Winged wonders in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

The warm, sunny days that alternate with the frequent, damp weather days this month release a burst of colourful insect activity for visitors to observe amongst the variety of habitats and flowering plants in the Museum’s garden. Joe Beale, who has recently joined the team, tells us more.

Late summer is a lively time in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. On sunny days you may catch sight of some of our most impressive and colourful insects. Dragonflies that use the garden include the stunning green-striped southern hawker (Aeshna cyanaea), the impressive migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) and the imperious Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).

Photo showing a dragonfly at rest on a spear of purple flowers, with a green, out of focus backdrop to the left and bottom and the out-of-focus wall and windows of the Museum in the background.
A migrant hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) at rest in the wildlife garden. Photo © Joe Beale

They may buzz you to investigate, but tend to power up and down without stopping like little fighter planes, as they hunt flying insects around the meadow, hedgerows and ponds.

On the other hand, the smaller, orange-red (male) or yellowish (female) common darter (Sympetrum striolatum) frequently rests on sun-warmed fencing – try the pond-dipping platform – and, if you are patient, you can often get very close indeed. They like to sit-and-pounce, flying up when insect prey moves past.

Photo of a red-coloured dragonfly at rest on a piece of wood, its wings splayed to the left and right and pointing downwards beside it. The background is out of focus but the green foliage beside a hint of blue water is visible.
A common darter (Sympetrum striolatum) at rest on a wooden beam beside the pond. Photo © Joe Beale

Electric blue azure damselflies (Coenagrion puella) are thinner and less powerful in flight than dragonflies, often staying close to pond-side vegetation. They are no less predatory, however, and pick off small insects. All of these species will have spent from one to three years as larvae in the garden’s ponds.

Dragonflies are not the only eye-catching insects flying now. Butterflies should also be putting on a show in fine weather. Look out for the delicately-spotted speckled wood (Pararge aegeria), which favours the dappled shade of the light woodland by the paths. It lays its eggs on grasses such as false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), which is plentiful here.

Photo showing the butterfly at rest on a leaf at the top of a green plant, its black-brown, speckled and eyed wings spread.
A speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) showing off its upper wings while at rest

The ragged-winged but striking orange form of the comma (Polygonia c-album) will also be appearing around fallen fruit and late summer flowers. Their foodplants include stinging nettles (Urtica dioicia) and hops (Humulus lupulus). The adults will find a dry, sheltered space to overwinter.

Another gem you might see is the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus). This diminutive butterfly will be adding a touch of powder and sky-blue- to the dark green background of its typical foodplants, the holly (Ilex aquifolium) and ivy (Hedera helix) in our hedgerows.

Close-up photo of the butterfly at rest on a green leaf with its wings partially open. The pale blue and black tip of the upper wing is just visible.
A holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus). Photo © Russell Ritchin

Why not come and see some of the beautiful summer wildlife for yourself? On Sunday 26 August we are holding a Butterfly Day event in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden from 12.00 – 17.00, where you can come and learn about butterflies and moths, look for them in the garden, meet the Butterfly Conservation team and take part in lots of activities for all ages.

Thank you Joe,

And for evening wildlife watching in the Wildlife Garden, we will be open for the Museum’s nocturnal wildlife themed #NHMLates this Friday 25 August, from 18.30 – 21.30. Join us in the garden to learn about bats and moths.



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