After a bumper year for butterfly numbers in 2019 a host of small tortoiseshell have stirred from their overwintering crooks and crannies around our house and taken flight over the past few weeks. I’ve helped the exodus by capturing stragglers in their frustrating and futile crawl up window panes, using an upturned glass and slide under plate, releasing them at the garden door where they wing away to start the life cycle again.
A couple of days ago I came across a Red-tailed Bumble Bee on the lawn, crawling aimlessly around. By size, a queen and clearly in trouble. Either she was too cold (take off impossible if temperature falls below 30 degrees C) or, more likely after days of adverse windy weather, simply overworked and out of fuel. I recalled the old trick for such occasions and made up a spot mix of 50/50 sugar and water on a plate and used rolled card to lift her gently on. Going carefully – wet wings or body will prevent flight – the annoyed bee eventually responded, got proboscis to juice, took off and vanished. Much rejoicing on my part as in saving her life the chances are her new colony is saved too. Bombus lapidarius is one of the commonest of our social bees and a highly effective pollinator of the crops the nation grows. It’s a species that nests in the ground, usually under a stone or at the foot of a wall, where the queen produces anywhere from 100 – 300 prodigy in one season. At this time of year the pioneering new queen has to forage widely and fortunately our garden has a good supply of favoured food plants; from willow catkins, gorse, lungwort and daisies, to heather and blackthorn. These early sources of pollen and nectar will nurture the vital first brood of pioneer workers.