WHILE the days are beginning to noticeably lengthen, I find it is still the night that offers the best insect fix of the week. Scouring local woodland by torchlight has become a bit of a habit. As I ascend the track through the wood the ‘twit’ from a tawny owl rings out in the usual spot. I ‘twoo’ back, as if we are on first name terms.

Either side of a brief wintery spell, temperatures have been high enough to tempt beetles out of their winter snooze. A ladybird’s strategy to see through the winter is one of concealment. Hide away under loose bark, inside plant stems or within the depths of a bug hotel. All protect from wet weather and frosts, although prolonged spells of icy weather are often fatal. Harlequin ladybirds, that found their way into our house late autumn, now whizz around in search of an exit. Given they did not stir whenever we had the central heating on through the winter, I wonder how they know it is warm outside.

Within the woodland there are signs that 7-spot ladybird have been active. While sheltered from the prevailing weather, some have failed to find a well hidden spot. As I walk, my eye catches sight of a dark movement across the floor. I grab a small pot from my pocket and scoop up something I have not seen before, not in larval form at least. I count the legs, six, it is an insect. I suspect it is a beetle larva, but I consult the internet to check.

It is difficult to determine ground beetle larvae to a species level and some recommend rearing them through to their adult form. The larva I have found (pictured) looks like the tail of an armoured dinosaur; it is a bit of a beast. Carabus problematicus is a large species of ground beetle I have seen locally before. The problem being it is oh-so similar to Carabus violaceus. When Carabus violaceus was spotted at the Wharfedale Naturalists’ fungal foray meet last year, its violet iridescence certainly diverted attention away from the scheduled itinerary for a time.

I consider rearing the larva through to an adult, it should pupate in the spring. I am put off by the prospect of collecting tree slugs, a preferred food source, for the next few months so release the larva into the night. The larva pauses briefly then scurries away. No doubt off to hide under leaf-litter or a log to see out the final throws of winter.