Insects react to a sunny and mild February

Lorienne Whittle, 12/03/2019

The surprisingly sunny and mild February days delighted many, not least Nature’s Calendar citizen scientists who recorded the reaction of wildlife across the UK. Our inbox has been full of enquiries and records as a result and we’re delighted you’ve shared your spring sightings with us.  


Can we set a date for spring?  

This year the meteorological definition puts spring beginning on the 1st March, whereas the astronomical version is a little later at March 20th. Nature doesn’t do dates, however and instead sings by it’s own sweet song. Many of the species we associate with spring have been sighted around the UK and recorded on Nature’s Calendar over February.   

Insects in particular have reacted to the sunshine and warmth, so this month’s blog focuses on our six-legged friends.  


Butterflies are a flutter 

It is difficult to mistake the yellow hues and delicate leaf shaped wings of a brimstone butterfly. The name brimstone is actually another word for sulphur, with the male brimstone being particularly bright yellow. There is also a belief that the origin of the word ‘butterfly’ (literally being butter-coloured-fly) comes from this striking symbol of spring arrival. Just over 400 records of brimstone butterflies were submitted to Nature’s Calendar over February alone. The vast majority of these came in the second half of the month, when the temperature was unseasonably mild and we had lots of beautiful, bright sunny days.   

It isn’t just brimstones that have been reacting to the weather as commas and small tortoiseshells have been spotted outside across the UK too. The adults of all three species commonly go dormant over the winter months, with each selecting different habitats to overwinter in. Small tortoiseshells select deadwood, such as log piles, or outbuildings, commas are often found in curled up dead leaves, whilst brimstones prefer evergreen plants.  

With so many beautiful photos to choose from it was very difficult to select just one of each of the main three species that have been recorded on Nature’s Calendar last month. Photos really help the Nature’s Calendar team to verify sightings, so thank you to everyone who has submitted one – and we done as insects are so often quick to flutter off and thus difficult to photograph!


Small tortoiseshell (Linda Coulson)

Brimstone (Dave Helliar)

Comma (Keith Prettejohns)


Ladybirds are also on the move 

Like some butterfly species ladybirds also go into winter dormancy. I find clusters of ladybirds in the corners of my window frames at home, which does make opening the windows on a mild spring day rather tricky! If you find active ladybirds indoors in the winter it’s best to find them a dry place outside so that they don’t keep getting disturbed, as well as potentially confused by the artificial heating indoors. In February alone we had an incredible 326 records of 7-spot ladybirds ‘first seen’ outside. 


Ladybird (Angela Jamieson)

Valentine’s day ladybirds (Sini Tipper)

Ladybird love 

We were rather delighted to find that our first record of ‘ladybird mating’ came on Valentine’s day this year! We had 8 further records of mating ladybirds in the following weeks in February. Spot the 7- spots (or 14!) and submit a record if you see ladybirds out and about near you. 


Queen red-tailed bumblebees emerge from their nests

We have had over 100 records of queen red-tailed bumblebees this February. These young queens have been stimulated to emerge from their underground nests and search for food, as can be seen on the photos below.  

There are 24 native types of bumblebee in the UK, however only the red-tailed are recorded on Nature's Calendar. As the name suggests they are easy to identify as the queen is all black, with the lower part of her body being the distinctive orange-red tail. The queen is also much larger (20-22mm) and in time will lay eggs to hatch female worker bees (11-16mm). Later we will also see the males (14-16mm) who, in addition to the red tail, have a yellow band around their abdomen, which the female red-tailed bumblebee do not. The males, worker bees and previous winter’s queen will die in the autumn and the new queens hibernate so that the cycle begins again.  

Red-tailed bumblebee (John Eaton)

Red -tailed bumblebee (Peter Gordon Smith)

Time for a spring clean? 

Don’t be too quick! For a wildlife friendly garden remember to leave some longer grass and vegetation, dead leaves and log piles as perfect homes for many insects. If the temperature drops significantly, as it did last year with the ‘Beast from the East’, insects will be looking for dry places to rest until it rises again.  

Don’t forget to leave some food too! Although many think of them as a weed, dandelions are a really important food source for bees, so consider letting the bright yellow flowers bloom in your garden. After all, a weed is not technically a weed if you want it there!  


The top three wildflowers to spot this spring; what has been recorded?  

At the very beginning of the month volunteer blog writer, Sophie Palmer, and I set a challenge to spot and record some of the less familiar spring flowers. These early spring flowers are an important source of nectar for insects. It is important that Nature’s Calendar tracks the impacts on changes in weather and climate on plant species too. Thank you to everyone that submitted records and we’re happy to report that in February we had 8 wood anemones, 34 colt’s-foot, and an amazing 229 lesser celandine records.

Lesser celandine (Joanne Livsey)

Colt’s-foot (Peter Gordon Smith)

Wood anemone (Irena Popiolek)

Other signs of spring received by Nature’s Calendar this month include many more sightings of frogspawn and even a few tadpoles around the UK too. Let us know when you spot the first wriggly little tadpoles and when other events happen near you.  

Thank you for continuing to record on Nature’s Calendar. Please encourage your friends and family to record with us too so that we can get an even better understanding of the impacts of climate change on wildlife.  

Join thousands of other people and let us know what's happening to wildlife near you.

Join thousands of other people and let us know what's happening to wildlife near you.

Have you seen your first butterfly or swallow of the spring? Is it a good year for wild autumn fruits? Take part in Nature's Calendar and help scientists to monitor the effects of climate change on wildlife.

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