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In flagrante, bumbles in the cornflowers and Mary's Spring Weeds workshop

Date posted: Thursday 23rd May 2019

In flagrante, bumbles in the cornflowers and Mary's Spring Weeds workshop

Another warm morning and up early to water. Passing the brambles en route to my plot my eye was caught by these two large creatures locked in flagrante, to put it bluntly!

Online to ID and check out the information about what turns out to be cockchafers from the Natural History Museum:
“It isn’t actually a bug and doesn’t only fly in May, but the UK’s largest chafer beetle is easy to spot. Seen for the first time, an adult cockchafer, or May bug, can cause a bit of a stir and people can be worried by them. But Stuart Hine from the Museum’s Identification and Advisory Service (IAS), who is often asked by the public to identify them, confirms that they most certainly don’t sting. ‘They have a segment called the pygidium at the end of their abdomen, which is long and pointed,’ Hine said. ‘It looks vicious but is actually a tool for females to lay eggs into the ground.’ Adult cockchafers are one of the top enquiries to the IAS during May. ‘We would usually expect to get 100 or more calls from people wanting to know what this peculiar creature is,’ said Hine. Cockchafers, Melolontha melolontha, are relatively large beetles belonging to the scarab family. Adults are 2.5-3cm long, and are common in the south of England and the Midlands. The name cockchafer means ‘big beetle’ in Old English. Although one of their common names is the May bug, if climate conditions are right, adult cockchafer beetles are often seen flying in April… a warm spell will bring them out early. Cockchafers have whitish triangles on their sides, hairy bodies, reddish-brown wing cases that meet in the middle and orange fan-like antennae.
Adult cockchafers only live for about 5 or 6 weeks. During that time, they look for a mate and fly into the tree tops to feed on leaves. They fly at dusk on warm evenings, making a noisy hum, and are attracted to light. ‘They sometimes mistake chimney stacks for tree tops and occasionally fall down chimneys into open fireplaces,’ Hine said. ‘Then after dark, they are attracted to light and can get caught in lamp shades.’
Although they are known as bugs, cockchafers are not true bugs, which belong to another group of insects that includes shield bugs, water bugs, aphids and scale insects. True bugs that can fly have wings that usually overlap when folded, instead of meeting in a mid-line as cockchafer wings do.
Cockchafers spend most of their lives (three to four years) underground as larvae, or grubs. The grubs are white and C-shaped with six legs and reddish-brown heads. They can be larger than the adults, growing to up to 4cm and are a food source for owls and bats. Grubs eat the roots of a variety of plants and in large numbers can become pests damaging pastures and crops.

The front bed by the entrance is now buzzing with bees foraging on the nepata, honesty, alliums and on the cornflowers. I’d thought they were doubles and so not good for pollinators but these bumbles were making good headway into the flowers.

There’s such a diversity of skills and expertise among our plotholders and Mary Newing, a medicinal herbalist provided a fascinating workshop a couple of Saturdays ago, about the beneficial properties of a range of plants commonly dismissed as ‘weeds’ – dandelions rich in potassium, nettles high in nitrogen etc.
Mary says that the only plant she hasn’t yet found a use for is bindweed!