Nature Notes

Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

I WAS just putting out the milk bottles the other day when I spotted a small ladybird halfway up the inside of the front door – just resting, not going anywhere in particular. It was still there later in the morning though gone by next morning. We’ve also noted one in the bedroom. From time to time it appears on the windowsill, then disappears. Where? I wonder. Clearly it is using our home as a winter refuge and, though it spends a lot of time in a torpid state hidden in a crevice somewhere, it also needs to wake up occasionally and have a walkabout.

Several species of invertebrates have learned to take advantage of our homes for winter shelter. Stepson, Rob, sent us a photograph of a large family snugly ensconced in a corner of his kitchen ceiling: a small spider and her numerous family. She was less than a centimetre long, the spiderlings, encased in their protective envelope of silk, were minute. I guess she would also have the occasional stroll, perhaps a snack, but the young will not emerge till spring. Safe in their silken nursery they will grow and undergo several moults,forming a new outer skin, then cracking and wriggling clear from the old one. Some day soon, when they are mature enough and the conditions are right, they’ll disperse, each ballooning away on its own silken thread. Let’s hope the back door is open when this occurs. I don’t know whether the parent will also survive. Perhaps, like Charlotte, the spider heroine of EB White’s delightful children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, she will expire, her task complete.

My neighbour’s spare bedroom was for many years, the hibernation home chosen by peacock butterflies. Since the room was kept cool and relatively undisturbed it was ideal. The only problem was when family visited at Christmas and the central heating was turned on. Even so, generations of peacocks successfully overwintered and emerged in the early Spring. Our neighbour just had to remember to open a window on a sunny morning.

Not everyone is equally happy to be an insect host, even to ladybirds. My sister’s friend in Cornwall complained forcefully about a crowd of these little beetles that had arrived on the wall outside his back door. They began to infiltrate the kitchen – first one or two – but then in hordes – leaving a smelly yellow trail, the reflex blood with which they deter predators. They were probably harlequin ladybirds – the invasive species that are destroying our native strain - doubly unwelcome!