The moorlands of Weardale are a sea of purple heather at the moment, often stretching all the way to the horizon. Billions of tiny, nectar-rich flowers are in bloom, feeding vast numbers of insects, from minute thrips to butterflies.
The flowering of the heather coincides with the breeding season of these heather Colletes bees (Colletes succinctus), below. They lay their eggs in tunnels excavated in the sandy moorland soil, usually on a south facing patch of bare ground, then provision the egg with heather pollen before sealing the chamber. They’re solitary bees, unlike the highly organised, social nests of honeybees and bumblebees, but do aggregate their nests in huge colonies. Yesterday we must have walked past many thousands of them, congregating at the entrance to their tunnels and shuttling backwards and forwards to the heather flowers.
The vast expanse of flowers also attracts butterflies. Yesterday we saw red admirals, small coppers, small tortoiseshells and small heaths. The small coppers breed on dense, transient patches of sorrel that grows quickly on the bare soil after a heather burn.
This ‘woolly bear’ caterpillar (below) is the larva of the northern race of the oak eggar moth Lasiocampa quercus. It spends two years in the larval stage, overwintering as a larva before emerging to feed again, then pupating over a second winter before it finally emerges as a spectacular moth.
And finally, a rove beetle Platydracus stercorarius, with wings tightly folded under those red wing cases