Insects and seed heads

Posted: Friday 31 January 2014
by Kate Bradbury

This photo of an earwig tucked into an old fritillary seedhead is a nice reminder of how important spent plants and seedheads are to sheltering wildlife.

Earwig seedhead

Looking through some old photos yesterday, I came across this one of an earwig tucked into an old fritillary seed head*. I don’t remember taking the photo, but it’s a nice reminder of how important spent plants and seed heads are to sheltering wildlife.

The lush green in the background indicates the photo was taken in summer, but I’ve found plenty of other critters – from ladybirds to moth caterpillars – tucked into seed heads, under stems and even in emerging leaf buds, in late winter to early spring.

Nocturnal, earwigs are well known for spending the day hiding under stones and in flowers and seed heads in summer. Indeed, an old gardeners’ trick to stop them nibbling chrysanthemums and dahlias is to trap them by making a little nest of straw in a plant pot suspended on a sturdy stick or cane. The idea is that the earwigs choose to spend the day hiding in the nest instead of the flower-heads, and can be ‘moved on’ by the gardener.

Of course, we’re not very likely to find earwigs tucked into seed heads at this time of year. But we may come across ladybirds and caterpillars, or spot hoverfly pupae and butterfly chrysalises on the spent leaves and stems of plants.

I expect it’s been a tough winter for insects, which are much more likely to succumb to fungal infections in wet, mild conditions. Temperatures have been so mild lately that many more insects are out and about than they normally would be. And so too are we gardeners. With plants bursting into growth and insects on the wing, it’s easy to have a little tidy up to get the garden ready for spring. But spent plants and seed heads may still be harbouring overwintering insects. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the old ‘earwig trap’ and create mini insect hibernaculums, so they can stay out of harm’s way regardless of the weather.

*I didn’t recognise the seedhead and asked Twitter. Many thanks to Nigel Colborn (@plantmadnige) for suggesting Fritillaria persica. I think he’s right, but if anyone else has any suggestions I’d be interested to hear them.

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Talkback: Insects and seed heads
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Lyn Plant-Wells 07/03/2014 at 13:37

Seedheads are great for sheltering insects but earwigs can be a nuisance as they nibble flower petals.
However, I have a friend who never kills earwigs as they are truly dedicated mothers. They tend their babies and clean them every day! AAAhh!