Sunday, 23 March 2014

Getting buzzy with it!

Hello dear readers, hope you are well and a warm welcome to my newest reader Julie, glad to have you aboard. Also a big thanks to Natasha for your kind comments last time, much appreciated.

Spring is here me thinks.

Well, with all this lovely weather of late, lots has been happening. Unfortunately though, the bumblebee nest box that I set up has failed to work and after another bee sadly died, I opened the exit tube and the other bee left of its own accord. I won't be catching anymore bees this year now as I didn't create this experiment to kill bees, no. I will however wait till next year and try again, after all, it was Einstien who once said:
"Those who have never failed, have never tried anything new"
I can only summarise that the reasons the bees didn't take to the box was for the following reasons:

  • Bees caught too early, not enough time to prepare themselves for nesting
  • I didn't provide enough pollen
  • Bombus terrestris usually nests in old mouse nests and as I didn't have an old mouse nest to use.
  • The box temperature might have been wrong.
Whatever the reason, there's always next year. On an ironic twist however, not long after I released the last bee, I got a visitor to the blue tit nest box looking for a nest site.

It's a Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), which is a newcomer to the UK and it made its way here under its own steam and wasn't introduced (makes a change). As the name suggests, the like to nest high up in trees and are commonly known to take over nest boxes. Very much like our own Buff-tailed bumblebee (B terrestis) which takes over mouse nests. 

Not long after this though, on the same day, this happened:

Yes, finally, after weeks of popping back and forth and lots of wing shuffles, the blue tit finally starts the task of nest building. It was very slow at first and by the second day there wasn't much in there to speak of. But then I got another surprise!

Yes, the Tree bumble was back again, and it didn't seem to pleased with the new additions to the nest box. He even came back for a third time the following day, yet, the tow have never been in the box together as far as I know. Possibly a good thing. 

However, after the third day, the bumble never returned anymore and the blue tit nest has come on leaps and bounds, so much so that for the first time ever, the blue tit actually spent its first night in the box and here we see it as it stirs to attend an itch and then sticks its head back under its wing as a noisy train rumbles past.

The following day, nest building began in earnest and at one point she was visiting the nest once every 2 minutes with nesting materials which she seems to be collecting from a garden 2 doors down. They have an area at the rear of their garden where old potted plants go to die. A potted plant graveyard if you like. There is obviously a good supply of sphagnum there too and today the nest is looking very nest like.

I'm also taking a photo of the nest on a daily basis which I hope to stitch together into a time-lapse at the end of the season. Watch this space!

I will also be updating my YouTube channel on a regular basis, so click here to keep updated, or subscribe to the channel as well.

The Emperor's are emerging!

Yes, the cocoons that I brought in from the cold last week have suddenly started to emerge and the look fabulous. 
Saturnia pavonia female on the left, male on the right.
The adult moths will live for about 4-6 weeks and during this time will not feed. This stage of their lifecycle is purely about furthering the species, it's about mating, and the way they do this is also quite a spectacular feat in itself.

Adult Emperor moths have a strange lifestyle, the male flies at day and sleeps at night whilst the female flies by night and sleeps during the day. So how do they ever meet to mate I hear you ask. The answer comes in the form of pheromones. When the female rests up for the day, they release a chemical called pheromones, a bit like ladies wearing a very nice perfume. We humans can't smell these pheromones, but the feathery antennae of the male moths (see photo above to compare the male and female antennae) pick the pheromones up very well and like a well trained bloodhound begin to track the female down.

It's amazing just how powerful this pheromone is. Me and my niece Gabby, went over to my local heathland patch to release some of the males and females this weekend. Dafydd Lewis, the membership secretary of the Amateur Entomologists Society had already told me about a practice called 'assemblage'. This is where you put a caught female in a container with a net lid on, then go out to an area where that moth frequents with the female and soon you should get males coming to find the female in the container due to them homing in on her pheromone scent. Needless to say, me and Gabby hadn't been there long when from about 100 yards away, two males came fluttering in and one flew straight into the box of females I had brought along. It was quite windy too, which added to the amazement and if you're still not taken back by this wonderful feat, try looking at it like this: The average human is around 70" tall and the average Emperor moth has a body length of about 1". The moth was picking up the scent at over a 100yds away. That would be like the average human male smelling a female from over 7000yds away across a huge garden full of flowers and doing it blindfolded, because the moth is doing it by sight either. Considering most men can't smell their wife's perfume from 2yds away, that really is quite a trick the moths have.

We gently placed the rest of the moths around the heath in different places in the hope they wouldn't get found by any predators such as birds, etc. We also placed some eggs in different places around the heath as one thing I found from these emerging moths is that mate pretty quickly once they've emerged. This is quite understandable really. Emerging as an adult moth/butterfly is everything that little munching caterpillar has been working towards, the time to mate and further the species. Imagine the futility of it all if you were to be snapped up by a bird not long after emerging? So the need to mate and lay eggs quickly after emerging is of great importance and this is another reason (I believe) that the female flies at night. Firstly, there's less chance of being predated upon when flying at night and secondly, you can lay your eggs without any predators seeing where you've laid the eggs. So although it seems rather strange for the different sexes to be flying at different times, in the long run, it makes perfect sense.

Needless to say, all this mating as soon as emerging has left me with a lot of eggs.

Emperor moth eggs

Some eggs were thoughtfully placed on twigs which makes them easier to place in the wild.

Thoughtfully placed eggs.
These should hatch in around 7 days, however, most of these eggs will go to other like minded friends who want the joy of raising such a creature and many will be placed on the heathland where their food plant is abundant.

It's been a wonderful experience since I first found the original female Emperor moth who laid the eggs which hatched into tiny little caterpillars which grew and grew and grew and then made their tough silk cocoons.

Then come the spring to watch them emerge is fantastic and here's a video of one female emerging. I hope you like it. If it isn't showing below, please click on this here

Food for thought!

It is quite common this time of year to find large queen bumblebees looking rather dozy and lethargic on the floor, or on walls etc. These bees are usually low on energy and the best thing you can do for them is to give them a solution of sugar water. 2 parts water: 1 part sugar (by weight) and place it in front of the bee. You'll find she'll lap it up and will be on her way in no time with her energy packs fully restored. Please do not give bees honey! There is a very good chance that there could be harmful pathogens in the honey that will harm the bee and could spread doing far more harm than good and our bees are already in serious trouble, they don't need anymore trouble. A big thanks to Sarah (you know who you are) for reminding me about this.

That's about it for now, hope you enjoyed and please feel free to check my YouTube channel for further updates on PattyBlue (as the wifey calls her) the blue tit. Eggs should be laid soon I reckon. Wonder how many she will lay?

Tile next time folks, keep safe, keep smiling.


  1. Very interesting. Where did the bombus hypnorum arrive from?

    1. Thank you Anne. Good point which I had intended to make but forgot. The B hypnorum is an European species and was first recorded in the UK in 2001.

  2. Thank you for the welcome.. How lovely to see the Blue Tit nest building. We have several nest boxes dotted about and one was used last year by a Coal Tit which was lovely to watch. We were also lucky to have a bumble bee nest in the ground at the bottom of our garden.. I spent many a good few minutes watching them come and go, I wouldn't mind a tree bumble taking over one our nest boxes.. fingers crossed. :o)

    1. A Coal tit, wow! I often get a pair of them visiting the garden every summer and they always fly off in the same direction, I guess, int he direction of their nest. I also get a bumblebee nest in my garden every year as they like the mouse hole under my ponds waterfall. Great watching them go back and forth :)