I have to come right out and say it – this is the largest European moth’s caterpillar. (Does that mean it is the largest European caterpillar?)
A couple of evenings ago I went out into the back garden to do a bit of watering and as I reached to turn on the hose I noticed something crawling along the wall in front of my eyes. I did a double take as I had never seen anything like it before. A few shouts and the whole household was roused to come and see what I had found.
It was not only its size that was astounding, 10 cm., but the blue baubles made it look very unreal.
I wasn’t able to get good pictures because of the poor light and the steady progress it was making along the wall.
I had a good idea what it might be as I had seen photographs of the huge moths that can be seen in the area.
For pictures of the adult moth and more information from Wikipedia please click on the links. The moths fly from April to June so I presume the caterpillars must over winter in pupal form and my caterpillar did seem dead set on getting somewhere quickly, so it must have been searching for a convenient place to over winter.
The caterpillars feed on tree leaves and it appeared to have dropped out of our apricot tree. The next day I started to search for leaves with large holes or even whole branches denuded! However, when I looked up into the branches of the apricot tree I found something else.
The apricot tree was already being used by the Ring doves to nest in and I hadn’t noticed. Not the most beautiful babies, perhaps I could label them “cute” if I was in a charitable mood. I had to give up on my search for traces of the caterpillar’s passing.
Our garden borders the river Seudre. We have left a part of the land next to the river somewhat wild forming a little forest. After the recent storm it now resembles a war zone with broken trees scattered along it, waiting for the autumn when I will drag the branches to an open space and burn them.
We are still in the middle of summer and summer storm are not unusual here, but I was reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s Ode to the West Wind:
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing –
Amelia and I often walk on a path only a couple of minutes from our house, that takes us along the river and then through a forest to the nearby hamlet of Madion. It is a pretty walk that usually takes less than an hour, if Amelia doesn’t stop too long photographing the bees. Today we took the same path for the first time after the recent storm.
The wild mint is flowering just now and is adored by the bees and the butterflies.
The hemp agrimony ( Eupatorium cannabinum ) remains a favourite of the butterflies.
A little while later I realized why not many people had walked along the path lately. Between the river and the field of maze, the path was blocked by a broken tree.
We maneuvered our way through the field of maize as many have fallen victim of the storm and were flattened. On the other side of the fallen tree, I encountered a patch of my worst hidden enemy in the garden: the stinging nettles. They were covered with caterpillars. Well my consolation is that at least we will have more butterflies.
Like all little boys, I am fascinated by the form of the little snails.
In the stillness and the heat of the late afternoon, I could see a few damsel flies and even the dragon flies.
I am not a biologist, but merely an engineer, but it seemed to me that each wild plant and wild flower has its purpose in the life of the countryside.
I could see that my path was yet again interrupted by another fallen tree.
Never mind, I will turn right through the forest. That is my favourite route: so peaceful, and yet so full of promise.
A few minute later the forest path was also blocked.
We fought the branches and emerged yet again successfully on the other side and then left the forest into a much more open countryside. along the vineyards. On my left, a bunch of mislteoe: Perhaps waiting there for a stolen kiss?
And then a field of pure warm sunshine:
I do not know the people that live in that little farm building, but I have often thought that they have indeed chosen a corner of heaven.
In the open ground there were more bees and butterflies. Even a queen bumble bee with her sac of pollen.
The grains of grapes are swelling. Perhaps summer is already approaching its end?
And more wild flowers and berries preparing the countryside for the summers to come
In this part of France they often plant sloe (prunus spinosa) along the edges of the fields. Its white flowers are pretty in early Spring, its fruit is eaten by some wild animals, and its thorn inhibit the intruders.
The wild blackberries are already ripening. Last year we collected several kilos of blackberries at this spot and Amelia made delicious jelly.
15th of August is the Assumption day. It is a National Holiday in France and some towns will have the last fireworks display of the season. After that the French holidaymakers start returning home to prepare the children for the rentrée scolaire.
On our return home, after nearly two and half hour of walk, I look again at the devastation that the storm caused in the countryside. I think back at that night of the storm with 150 Km/hr wind tearing the trees down, and I can’t help but think again of Shelly:
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven
We are really lucky here that we have a mild climate and do not suffer from ‘uncontrollable’ wind very often. Our summers are warm, but not too hot and we are able to enjoy the last days of beautiful warm sunshine well into October and and when autumn at last comes we will return to the task of clearing Amelia’s afrenchgarden.
Paranoid I must be, but I am beginning to think they are following me. The bees that is.
I posted on my Dasypoda hirtipes in my garden yesterday and raved about her “pantaloons” and today I go for a walk and meet another well-endowed bee.
I don’t think she is the same species but she is indeed gathering pollen or nectar from Centaurea cyanus which is in the Asteraceae family.
She is certainly a well-endowed bee on the hairy hind leg side. Her white pantloons give her a different look from the yellow ones I am used to seeing. Dasypoda hirtipes hasan attractive ginger brown natural colouration to her hind leg hairs. I wonder if she could cover all that up with a mass of white pollen?
We do not have a lawn. Even the grass is in short supply and each year “the green bit” is invaded by the most successful weed. This year the prize goes to varieties in the family of the Compositae, probably Cat’s Ears and Hawkbits but my Botany skills cannot identify it or them any further.
Never the less when it comes time to mow the stuff we feel obliged to leave some patches uncut. What used to be an annoying, unsightly weed has become the preferred pollen source of the Dasypoda hirtipes that are living in the garden just now.
We can see them foraging from a distance as each time they land on a flower head it dips and the whole mass of flowers undulates as the bees move from flower to flower. The video gives a very short clip (12 seconds) of the action.
The French name for this bee is “Abeille à culottes”, for an obvious reason. I don’t think it has a common English name as it is not quite as common as it is here in France.
She collects pollen on long hairs on her back legs but sometimes she has a pollen frenzy and it goes everywhere!
This solitary nest is just at the edge of the back garden very conveniently located for access to the flowers. She comes out of the hole very cautiously so I have managed to get some shots.
She zooms back in as the open nest is quite exposed so my best photograph to date is a yellow smudge at the nest entrance.
It is nice to think she is leaving me the eggs and I’m sure our weeds will be back to feed her offspring.
On Friday night 26 July a storm raged across the garden.
The wind flew past at 150 kilometres and hour and 58 centimetres of rain fell. The rain was welcome but the wind was scary. We sat watching the spectacle with our oldest granddaughter. The storm seemed to stay overhead for a long time with a constant flickering interspersed with impressive forked lightening.
The next morning the garden was different. The skyline had changed at the bottom but we didn’t notice the missing tree top immediately as lots of large Ash branches had fallen on the left hand side of the garden making access difficult.
The ex-Christmas tree had been summarily lopped.
The wind has made a very neat job and saved us the trouble as the tree is becoming over-sized.
This was not the case for most of the fallen branches. The fallen branches caused a lot of work and it took us four days to clear away the debris to the bottom of the garden, stacking the larger logs for further cutting for the fire and smaller branches for a bonfire in September when burning in the garden will be permitted. No possibility of removing the debris – it has to be seen to understand the quantity involved. We haven’t had the heart to look too closely at the very bottom. some trees are down and large branches will have to be cut up but we are too tired to start and we want to enjoy time with the grandchildren who are visiting.
Across the road a branch of our neighbour’s Ash tree fell on the telephone line where it lay for over a week cutting us off from the Internet. We did manage to check our emails once by going to MacDonalds. Thank you, thank you MacDonalds.
We also lost our electricity during the storm, which is a common occurrence in France – a heavily wooded country with overhead power and overhead telephone wires. We were fortunate and were reconnected on Saturday afternoon. All those broad beans from this year’s monster crop saved!
Nobody was hurt in the vicinity and it was a fairly localised storm although random storms have been blasting all of France during this exceptionally hot and thundery July. The Sunflower and maize fields suffered.
The maize field at the bottom of our garden was flattened but the good news is that it is all standing to attention again! Perhaps all the rain gave it strength to recover.
The cross at the entry of the village wasn’t so lucky.
I doubt whether it will be replaced. It was quite a landmark with its magnificent lavender bush.
Please excuse the lack of communication on my part.