Summer is now in full swing with gardens and rural locations full of small wildlife. This month, I bring some of the wonders you can spot at this time of year.
Violet carpenter bee
These unmistakable, large and clumsy bees can be seen and heard almost everywhere. They may appear to be black, but, on closer inspection, you’ll notice that they have a purple tinge, hence the name.
Whilst they may cause alarm due to their size and their very clumsy, almost drunken flight, these gentle giants are very placid and are rarely aggressive. As with all bee and wasp species, only the female has the stinger.
Unlike some other species of carpenter bee that can damage wooden property, the violet carpenter bee much prefers dead and decaying wood to burrow into, so rarely poses a problem.
Often called the praying mantis due to their stance, there are two commonly found species in Portugal, the European mantis and the conehead mantis, however, other species can also be found. Both species can grow to around 10cm in length, with the female being slightly larger.
The two species are easily identified as the conehead mantis – literally has a cone-shaped head – and the male has a feathery appearance to the antennae. At this time of year, you can normally spot small ones that hatched earlier in the year.
Mantises can come in many different colours, and it is thought that the colouring is simply to blend into the local surroundings. They ambush live prey as they wait patiently, often rocking back and forth to mimic plants blowing in the wind. You may also witness the females laying their ootheca, an egg sack containing an average of 200 eggs which will hatch next year when the weather warms.
These amazing large hawk-moths speed between flowers to drink the nectar with their long 25mm proboscis, and not only their fast-wing beats but also feathery appearance (which is actually hair) make them resemble small hummingbirds. I’ve often been asked if there are hummingbirds in the Algarve.
If you are lucky enough to spot these amazing moths in your garden, then take some time to look just after sunset as you may witness an even bigger hawk-moth, the convolvulus hawk-moth. The first time I spotted one, it was so big I thought it was a bat!
The little spiders are the perfect ambusher. They vary in colour to match their surroundings and sit amongst petals, perfectly camouflaged waiting for a meal. The males are often yellow or brown, but the females can be white, yellow, brown, pink or red. There are over 2,000 species of crab spiders, but the ones found here in Portugal I believe to be Thomisus onustus.
The males reach just 4mm in length, with the females reaching 7mm. They have a very odd body shape with pointed corners. Waiting patiently, they will attack anything that lands on the flower. I have even seen them trying to catch a violet carpenter bee, of course, without any luck.
These little critters are also food for bigger creatures. This year, the number of blue tits visiting the garden to feast on insects is incredible and, of course, the European bee-eaters have finished mating and they are feasting on anything that flies. Yet again, this year, I have 50+ bee-eaters visiting the garden at dawn and an hour before sunset, which is magical.
Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography