Insects and snow

by Richard Jones

When there is snow cover, nothing moves. So I was curious to see what would be the first insect to appear as the snow melted.

Bluebottle, Calliphora vomitoria, on a leafThe snow was great fun, but it made wildlife watching in my garden a bit pointless. I am rather biased on this, because as far as I'm concerned, wildlife really means insects. OK, there are a few birds and the odd squirrel out there, but for the most of us garden wildlife means the insects that are always about, always different, and always fascinating. Except when there is snow on the ground.

When there is snow cover, nothing moves. So I was curious to see what would be the first insect to appear as the snow melted. Like most people we got the main white-out on Sunday night and Monday morning. So good snow-balling fun with the neighbours throughout the day. But not one insect to be seen. Nor the next day. Nor the next.

I had to wait until sunny Sunday afternoon, before the first buzz of activity. There are some insects renowned for appearing on snow. There is a snow flea. It's not a flea. Boreus hymalis, is a scarce wingless relative of the scorpion flies. It is mainly a northern and eastern species in Britain. I've never seen it. I probably never will.

My first post-snow bug was something much less exotic. It was the common bluebottle, Calliphora vomitoria (pictured above), buzzing around the guinea pig's cage. The pig is not that smelly, but the fly may have been following the gentle scent of cavy urine and faecal pellets. Or it may be that the fly was attracted to the warmest sunniest spot in the garden, just outside the back door, against the sheltered south-facing wall where the family pet lives. Certainly the pig was also out sitting in the sunshine as the fly buzzed lazily about.

They may not be most people's first choice of cuddly garden wildlife, but I have a sneaking admiration for blow-flies and their relatives. Under the lens they are strikingly coloured, metallic blue and black, whilst others are grey (cluster flies), green (green bottles) or even bronzy gold.

It only stayed a few minutes before flying off. Now it's raining, and there are still no insects out there. But I can see the slowly thawing snowman has fallen over. I'd better go and retrieve my hat from the mud.

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Gardeners' World Web User 13/02/2009 at 15:23

I grow Insectivorous plants outside in pots and a bog garden, and this snow has not hurt them and there are ready to eat all the bugs in spring. you can see on my site some winter snow on my plants. I hope this does not upset insects fans?

Gardeners' World Web User 13/02/2009 at 18:46

I'm sitting at my computer and suddenly I hear what sounds like a moth, battering the light-shade. Standing precariously on a chair I spot the insect I thought was a ladybird a few days ago, in the bedroom. This ladybird, however is black with. red spots and seems a little bit aggressive. Does anyone know what my little visitor is?

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2009 at 11:49

Hello Maggie. There are a few mainly black Ladybirds species, such as the Pine ladybird that has red spots. You could look at the UK Ladybird survey website for more info'- or The Royal Entomological Society -

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2009 at 13:10

This ladybird sounds as though it could be a Harlequin. Not to be oooh'd and aaah'd over, definitely not welcomed.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2009 at 20:40

here in lerwick, shetland isles it may be a popular opinion that it is frozen, but we have a few signs of life already ie the honeysuckle has good buds, but not much else! the lupins have been green all winter so must be hardy even with snow.

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