Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

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Macro Monday 20th April 2020

The warm weather in Sussex has fizzled out, replaced by cloud and a quite cool wind. It’s thrown the insect life back under shelter, but for a couple of hot lunchtimes when I nipped out into my garden with the camera and one encounter in my own living room.

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One of the more interesting encounters with the animal kingdom in the past week has been this ichneumon wasp. Like many people who try to photograph these insects, I find it very frustrating. Their diversity reaches several thousand species in the UK (not something we can say often in Britain) but they are so flighty that they’re very difficult to photograph. The best results for me have been when some are distracted on flowers in the carrot family (Umbellifers). Ironically, the inchneumon above was in my living room at midnight! Again, I can see one on the garden window as I type this.

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This is a Nomada bee that is a parasitic species. I had tried earlier that evening to snap some solitary bees and wasps in the garden, but this was the best I could do. In the way that landscape photographers lose their cool over beautiful light entering a valley, I feel the same about species like this and the wasp above. A book that helped me to appreciate that there are people far more passionate about ichneumon wasps is The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich. It’s a biographical account of Heinrich’s life and that of his father who travelled around the world discovering new species. It tells the incredible story of his father’s flight from the Nazis in the Second World War and his attempts to protect his collection.

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Ichneumon wasps are also what made Darwin consider that such is nature’s cruelty, there can be no benevolent God. On a sunnier day I managed to get closer to a very small wasp. That is, I think it’s a wasp. Some solitary wasps are, upon closer inspection, sawflies or other relatives.

This may be news to some people, but we owe our way of life to solitary wasps. Bees, which are crucial to food production, evolved from them about 130million years ago and their heritage is far more ancient. Everyone hates on the common social wasp Vespula vulgaris, but the are many thousands of species that you slander when you say ‘I hate wasps’. As Chris Packham once put it, when asked what is the point of wasps, ‘what is the point of you’!

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Solitary bees are close relatives of wasps. One book I read said that bees evolved when a solitary wasp decided to eat some pollen instead. I’m not sure what species this is. There were a couple flitting around and resting nicely for their close-up.

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It was basking on the yellow leaves of the hedge.

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We have just moved to a new house (it’s quite old) and so I have been watching to see what the unknown plants get up to before removing or replacing anything. This is a geranium that seems quite popular with the local bees. This solitary bee was covered in pollen.

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That hot lunch break (also think I had some hot food) was topped by a seasonal first. I noticed that a hedge in a neighbouring garden had an unusual flight movement around it. It rested to catch some rays and then I could see it was a large red damselfly. Now that is definitely not a wasp.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

5 Responses to “Macro Monday: let’s bee thankful for wasps”

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