: more like that of a bird than a moth.

Lumix G 35-100mm f/4-5.6
Meike extension tubes
Panasonic GX80

I used to see more varieties of ladybird in my garden, but without any systematic record it is hard to be sure. The arrival of the invasive Harlequin might be to blame. Most of my photos have been of the seven spot which seems to be doing well. Ladybirds eat aphids, so are welcome garden inhabitants.

  1. Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) – orange variant
    An invasive species originally from Japan, but first recorded in Britain in 2004. It is highly variable, with over 100 colour and spot variants, although in my garden I have only documented the two most common forms: orange with 19 black spots and black with two orange spots. There is concern that due to its broader diet, it may out-compete native species, but the evidence to date is mixed. Hopefully it will co-exist.
  2. Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) – black variant
  3. Seven spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata)
    A common ladybird, doing well in my garden. It hasn’t been pushed out by the Harlequin… yet.

Lumix G 35-100mm f/4-5.6
Meike extension tubes
Panasonic GX80

Palomena prasina

This is the native green shield bug — green with tiny black dots. Previously confined to the south of England, it is now found further north. This one was trying to hide between the petals of this rose until I disturbed it.

I have always welcomed shield bugs in my garden. Although they feeds on plants they do so without damaging them.

Flies are not the most appealing insects… they definitely have a PR issue. Much of that comes from the common house fly and blowflies which can spread diseases when they come in contact with human food. In the garden, however, most flies are harmless and play important roles in the ecological web. On close examination, their remarkable forms are as miraculous as any butterfly or bee. A number of garden insects look like flies, but are actually bugs.

  1. Crane fly (Aglais urticae)
    Red bodied. Resting on White Japanese anemone. Its laval stage is the infamous leatherjacket, which causes dead patches in my lawn. [Sep 2023]
  2. Fruit fly (Drosophila sp?)
    Red eyes. Brown body. Resting on rose leaf. It has probably just flown here from one of the rotting figs on my fig tree. [Oct 2023]
  3. Common green bottle (Lucilia sericata)
    Beautiful metallic green body with bright red eyes. Here feeding on an Aster flower. Lays its eggs in carrion, or on the flesh or coat of damp farm animals. [Aug 2023]
  4. Male Fever Fly? (Dilophus febrilis)
    Small black bodied fly on tip of a white Dahlia petal. The male fever fly has much larger eyes than the female. Difficult to identify correctly, but I have a few pointers. D. febrilis is the commonest of the genera, and lays eggs in lawns where the grubs eat roots causing brown patches (I have these, although they could be the leatherjackets…). Also this sighting coincides with the typical second generation peaking in July/August [Aug 2023]
  5. Marsh fly (Sepedon spinipes)
    Long red body and legs; in the centre of a white Camassia flower. Their larvae parasitise aquatic snails, hence their other common name: snail killing fly. The adult marsh fly feeds on dew and (as here) nectar. [May 2023]
  6. Blackhorned Gem (Microchrysa polita)
    This species of March fly has an iridescent green body. They drink nectar from flowers. Here resting on Rosa ‘Jaqueline du pre’. [Jun 2023]
  7. Locust Blowfly (Stomorhina lunata – Female)
    Dull brown with stripes on eyes and body, feeding on an Aster flower. A visitor from the continent as it lays its eggs on Locusts, and is not believed to be able to use crickets or grasshoppers. [Sep 2023]
  8. Mirid Bug (Dicyphus errans)
    Seen here in October on a late flowering perennial foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora) this 5mm long bug is out hunting. It preys on a wide variety of smaller insects, including garden pests such as whitefly. Fairly common in the UK, it’s a good one to find in your garden.
  9. Green Lacewing (Chrysopidae sp.)
    A delicate insect with fine wings. It feeds on aphids so is a welcome garden predator. There are many similar looking species, so I have not been able to pin this one down. I used to see more of these in the garden. I’d find them gathered in cracks in outbuildings in the autumn. [Jul 2022]

Bombus pascuorum

My new favourite bee! Carder bees are beautiful soft little bees; more common in my garden than I realised. I have seen them almost every month this year. They have a distinct ginger ruff on their thorax, while their back and tail consist of black and buff/grey bands. The common carder is such a sweet little bee: fluffy and agile, more fairy-like than bumbling. As they get older, the sun bleaches their hair, until they turn a gentle buff-grey. This is evident in the sequence of photos above.

  1. May. This carder bee spent a lot of time inside this peony flower which was full of bright stamens.
  2. July. Common carder bee taking off from Sedum
  3. August. Carder bee approaching Vitex flowers.
  4. August. Carder bee visiting a verbena.
  5. September. Carder bee on Aster Mönch.
  6. September. Carder bee feeding on Sedum alongside a honey bee. In this photo you can gauge how small is the Carder bee.

There are many species of bee that visit my garden. Below are the ones I managed to photograph over the last two years. Notably, this didn’t include the white tailed bumblebee which was prominent in earlier years. However, there are a couple of species here that I had not documented before.

  1. Honey bee
    Common in my garden. Here feeding on Cosmos. [Jul 2023]
  2. Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris)
    Although a pain when we want to eat outdoors, the common wasp is part of the ecology of the garden, and also helps with pollination. We often see them stripping wood fibres off the garden furniture to make paper for their nest building. [Aug 2023]
  3. Buff tailed Bumble bee (Bombus terrestris)
    Note the distinct yellow bands.
  4. Buff tailed Bumble bee (?) with pale coloration
    I think this must also bee the Buff tailed bumblebee, but its bands are all buff rather than yellow. It was on the flowers at the same time as the typical yellow-banded variety, so I knew it was not a trick of the light. Perhaps like the carder bees, as they age they go a bit grey! Beautiful, none the less.
  5. Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
    Not a great photo, but this little bee is notable as it is almost all black back the golden neck ruff. The tail is also yellow but tucked under so doesn’t show in this photo.
  6. Yellow-collared Masked Bee ? (Hylaeus euxanthus)
    I only had a split second to capture this tiny bee before it flew away, so the shot is rather blurry. However, you can clearly see the face with what looks like yellow eyes. These are actually patches of colour between the black eyes — this is the ‘mask’ in their common name — showing that this one is a female (males have a more continuous yellow mask from eye to eye). [Sep 2023]

My Insect Photography Kit

Camera: Lumix GX85

Almost all of the photos in this article have been captured with a my Panasonic Lumix gx80/gx85 mirrorless camera, which has been my main camera for the last two years.

This is a compact, rangefinder style, camera, released in 2016. Although only having a 16Mp micro-four thirds sensor, it can produce superb images. This is partly due to its in-body image stabilisation which allow me to get some exceptionally sharp images.

No dedicated Macro?

For super-close up photography a dedicated Macro lens is usually recommended which allows 1:1 reproduction (100% magnification), but I don’t have one yet. For me, lenses with good close up abilities have been more appealing as I need to quickly switch between subjects: a long view across my garden, a shrub, a single flower or a tiny bee. But I don’t often want to go closer than that.

Lens 1: Lumix 42.5mm f1.7

My most used lens is the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 (equivalent to a 85mm f3.2 lens on a full-frame camera) which has a close focusing distance of 31cm giving me a magnification of x0.2 which is equivalent to x0.4 on a full-frame system — i.e. nearly half-macro. Yet it only weighs 130g and is a great portrait/mid-telephoto lens with good low-light performance. It produces great background blur.

Lens 2: Lumix 35-100mm f4-5.6

My second most used lens in the garden is the Lumix 35-100mm f4-5.6 zoom lens. This is another very compact lens, almost identical size and weight as the 42.5mm but this time a telephoto zoom. Its closest focusing distance is not as good being 90cm but at the long end (100mm) it allows me to get a magnification of x0.11 (x0.22 full-frame equivalent) nearly filling the frame with larger flowers. It is good for butterflies as at 90cm I am less likely to spook them.

Extension tubes: Meike

Finally, I have a set of Meike extension tubes which I can use with either of these lenses which effectively turns them into macro lenses when I need to get closer. The 35-100mm lens is particularly good for this as the autofocus still works over a decent range of distances making it easier to use than shorter focal length lenses. Sharpness is still great, although chromatic aberration is increased. Who knows, I may end up purchasing the Olympus (OM) 60mm f2.8 macro.

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