The other afternoon I took a break from tiling the kitchen floor to make the most of the now weakening late summer sun. Sitting on the wooden bench in our garden I was able to spend some time watching various insects going about their business. Large numbers of harlequin ladybirds, at various stages of development, could be seen on the fence, the pot plants and on the large buddleia that drapes over from the garden next door. The harlequins have obviously had a good season, their numbers are well up on last year and I fear that it won’t be long before some of these unwelcome aliens seek shelter in the house. Not only are they known to bite but they also stain upholstery and can gather in very large numbers around windows!
My attention was caught, however, not by the ladybirds but by the behaviour of a wasp. Flying along the fence, just below the top, I thought that it was about to become ensnared in one of the many spiders’ webs that litter the fence panels. Instead of becoming the victim, the wasp began to act as if it was actively seeking out the owners of the webs. Passing by one particular web, the wasp suddenly veered towards its centre, where a tiny piece of brown leaf hung like a spider. The wasp seemed to hover just off the leaf as if trying to work out if this was a spider or some other object. Its curiosity satisfied, the wasp moved off. It was then that I noticed that the wasp was quite deliberately quartering the fence panel, actively checking out each web in turn. This gave me the very definite impression that the wasp was hunting. This is something that I have not witnessed before, nor read about in the literature. Wasps feed on a range of foodstuffs, including other insects, and so perhaps I should not be surprised to see one hunting in this fashion.
Seeing this wasp, and being able to observe an element of its behaviour, made me appreciate just how much interesting life there is within my own, very ordinary, garden. There is something about watching insects that is special. Perhaps it is because they are so small and that you have to watch very carefully to see what they are actually doing. Watching carefully means that you are putting more effort into your observations and, consequently, getting a more rewarding experience from them. Of course, you can apply the same level of detail to watching larger organisms, like birds, but this often seems unnecessary and you can end up rather taking them for granted. Perhaps this is why insects are so fascinating.