Backswimmers get their name because they swim on their backs, using their long hair-fringed hind legs as paddles. They spend most of their time in water and need to come to the surface regularly to renew their supplies of oxygen, but they fly well to get to a new area of water. They are aggressive carnivores, eating anything of a suitable size and their long biting mouth-part can inflict a painful bite to humans if handled.
The Bank Vole is the smallest of Britain’s voles and is very common in the countryside. They are good climbers and will collect Rose hips and other berries. Their homes are chambers built under tree roots, accessed by tunnels, where they store food for winter and build their nests in spring. Bank Voles form the major food of many other species, such as owls and kestrels. They are diurnal, coming out in the day and sleeping at night.
There are forty-one British species of ant and most of them are social insects, living in highly organised colonies. The Black Ant is very common in lawns, under stones and near houses. On hot summer days, huge colonies of winged Ants may fly into the air together on a mating flight, after which the females break off their wings and look for suitable nesting sites.
There are about thirty-five species of Bluebottle and this species is one of the most common. They are large metallic blue flies which are seen at all times of the year and often come into houses to look for food on which to lay their eggs. This may be uncovered meat in a kitchen or if outside, they will select decaying animal matter or dung. This is how contamination of human food can occur in summer.
An easily recognised garden bird, known for its acrobatic agility and mental ability. In winter, they usually fly in groups with other tits, but in spring, they nest in tree hollows or crevices, the eggs taking about 14 days to reach maturity. The nestlings are fed by both parents and they leave the nest after about 19 days, when they are fed until able to find food for themselves.
This small species of water snail does not have a common name, although it is widespread in ponds, lakes and streams. Bithynia snails are small, uniformly brown and have thin tentacles and a prominent snout which it uses to pick up particles of food and rasp plants and films of green algae covering objects in the water. They lay their eggs in gelatinous capsules, attached to water plants or stones.
Brimstone butterflies are often the first to be seen in Spring as they over-winter as adults. The females lay their eggs on the leaves of Buckthorn trees and the larvae hatch in June and pupate in July, attached to the twig or underside of the leaf by a silken girdle. After about two weeks the butterflies emerge and may be seen flying and feeding on the flowers of Ivy, before hibernating over the winter.
Centipedes hunt mostly at night, hiding under stones and logs during the day. They move very rapidly and if disturbed, they will run out and disappear in a flash. They are powerful predators and capture a variety of prey, feeding on almost any animal of suitable size including worms, slugs and other Centipedes. Because of this, they are considered to be a great friend to gardeners. There are about 47 types of Centipede in Britain.
The Cardinal beetle is rather flat and the wing case becomes wider towards the rear. They have feathery antennae and they are often seen in June, feeding on the nectar of flowers, such as Cow Parsley and other members of the Carrot Family. Cardinal Beetle larvae are carnivorous and live under loose bark and dead wood, feeding on tiny creatures until they mature. There are about 3 types of Cardinal Beetle in Britain.
This brightly coloured moth flies in the day and may be found wherever Ragwort or Groundsel grows, the plants on which it lays its eggs. Ragwort can be completely stripped of its leaves by the conspicuous yellow and black striped caterpillars, which feed in large groups. Sometimes called the “Football-sock” caterpillars, their colour indicates that they are distasteful to predators.
Common Blue Butterfly
The brilliant colour of the Common Blue makes it very easy to see. The males are bright blue, the females brown and both can be seen feeding in large numbers on flowers. There are two generations between May and September, the female laying her eggs on Bird’s-foot-trefoil or Restharrow. The second generation of butterflies hibernate at the bottom of their food plant, pupating the following April.
The tiny Cyclops is commonly found in most areas of water, particularly where there are plenty of aquatic plants. They are easy to spot as the female carries her eggs in two sacs situated on opposite sides of her body. Cyclops feed on tiny organisms and also organic debris floating in the water, which they seize with their antennae. Although tiny, Cyclops are themselves, a major food source for other aquatic animals.
The adult Darter Dragonfly has a broad, flattened body and tends to spend long periods on a perch, waiting to dart out to catch any passing fly. The nymphs are broad, short and more hairy compared to the nymphs of other Dragonflies. They tend to stay hidden away among aquatic plants near to the bottom of the water, devouring any prey which comes near.
Earthworms are important to man as they help to make the soil fertile. They eat rotting vegetation which they take down into the earth, mixing it with air and soil, making it light and suitable for the growth of plants. Earthworms live in tunnels as much a 1.8m down and can grow up to 30cm in length. Attempts to kill Earthworms to prevent the appearance of worm-casts on a lawn will harm the fertility of the grass.
Flatworms are fairly primitive, having no blood system to transport essential substances to the tissues of the body. They achieve their respiration and nutrition by being a flattened shape, as this provides a large surface area to the body, enabling the acquisition of air to and from the tissues. Flatworms are carnivorous and attack prey much larger than themselves, wrapping it up in a layer of mucous and sucking bits off until it is devoured.
The Fox is widespread and has a sharp intelligence, acute hearing and keen sense of smell. It lives a mainly solitary life for much of the year until late December, when the mating season begins. The cubs are born about mid-March in holes under the ground called “earths”. When they become too soiled, the vixen moves her cubs to a new earth nearby. Foxes mostly forage for food at night, being omnivorous and eating most available food.
Freshwater Shrimps are common in almost all clean streams and ponds. They hide under stones for protection against the water current and will move from stone to stone if they become disturbed. In the spring when the females are carrying eggs or young in their egg pouches, they are themselves carried about by the males. When the young Freshwater shrimps hatch from their eggs, they are tiny versions of the adults.
The Frog varies in colour, but always has dark cross-bars on its limbs and dark patches under its eyes. It hibernates in the winter and emerges in the spring to lay its eggs in shallow water, usually among vegetation. Frogs are usually found anywhere near water, hiding under logs, stones or rubble. It uses its long sticky tongue to catch invertebrates and their larvae, on which it feeds.
Commonly known as the “Cuckoo-spit” insect as their patches of “spit” may frequently be seen on the stems and leaves of plants in the summer. It produces this white froth in order to protect itself from both predators and from drying out in the sun. The eggs are laid in stems and the young hatch the following spring and suck the sap, usually the axil of a fresh leaf. The adults appear from June to November.
Gatekeeper Butterflies are so called because of their habit of patrolling hedgerows and woodland edges, where they are very territorial and spend much of their time in one area. They bask in the sun and feed on the nectar of Fleabane, Bramble and other nectar-rich flowers. The females lay their eggs on grasses and the larvae feed at night. The pupae hang suspended from grass stems and the butterflies emerge after about three weeks.
Garden Snails are attractive creatures, but they are not popular with gardeners. In winter they hide under stones, logs or other sheltered places and hibernate through to the spring. During this period, they construct a thick, hard mucous seal across the opening of the shell to provide protection. Garden Snails eat leaves and fruit as well as decaying vegetation and lay their eggs in the soil.
The sleek contours of slugs are ideally adapted for their way of life. They are common in gardens and farmland and are most often seen when coming out after a shower of rain. Although slugs will feed on living plants, they also eat dead and decaying organic matter, therefore playing an important role as decomposers. It breeds for most of the year, laying its white eggs deep in the soil.
Garden Spiders make a circular sticky web on which to catch its prey. When an insect is stuck, the spider leaves its hiding place, wraps the prey in silk and takes it back to eat. In the autumn, the female lays about 400 to 800 eggs in a silk cocoon which is placed somewhere safe, such as under loose bark. She stays with them for a few weeks before dying, but the eggs do not hatch until the spring. There are about 600 types of spider in Britain.
Great Black Slug
There are twenty-three species of slugs in Britain and are common in gardens, woodland and farmland and is most often seen when it emerges following a shower of rain. It is very variable in colour and can be black, brown, cream or reddish-orange and eats rotting and decaying vegetation as well as green plants. They lay their shiny white eggs in groups below the soil.
Great Diving Beetle
The adult Great Diving Beetle is beautifully adapted for swimming with its smooth, streamlined shape and oar-like legs fringed with swimming hairs. It is an aggressive carnivore and will catch even large prey, such as fish and newts with its powerful jaws. The females deposit their eggs on water plants and the larvae pupate the following spring in mud cells at the water’s edge. The beetles fly after dusk and soon colonise new waters.
Great Pond Snail
Pond Snails are large and very common in ponds where they stay in shady areas of the water, feeding among the vegetation. They lay their eggs in a mass of jelly, which they attach to a plant stem or twig in the water. The Latin name “Stagnalis” refers to the fact that this snail prefers to live in still, stagnant water rather than fast flowing streams.
The Hawthorn Shieldbug is a green and red coloured bug which lives mainly on Hawthorn trees where it eats the leaves and red berries, although they move to other trees such as Oak or Whitebeam if no Hawthorn is available. The adults hide in the winter and emerge in Spring, the females laying batches of about 20 eggs on the underside of leaves. There are about 5 types of Shieldbug in Britain.
Harvestmen are different from other members of the spider family. They have small, undivided bodies, eyes set on stalk-like stems and very long legs. The second pair of legs are longer than the others and they use these to probe the ground ahead. They have no silk glands and can therefore not spin webs, but hunt by running after their prey of smaller invertebrates.
The Hedgehog is the only mammal in Britain with a spiny coat, with some 5000 spines for protection. It also has the ability to roll into a ball and it is this spiny ball which deters most predators. They are mostly active at night, feeding on invertebrates, such as beetles, caterpillars, slugs, snails, earthworms and sometimes birds eggs if they are available. They hibernate in winter, but in spring, they make a leafy nest under hedgerows or compost heaps and give birth to three to five young.
Holly Blue Butterfly
Unlike other British butterflies, the larval food plant of the Holly Blue changes with each generation. The first generation of larvae in May and June, feed on the buds of Holly. The second generation, in August and September, feed on Ivy. It is the second generation which over-winters in the pupal state, attached to the Ivy leaves by a silken thread. The summer butterflies, particularly the females are much darker with a dark wing edge.
House Spiders live in houses, sheds and other buildings, hiding in holes and crevices and spinning a large sheet web in which to catch its prey. They are often found in baths because they enter looking for water, but are unable to climb the smooth sides to get out as they do not have adhesive pads on their feet. It generally stays hidden away and lives within a small, untidy web, where it emerges if prey comes within reach.
This is the most common Ladybird and both they and their larvae feed on aphids. The larvae have long bodies and six legs and may be found hunting on bark or vegetation. When they pupate they are attached by the tail to bark or leaves. Ladybirds over-winter in large numbers in dark, dry places. There are about 40 types of Ladybird in Britain.
The yellow 22-spot Ladybird is a tiny black and yellow beetle, which lives among nettles and other low vegetation, hunting for aphids and other prey. The long, six-legged larvae are also avid hunters and when they pupate, they attach themselves to leaves. Large groups of 22-spot Ladybirds nay be found in buildings or the crevices of trees. There are about 40 types of Ladybird in Britain.
Meadow Brown Butterfly
The Meadow Brown is perhaps, the most common butterfly in Britain, seen on sunny and dull days over grassland and along hedgerows, although often only flying up from the grassland if disturbed. The creamy-yellow eggs are lain on grasses and the larvae over-winter, pupating the following summer. There is only one generation a year.
The Meadow Grasshopper is fully winged and are able to fly. Their colours range between greens and browns, depending upon their current habitat and are particularly active on hot summer days, when they can be in abundant un-improved grassland. Grasshoppers die in the autumn, leaving eggs in the soil, which emerge as grasshopper nymphs the following spring.
Millipedes are so named because they have two pairs of legs to each segment. There are many types of Millipede in Britain. They eat large quantities of leaf litter and dead wood and contribute to the breakdown of dead plants. Millipedes must not dry out and therefore live in dark places in the soil, under logs or leaf litter and in cow pats or manure heaps if available.
Minnows are the smallest member of the Carp family and live in clear well oxygenated water, swimming in large, compact shoals as a protection from predators, such as bigger fish and birds. The male has a red belly during the mating season and the females lay up to 1000 yellow eggs among the riverbed stones and gravel. In winter they retire to deep water and hide under stones or in holes in the bank.
Mosquito larvae are cylindrical, opaque and have bristly projections. They spend most of their time at the water surface, filter-feeding with their brush-like mouth-parts. When disturbed, they react with a violent wriggling action and dive to hide amongst the aquatic vegetation. the pupae are free-swimming and often rest at the water surface in a curled-up comma-like position.
The male Orange-tip is a welcome sight in the first days of spring, but unfortunately, the white female is often mistaken for a Small White. The eggs are laid on the flower heads of Garlic Mustard, Ladies-smock and Charlock and the larvae feed from June to August on the seed pods, which they greatly resemble. The pupae are attached to the plants by a silken girdle and as winter approaches, they turn brownish to blend with the ripening pods. The butterflies emerge the following spring.
The “eyes” on the Peacock make this butterfly easy to identify. These marks are a means of defence and when disturbed, the wings are opened and closed rapidly, displaying all four “eyes” to frighten the predator. They pass the winter in the butterfly stage, hibernating in sheds, buildings and hollow trees. They appear in Spring and the female lays her eggs on Stinging Nettles where the black, spiny larvae feed in large groups, protected under silken webs. The adult butterflies emerge the following July.
The Rat-tailed Maggot is the larva of the Drone-fly. It is a member of the Hover-fly Family and gets its name because of a droning sound it makes when hovering. The larvae are a dirty-white in colour and live in stagnant water. They have a long breathing tube which they can extend to the surface in order to extract oxygen from the air.
Red Ants live in grassland, making their nests with domes of fine soil which catch the warm rays of the sun. These domes can become quite large and are used by the caterpillars of the Large Blue butterfly, which spent part of their lives living underground in ant hills in grassy places in Devon, Cornwall and the Cotswolds. There are about 42 types of Ant in Britain.
This is a day-flying moth, which flies in the sunshine from June to August in meadows and other grassy places. The black and yellow larvae feed on members of the Pea Family and pupate in cocoons constructed high up on the slender stems of grasses, where the constant swaying in the wind, reduces the chances of predation by birds. The empty black pupae cocoons are left hanging from the grass.
They are small and very active, constantly on the move looking for food such as beetles, caterpillars, woodlice and earthworms. They have poor eyesight and find their food by using their long sensitive snout and keen sense of smell. In the spring, give birth to six or seven young in nests made in undergrowth. Shrews only live for about a year.
Small Copper Butterfly
The Small Copper is a beautiful brightly coloured butterfly and is commonly seen in any open country. There are three generations a year between April and October. The female lays her eggs on the undersides of Dock or Sorrel leaves where the larvae feed hidden out of sight. The larvae of the third generation pass the winter protected in a silken shelter and pupate, attached to the food plant by a silken girdle, before emerging as adults.
Small Heath Butterfly
Small Heaths may be seen in large numbers, flying together among flowering plants on roadsides, banks and in meadows. The eggs are laid on grasses and there are two generations each year, the first flying from May to July and the second in August and September.The females lay their eggs on grasses such as Annual Meadow Grass on which the larvae feed.
The Smooth Newt is lizard-like in shape but it has no scales, moves slowly and does not bask in the sun. It has a sticky tongue with which it catches slugs, worms and other invertebrates. It can be found under stones or logs out of the breeding season, but it is mostly seen in water in the Spring and Summer. The newt tadpoles look similar to the adults, except that they have distinctive gills, which they lose once ready for a life on land.
Sparrowhawks live in woodland where they make their nests high up in trees. They hunt by flying very fast and low through trees and along hedges, looking for smaller birds. It will out-fly other birds and catch it in flight, often rising to considerable heights in the process. The female is larger and duller than the male and will sometimes take large prey, like Wood Pigeons, which are heavier than themselves.
A common small fish, distinguished by its three spines instead of the first fin on its back. They are generally a silvery dark olive-green, but the breeding males have red underparts. The male builds a nest of leaves in which the female lays her eggs. The male then guards the nest and tends the young fish. Sticklebacks are found in both still and running water, in ponds, ditches and rivers.
Common Toads are generally brownish in colour with darker markings and a dry, warty skin. They walk rather than leap, making them rather slow and clumsy in comparison to frogs and because of this, they safeguard themselves by excreting a bitter poison from glands on their back, which deters most predators. They come to the pond to breed around March and April and the spawn is laid in long jelly covered strings.
Tubifex are small to medium sized red worms, ranging from 20 to 70mm long. They do not swim and when disturbed, contract into tight balls. They live half buried in mud tubes made at the bottom of the water, where their rear ends can be seen waving in the currents. They may be found in large numbers and are often collected as food for aquarium fish.
Violet Ground Beetle
Violet Ground Beetles are very common, especially from June to August and are large, black metallic beetles with a violet edge to their wings. They run very fast when looking for prey and both adults and larvae hunt mainly at night, eating earthworms and other creatures. During the day they hide under bark, stones and logs. Beetles are a large group of insects and there are about 350 species in Britain.
Wall Brown Butterfly
A common grassland butterfly, favouring hot, sunny sites where it can bask on walls, rocks or bare earth. It is often mistaken for a fritillary because it is so brightly marked. It flies along woodland edges, hedgerows and roadsides and the eggs are laid on grasses. The larvae feeding at night, hibernating over the winter and pupating the following summer.
Common Wasps live in fairly large colonies in a nest of cells made from chewed wood. It may be underground, in buildings or in hollow trees. The wasp colony consists of workers, drones and queens and the larvae are fed with insects which the workers have killed. Most Wasps die in winter, only the queen hibernating until spring. There are seven British species of social wasps.
Water Fleas are tiny animals with rounded, almost transparent bodies with hairy limbs and a single eye. They swim with a jerky movement, which is why they are called “fleas”. Many other creatures eat them and their presence is important for a successful pond food web. They are particularly common in all types of still water, particularly organically rich ponds, where their abundance can discolour the water.
Water Mites are tiny bright red, round creatures with eight hairy legs, which they use to swim through the water. Although tiny, they are fierce predators and eat anything such as worms and shrimps. The eggs are laid in a lump of jelly which is attached to any firm surface. The larvae are parasites, attaching themselves to other animals on which to feed. There are about 300 species of Water Mites in Britain.
This freshwater crustacean is related to the woodlouse, which it closely resembles, although Water Slaters have a flattened shape and much longer legs and antennae. The female lays her eggs around April or May and they are carried about until they reach maturity. When the young emerge, they look very similar to the adults. Slaters are common in water where there is plenty of dead and decaying vegetation on which to feed.
This is the only truly aquatic spider, living in water and only coming to the surface for air. The body is a dark silvery greyish-brown and covered with fine hairs. The female builds an underwater nest of silk formed into a dome, under which she lays her eggs. This dome is kept filled with air, carried down from the surface by the spider. She guards them until they hatch and the tiny spiders disperse
The Wolf spider is a fast-moving spider, which chases and captures its prey. It is the only spider where the male presents the female with a courtship “gift”, usually a fly and wrapped up thickly in silk. The female carries her eggs about with her in a cocoon of silk. On hatching the young spiders are carried on their mother’s back, where they remain for a week or two before dispersing. There are about 600 types of spider in Britain.
The Woodlouse is not waterproof and has to avoid drying out, which is why it is found in damp places. It usually avoids light and are most active at night, but will move to a new place in daytime if its retreat dries out. The female carry their eggs in a special brood-pouch beneath the body. Woodlice will curl when disturbed, but cannot roll into a tight ball. There are about 42 types of Woodlouse in Britain.
A tiny, inconspicuous bird, the Wren stays mostly under the cover of vegetation, but it has a distinctively loud song, which draws attention to its presence. There are often two broods of young in a year, the male building several nests, the female finishing the selected one before laying her eggs. Incubation of the eggs is about 14 days and the nestlings are fed by both parents until they leave the nest and continue to be fed until able to find food for themselves.