Thick-legged flower beetle – this insect has to have been to the gym…

A male (just look at those legs!) thick-legged flower beetle feeding on common mallow

As I looked closely at a common mallow flower, the plant species I wrote about yesterday, I saw a spectacular metallic green coloured beetle, with huge bulges on its thighs. Do you ‘know’ this beetle? I hadn’t noticed it before. I now know it is a ‘thick-legged flower beetle’, which is commonly found across the south of England. This creature looks as if it could have dropped straight out of a sci-fi set, yet here it is, part of our world in Burwell.

Female thick-legged flower beetle – no bulging thighs! Thanks to East London Nature for the photo.

There are over 4,000 species of beetles in the UK. Many of them are insects with black cases, all a very similar shape and size, making them a real challenge to identify. Beetles put the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) of the bird world into perspective! But you will immediately know a male thick-legged flower beetle when you see one – as well as its metallic green colouring, sometimes with a hint of copper – from which it gets its alternative name ‘false oil beetle’ – the bulges on the hind legs of the male are a give away! Not surprisingly another common name for this species is swollen-thighed beetle. The female is the same shape and colouring without the swollen thighs – I’m challenging myself to find one.

Ox-eye daisies at Pauline’s Swamp.

These beetles are out and about now feeding on the pollen of open headed flowers, like dog roses, common mallow where I found ‘mine’, bramble and ox-eye daisies, which they specially love. When the sun comes out, you may like to go looking for one in St Mary’s churchyard, the Baptist churchyard or Pauline’s Swamp, off Reach Road as in all these places there are swathes of ox-eye daisies.

Insects love umbel shaped flower heads – like this parsnip plant which has gone to seed.

They also like flowers with heads in umbels -think umbrella shaped structures – as they provide lots of flowers to feed from right next to each other – so I will be looking on these too.

Thinking about beetles has reminded me of Beetle Drive, which is such a simple game – just needing a dice and paper and pencils – yet quite addictive and can get very exciting. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of playing before: you have to throw a six to start as for a six you draw a body of a beetle. For a five you can add a head, for four a tail, for three a leg (you need six of these), for two an antennae/feelers (you need two), for one an eye (you need two). The first to complete their beetle wins the round. If you score each round played by adding up the value of the parts that have been added to your beetle, it can count as doing maths at home at the same time! That has to be a Win Win!!

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Bugles standing witness

I am being fanciful, plants have their own being and place in this world, however finding these small but elegant dark purple flowers standing amongst long grass and glossy buttercups in the churchyard I cannot help but think they are keeping a quiet witness to the lives and deaths amidst which they grow.

Bugles are one of the first wildflowers I learned the latin name of, ajuga reptans, meaning ‘to drive away’ (a hint of its healing properties) and ‘creeping’. I was out surveying a wood with the Beds, Cambs, Northants Wildlife Trust a classic place to find this shady, damp loving plant. Since, I have discovered that they are often planted in shady places in gardens, where not much else will grow. Do you have them in your garden?

I went out this morning to have another look round St Mary’s churchyard. To my delight I immediately found a patch of ground ivy, germander speedwell – yesterday’s focus blue-purple flowers – growing with bugle, near the new, neatly tended ashes’ burial area.

Once again, I was tripped up thinking, ‘Is that ground ivy, or is it bugle’? At first glance their flowers look similar. Bugle however stands more upright. Bugle’s flowers are packed closer together. Bugle’s flower petals appear to have a touch of yellow, actually that’s the anthers peeping out. The leaves are very different. Ground ivy leaves are scalloped, bugle leaves are gently wavy edged.

Wandering off the main path to the church I found so much more. Left uncut, buttercups, oxeye daisies, red clover – always a good sign of wildlife rich grassland – are all growing. Suddenly I caught my breath. I saw a whole patch of bugle growing, invisible from the path, a startling sign of exquisite nature thriving in what could so easily regarded as unkempt, neglected grass.

I suggest this – and other churchyards with uncut areas – are a great place to have a wander. We will only discover why such areas are important – and a delight – by getting to know what grows in them and watching and listening to the other wildlife that also enjoys them. What we don’t know, we don’t miss. You won’t harm the plants by walking around as long as you take a bit of care where you put your feet. Remember, last year this place would have been cut and these flowers would not have existed…

I’ve been challenged by doing Kelly Holmes’ core session workouts each morning, Nathalie’s encouragement keeps me going. Kelly Holmes keeps saying you can push yourself as hard as you like, but start somewhere… If you haven’t done this before, a bit like I am finding my core (!), you might like to challenge yourself to count all the different species you find, to add to the challenge count the different grasses as well. How about adding the butterflies, hoverflies, bumblebees?

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