All posts by Paul Rule

Paul’s Garden a year on

It has been a year since the last post on this blog and although the main project is finished my garden project that emerged from it goes on, so I thought it was a time for an update. At the time of compiling chapter 15 of The Nature of Cambridge the species count for my garden had reached 783 and that total has now nearly doubled to 1492 including 1201 invertebrates.

A breakdown of these species can be viewed HERE. The spreadsheet containing the full list of species can be downloaded HERE.

I plan to provide future updates on a monthly basis covering new and interesting species found both in my garden and in the City, starting today with last month’s highlights.

September Garden Highlights

I don’t suppose many people get exited by finding aphids in their garden but I do when its a species I have not seen before such as the small number of Macrosiphoniella sejuncta (Large Mottled Yarrow Aphid) I found in my wildflower meadow patch. The distinctive aphid supposedly feeds exclusively on yarrow but mine seemed quite content on ox-eye daisy.

This is the 25th species of aphid I have found in the garden and nearly all of them a very much under recorded, this one in particular, as there are there are no other UK records on iRecord or NBN atlas. For more information on aphids and to help ID any unfamiliar ones I would recommend visiting the Influential Points website.

Pantilius tunicatus is striking and unmistakable plant bug, found mainly on hazel, alder and birch. Adults are to be found between Sept-Oct, and several have been recorded in the city over the last couple of years.

Stenidiocerus poecilus

Stenidiocerus poecilus is a rarely recorded leaf hopper and it would appear to be just the second record for the county. Found on Populus species , but adults overwinter on evergreen plants which may be why I found it in my Poplus free garden

One group of insects that is certainly under recorded in our garden are parsitic wasps which is mainly down to the the difficulty in identifuing the species once found and photographed especially the very tiny ones, so it is very satisfying when one is found that can be identified.

Itoplectis maculator is a large ichneumon wasp that is a parasite of various butterfly and moth pupae and the female uses her long ovipositor to lay her eggs within the pupae.

The tiny chalcid wasp Euplectrus bicolor are also parasites of moths, but this species is an external parasite with the female laying her eggs on the skin of caterpillars. The wasp larvae are able to stay attached to the host until fully fed as their mother injects it with a venom before laying her that prevents the host from moulting its skin.

Itoplectis maculator
Euplectrus bicolor

September City Highlights

I found Lasius fuliginosus (Jet Ants) on an oak tree in Trumpington Meadows. There are only a hadfull of county records for this species and this would appear to be the first city record. Apart rom underrecording, the scarcity of this ant may have something do do with there life cycle. It is a semi-social parasite of a semi-social parasite; that is, the species establishes its colonies in those of the Lasius umbratus group which are in turn founded in colonies of the Lasius niger/flavus species complexes. The chances of success for a founding queen under these circumstances may well result in the highly localised distribution of colonies seen in the field.

Lasius fuliginosus attending Lachnus roboris (Variegated oak aphid)

There do not appear to be many people recording the county’s spiders and records of many species are thin on the ground. Despite the common name Agalenatea redii (Gorse Orbweb Spider) can be found in grassland and this one was found on Magog Downs. At first glance this spider could be mistaken for a small Araneus diadematus (Garden Spider) and reveiwing some earlier photos I seem to have made that mistake with another individule I photographed back in June at Trumpington Meadows.

Agalenatea redii

Paul’s garden project

As part of the NHC project, I have been recording every species of invertebrate found in our Cambridge garden (at least the ones I have been able to identify) and at the time of writing the number found is 633. In order to maximise the numbers, we have been taking steps to encourage more by planting more native species. 3 years ago we ripped out a non-native hedge, replacing it with one composed of only native species. This has been a rich source of species not recorded before, especially Hemiptera (true bugs).

This year we gave over 5m2 of our lawn to creating a mini wild meadow by removing the existing turf and replacing it with wild meadow turf which was laid down in late March. By early June it had produced a healthy crop of flowers and grasses.

The Mini Meadow , early June

We have already had several new species, including a number of meadow specialist bugs such as the Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug, Stenodema laevigata, Javesella dubia and Dicranotropis hamata.

Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug (left), Stenodema laevigata (right)
Javesella dubia (Left), Dicranotropis hamata (Right).

Some of the wild meadow flowers contained in the mix are foodplants for specific species. Oxeye Daisies provide a home for a number of species such as the leaf mining moth Bucculatrix nigricomella and the rather attractive fruit fly Tephritis neesii, which lay their eggs in the flower head. Campion Moth caterpillars feed internally in the seed capsules of various Campions.

Tephritis neesii (left), Campion Moth (Right).

Two of the latest interesting finds from the meadow are the Longhorn Beetle Grammoptera ruficornis and an Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp.

Grammoptera ruficornis (left), Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp (Right).

I am expecting many more finds over the summer and autumn and will post the highlights here.

Late August in the Botanical Gardens

A visit to the gardens last Friday in order check out late summer dragonflies and damsel flies, turned out to be one of the best trips for wildlife I have had to this site. Starting out at the fountain we had our first dragonfly species, a single female Southern Darter ovipositing on the pond vegetation, along with a lone Blue-tailed Damselfly.

On the main lake there was plenty of dragonfly activity in the form of Common and Ruddy Darters, Brown Hawkers and hovering Migrant Hawkers. There were also small numbers of Common Blue Damselflies. The main entertainment here however was provided by a pair of Kingfishers who performed a number of flybys over the lake.

On the western edge of the lake we found two Water Voles, one of which was content to feed just a few feet from us allowing great views and photo opportunities.

Water Vole (Paul Rule 2017)

At about this time last year, I had photographed a pair of mating Willow Emerald Damselflies which was a first for this site and I was hoping to find evidence that they had become established here. We found one male specimen  in the exact location the pair had been seen the previous year, and the following day another observer found five. This along with other sightings suggests this species is now well established in Cambridgeshire.

Willow Emerald Damselflies (Paul Rule 2016)

Other observation of note  were a number of Speckled Wood butterflies, good views of one of the resident Jays and an unknown species of wolf spider walking on water carrying  her bundle of eggs behind her.

Paul Rule

Hoverflies appear

Now that things are warming up and at last we have a few sunny days, the first of this season’s Hoverflies are appearing all over Cambridge. As more plants come into flower their numbers will rapidly increase, assisted by migrating insects from the continent as summer progresses.


Over 270 species of hoverflies have been recorded in the UK and many of them are spectacular bee and wasp mimics, although all of them are totally harmless. Their larvae are well known as the gardener’s friend for eating aphids, but in truth only around 40% of  species do this.  Some feed on plants, some on decaying matter, while others live in the nests of ants, wasps and bees, either scavenging or feeding on the host’s own larvae.

Hoverflies will be with us right through to the autumn, when large numbers can be found feeding on the late blooming ivy flowers.


Paul Rule