Country Diary: Frightening visitor found in our garden

Those long, hot summer days beckoned us to the local heights of Lady Grace’s Ride. A gentle, welcome breeze fanned the trees, and grasshoppers stridulated amongst the grasses. The males’ stridulation (or ‘singing’ by rubbing a leg against a wing) is said to attract the females. After mating, egg masses are laid in the ground, protected by a foam secreted by the female.

Grasshoppers have strong hind legs for jumping and kicking, and being well camouflaged may be heard, but not always seen!

The warm, late summer has proved a good time for seeing jellyfish. The clear, deep water of a harbour gives good viewing of their swimming with a pulsating bell and trailing tentacles. Our dear neighbours, Paula and David whilst exercising their dogs on the beach at Hunmanby Gap, discovered many common jellyfish stranded on the sands by the receding tide. This species is transparent except for four mauve, crescent-shaped reproductive organs around the mouth.

On August 26, their retriever pup pondered the cream and brown jellyfish stranded on the beach at Scarborough’s North Bay. David photographed the specimen, which appeared to be the compass jellyfish, found mainly in the south and west. These can give a harmful sting – hence its other name ‘sea nettle’!

Meanwhile, on the same day I had a visitor just as I arrived home. Descending the patio steps was a huge caterpillar immediately recognised as the elephant hawk-moth. The main food plants of this caterpillar are willowherb and bedstraw. As neighbours Christine and Ron have a patch of willowherb, I placed the caterpillar plus food in a bucket whilst deciding where to place it. The caterpillar is quite frightening when it extends its foremost segments in a way suggestive of an elephant’s trunk. When these segments are retracted, the eye-spots on the caterpillar produce a resemblance to a snake.

It warned me off, and may well have some defensive value.

I placed it in a bed of soil to pupate, and hope it will develop into the beautiful moth we’ve seen and admired years ago.

The elephant hawk-moth flies at night and feeds from flowers, especially honeysuckle.

We have millions of ants locally. Being highly social they live in colonies under slabs and stones. Most commonly seen are the sterile, wingless female workers. Reproductive queens and males usually have wings. After mating, the males die, and the females shed their wings. A single queen lays all the colony’s eggs. Worker ants protect the eggs and then feed the hatched young. If a protein diet is fed to any female grubs, they become reproductive.

What do ants eat? Ants ‘milk’ aphids (greenflies) for their sweet honeydew. Do they eat other insects? Watch them, and record your observations. It would be so interesting to compare notes.