Wildlife enthusiast and resident volunteer, Juliet, asks what's buzzing in the borders here at Exbury Gardens and goes into detail about pollinator activity in early-autumn.
"On sunny days in early autumn there is still plenty of pollinator activity in the flower borders, with different bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies and many other types of insects all fuelling up prior to the arrival of winter".
"Amongst all the pollinator activity in the borders it is fun to pick out the bumblebees. The two types most likely to be seen are the small brown Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), and the much larger Buff-tailed or White-tailed Bumblebee, the two species often lumped together and commonly referred to as Bombus terrestris/lucorum as their workers are hard to differentiate in the field. Both types of bumble are furry, making them easy to distinguish from other bees or wasps.
"Common Carder Bees have a brown thorax and stripy brown body, though it often appears black as the hairs can become very worn and faded, or even absent, late in the year. They are often seen feeding on tubular flowers, such as Penstemons, or lipped flowers such as Salvias.
"The Buff/White-taileds Bumblebees are bigger, with a yellow stripe across their black thorax, and a white tail. The very large furry ones are new queens, recently emerged, feeding up for their winter hibernation. Smaller ones with the same pattern are this year’s workers, coming to the end of their lives.
"These bumblebees like open flowers, such as the single Dahlias and Asters, multiheaded flowers such as Scabious or Sedum, and will also feed on tubular types. Here, they have developed a cunning method of obtaining the nectar: instead of entering the tube and collecting pollen on their furry bodies they will often bore a hole in the outside of the tube and feed through that. It may be more efficient for the bees, but it is disadvantageous to the plant, since its pollen doesn’t get distributed to another flower, so pollination doesn’t take place".
"If you walk through the Herbaceous Garden or venture down to the Sundial and Centenary Gardens there are plenty of perennials still in flower, from Sedums or Nepetas, to Salvias and Dahlias. This includes two large shrubs (Heptacodium miconiodes) at the far end of the Centenary Garden, where all the pollinators find their bunched heads of small white flowers irresistible. I watched a hornet repeatedly buzzing a Red Admiral butterfly that was trying to feed on this shrub, every time it settled the hornet would find it and chase it off".
"Apart from the Red Admirals, other butterflies you might expect to find are Peacocks and, most plentiful of all, are the so-called Cabbage Whites, which actually consist of two species: Small Whites and Large Whites. They have been out for quite a while by now and most are looking pretty tatty. They do not overwinter as adults, whereas Peacocks hibernate and reawaken in spring.
"Red Admirals don’t seem to hibernate, but roost among e.g., ivy and emerge on warm sunny days throughout the winter. In the meantime they are all feeding voraciously while the good times last".