It’s that quiet time of the year, that brief midsummer lull between the sudden rush of spring and the boisterous climax to summer that heralds the arrival of a new generation of birds and insects. Admittedly there are a few young Blackbirds about, naïve and approachable, and the first of the late summer butterflies have been on the wing for a few days. However, a lot of the other more noticeable creatures (like birds and mammals) are quietly going about the business of breeding. This means that it is time to go in search of some of our less obvious insects, including the various bugs that feed on the lush summer vegetation. Some, like most of our grasshoppers and crickets are in their nymphal stages at the moment and look somewhat different from their final adult form. The same is true of the shieldbugs and many other insects. Others have yet to hatch, as evidenced by a cluster of 13 eggs, a baker’s dozen, neatly secreted on the underside of a leaf in the garden at work.
One of my colleagues brought the eggs in to show me, tiny off-white spheres which reminded me of the hundreds and thousands that used to decorate childhood treats. The 13 eggs were arranged so neatly, quite unlike the haphazard approach adopted by some insects. It was not entirely clear as to what sort of invertebrate had laid the eggs; were they the eggs of a moth or something altogether different? In order to find out, I kept the eggs and leaf in a suitable container, checked them daily and waited.
Just yesterday they hatched and I was delighted to see a little host of 13 tiny bugs sitting on top of the now empty egg cases. Over the last few days, a patterned line had appeared on the top of each egg, the shape reminiscent of the silhouette of a red kite in flight. Then the eggs darkened before hatching. I could see that these youngsters were baby shieldbugs, as nymphs they were more rounded in shape than they would be as an adult. Their pinkish-brown bodies strongly suggestive that they were, in fact, young green shieldbugs. The adult green shieldbug is the one that everyone seems to know, often encountered in gardens on ornamental shrubs, raspberries and even runner beans. The youngsters would remain next to the discarded egg cases until their first moult, after which they would attain a smart two-tone green and black livery. Rather than keep them in captivity, we returned them, and their leaf, back to the plant where they had been found. Perhaps we will see some of them again later in the year, or even next spring as adults.