AS the school holidays came to an end, right on cue the weather improved and gave us a flavour of what summer should be like. A band of high-pressure sandwiched between two lows brought southerly winds from Africa to the UK.

Whipped up from the desert, Saharan dust arrived high in the atmosphere to give our sunsets that extra glow. Cars were covered in a light dusting of dirt as the dust was washed from the sky by light rain. A few days later, huge raindrops fell during the shortest and sharpest of showers and dried to leave quite substantial chunks of dust that had clumped together to form gravel-like chips. These mini rocks jogged memories of a swallow’s nest, a hollow cone built from mud and dried solid. Carefully, I collected the sandy clusters from upon the car and other surfaces. A small part of the Saraha Desert now sits pride of place upon our nature shelf.

Saharan dust was not the only thing to seemingly fall from the sky this month. Red-legged shieldbugs (pictured), enjoying the warm start to the autumn, were attracted to the moth trap in number. While one or two shieldbugs would be normal, over fifty were counted on the peak night. Shieldbugs are what is called a ‘true bug’. They are more alien in appearance than the, assumed hoax, alien bodies revealed by ufologists in Mexico this month.

Unlike many insects, shieldbugs have no larval stage. The flightless nymphs are round in shape, somewhat like a flat ladybird, and become more adult like as they moult on five occasions. Development is an incomplete metamorphosis as opposed to the complete metamorphosis we see with the likes of butterflies for example. Shieldbugs feed by sucking the sap from plants and the juice from fruits. Adults in particular will also predate soft bodied organisms such as caterpillars. While it can be a trade-off, in general they are considered good for the garden. Forty-six species of shieldbug have been recorded in the UK. The common names of a number of shieldbug can be a good pointer to where you might find them. The hawthorn shieldbug has a love for the fruits of the hawthorn tree. Disturb a shieldbug and you might just smell their defensive secretion; stink bug is an alternative name.

It is the projection of the pronotum that gives the red-legged shieldbug a broad shouldered ‘I mean business’ look. The red legs add to feel that the shieldbug belongs to a desert like planet. They have taken over my moth trap. Perhaps they will take over the world!