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Country diary: The living is easy for these summertime insects

Deerness Valley, County Durham: Hoverflies, Darwin wasps and red soldier beetles – all they need to do is wander across the umbels and lick

A Darwin wasp visiting an angelica umbel. Photograph: Phil Gates

An oppressively warm afternoon, a day for standing in the shade and watching. Midsummer lethargy is setting in, for me and the common wasp crawling across a pink-flowered umbel of angelica, beside the footpath. Wasp nesting activity has peaked, and this individual has taken time out from the relentless hunt for caterpillars, feeding grubs in the nest, to satisfying its craving for sugar.  

Umbellifers, members of the carrot family, offer pollinators with short tongues easy access to nectar, secreted in tiny drops on each of many florets: small rewards for not much effort. Summertime, and the living is easy; all that insects need do is wander across the flat-topped umbel and lick. There are bluebottles and greenbottles, swarms of marmalade hoverflies and red soldier beetles, of the kind we knew as ‘bloodsuckers’ when we were kids, although nectar, not blood, is their tipple. [continue]