Autumn is a good time to look for plant galls in Wyre. The ball-shaped Cherry Galls are induced by the gall wasp Cynips quercusfolii and those of the Common Spangle Galls by another gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. The adult gall wasps that emerge early the following spring are all females and go on to lay their eggs on the developing oak leaf buds. The galls that result are quite different, and from these the sexual generation of males and females emerge in late spring and early summer.
Common Spangle Galls and Cherry Galls on oak, Postensplain, 6 September 2017 Rosemary Winnall
We were surprised and delighted when Carol Taylor found 2 Bilberry Bumblebees in a meadow near Button Oak recently during a Study Group field meeting. This is the first record for Wyre, the nearest known bees being at Stiperstones in Shropshire. One of the bees was carrying pollen which proves nesting in the locality. The bees are known to feed on Bilberry early in the season, and favour Bird’s-foot Trefoil in June and July, later feeding from Bell Heather. If anyone spots this species elsewhere in the Wyre Forest area, we’d be pleased to hear! Our 2 bees were released to continue their foraging where they’d been found nectaring on Bird’s-foot Trefoil.
Bombus monticola, Button Oak, 7 June 2017 ©Rosemary Winnall
Bombus monticola, Button oak, 7 June 2017 ©Rosemary Winnall
In New Parks there is an 8 foot high wooden post in a sunny glade. Wood Ants (Formica rufa) were observed climbing up carrying nest material, so Roger Plant devised a cunning technique to successfully obtain a photograph of the top of the post. We know that these ants often centre their nest on a dead log – but this pole is a bit ambitious! We shall have to see how the nest develops.
Wood Ants taking nesting material up the pole, 3 May 2017 ©Graham Hill
Roger Plant photographing Wood Ants on the post, 3 May 2017
Wood Ants on top of the pole with nesting material ©Roger Plant
This summer a group of these sawfly larvae have defoliated the top of a small ornamental pine tree in my garden in Bliss Gate. They have been recorded here since 2014. There are still a few larvae present in the middle of September, but they will soon all have moved down into the soil where they spin overwintering cocoons in which to pupate. They will emerge as adults during next May or June.
Common Pine Sawfly (Diprion pini), Bliss Gate, 24 August 2016 ©Rosemary Winnall
Southern Wood Ants are commonly found in the Wyre Forest and in sunny places their large nests can be large and conspicuous. There may be up to 400,000 individual ants in one nest, almost all of which are worker ants. Winged males and new queens emerge between April and August and Kevin McGee has sent this excellent photograph of one of the queens he found in Wyre recently.
Formica rufa queen ant, Wimperhill, 5 June 2016 ©Kevin McGee
Wood Ants (Formica rufa) spend the winter months in a state of dormancy underground in their nests. Then, in the spring sunshine when the ground temperature is high enough, they can be seen massing together on top of the nest in large numbers as seen here. Their dark colour enables them to absorb the heat of the sun and when they return to the nest their radiated heat can warm the nest.
Wood Ants massing on their nest, 13 April 2016
Wood Ants massing on their nest, 13 April 2016
Despite its name, this is not an ant but an ant-like wasp in the family Mutillidae (Hymenoptera) in which there are 3 British species. These are parasites of halictine bees and crabronid wasps. The females have no wings, but are transported by the male whilst in cop. This female was found on bare sandy ground at Bliss Gate. This one looked like a queen ant, although had conspicuous waving antennae. They can sting if provoked and apparently stridulate when handled.
Black-headed Velvet Ant, Myrmosa atra, Bliss Gate ©Rosemary Winnall
The Wood Ants (Formica rufa) that are commonly found in most of Wyre’s woodland have begun to emerge from their winter period of dormancy and when weather conditions are suitable they are out massing on top of their nests – quite a spectacle!
Wood Ants, Ribbesford Wood, 27 March 2015 ©Nicola Winnall
Wood Ants, Ribbesford Wood, 27 March 2015, ©Nicola Winnall
This unseasonably warm weather will have had a number of effects on wildlife. On December 17th 2014 at 13.30, when the temperature outside was 12°C, I spotted a bumble bee worker buzzing around the Mahonia flowers in my garden at Callow Hill. On closer inspection it had two full pollen baskets and as I watched it moved across to nectar on winter-flowering heather close by. Now is the nest that this worker is provisioning a continuation of the summer nest, or has a new Queen come out of hibernation early and started building a new nest already?