Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Horse Blobs and Bee-flies

I was delighted to find, earlier today, that Horse Blobs are now in flower. Before there is too much confusion I should make it clear that I am referring to the Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. It has a host of common names: Kingcups, Water Blobs, Water Bubbles and - the name used by my grandmother - Molly Blobs.
Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. Byfield, 15 April, 2013
Marsh Marigold, Byfield.  15 April, 2013

It is frequent around Northamptonshire although, as a result of land drainage, has now been lost from many of its former locations. Certainly it was far more common in the time of John Clare and he makes a number of references to it. For example:

                       Here 'neath the shelving banks' retreat
                       The Horse Blob swells its golden ball.

                                                      Village Minstrel, 1821

No botanical knowledge is required to recognise that the Pilewort, or Lesser Celandine is closely related to the Marsh Marigold. I have written about the Pilewort in an earlier blog (29 January, 2013) but at that time the plant was not in flower; it now blazes from grassy banks all around the village. Both are members of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae, but the Marsh Marigold is placed in a separate genus, partly because it has no petals; what appear to be petals are modified sepals, which have taken on the role of attracting insects.
Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria. Byfield, 15 April 2013

A little later on in the afternoon Chris drew my attention to an insect clinging to some washing on the line. It seemed to be in a torpid state and I was able to get a good look at it. It was a Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major. Despite being rather bee-like in appearance it is a true fly, having two wings (whereas bees have four) and belongs to a group of flies known as the Larger Brachycera. It is one of the harbingers of spring and is often to be found hovering in front of a flower and inserting its long proboscis (clearly seen in my photograph) into the bloom to obtain nectar. The grubs are parasites of certain bees. In my garden it frequently visits primulas such as Primula denticulata.

Primula denticulata in my garden, Byfield.
 16 April 2013
On checking an old tree stump a short 
distance away I found a second specimen, with a 7-spot Ladybird enjoying the same sheltered spot. 
7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata in my garden.
Byfield 16 April, 2013
A second Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major
16 April, 2013

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