Two 22 spotted yellow ladybirds copulating on a leaf

© Gilles San Martin (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

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Twelve things to see in nature this summer

Summer is a busy time for plants and animals. Here are some British wildlife highlights to look out for at this time of year.

1. Elephant hawkmoths

These pink and olive-green moths emerge at dusk to feed on nectar-rich flowers such as honeysuckle. Towards the end of summer you're more likely to see the large, eye-catching caterpillars.

Explore what other colourful moths you might see in the UK.

A hawkmoth on a branch

An elephant hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) © Nick Goodrum (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

2. Stinging nettles

Stinging nettles might feel unfriendly to us, but they are good companions to many British butterfly caterpillars.

Red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady and comma butterfly caterpillars all feast on stinging nettle leaves in summer. 

Find out what other plants butterflies like

Stinging nettle leaves

Stinging nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) © Sjokolade (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

3. Cuckoo spit

This strange foam found on plants is a protection bubble formed around froghopper insects. They make it while they are in their juvenile stage by blowing bubbles from their anus. 

Watch our froghopper behaviour video on Facebook.

Cuckoo spit

Cuckoo spit on plant stems © Alan Vernon (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

4. Water mint

This plant grows in shallow streams, rivers, bogs and other watery places in the UK. From July to October, water mint has pale purple flowers that beetles and butterflies love. 

Water mint can be used like regular mint in drinks although it has a strong flavour, so you might not want to use too much. 

Water mint plant with water in the background

Water mint leaves and flowers (Mentha aquatica). Image by AnRo0002 (CC0) via Wikimedia Commons

5. Twenty-two-spot ladybirds

Look in a park or garden for a yellow ladybird with 22 black spots. This tiny beetle is only 3-4mm long. Rather than eating aphids like most ladybirds, this one feeds on mildew - a kind of fungus - growing on plants.

Discover more beautiful UK beetles.

Two 22-spot ladybird beetles

The 22-spot ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata) © Gilles San Martin (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

6. Swifts

A summer visitor to the UK, these social birds swoop and feed high in the air. Swifts eat, drink, mate and even sleep while flying.

Discover what other bird species you are likely to spot this summer.

A swift flying against a blue sky

A swift (Apus apus) © Billy Lindblom (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

7. Oxeye daisies

Bees and butterflies might be hanging around these cheerful daisies. They grow in sunny, grassy places and are easy to spot on road verges and in parks.

Discover more plants that attract butterflies.

Three oxeye daisies in the Sun

Oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) © Bruce Marlin (CC BY-SA 2.5) via Wikimedia Commons

8. Lime trees

Many UK streets are lined with lime trees. In summer, these have a dense foliage of heart-shaped leaves. Sweetly scented flowers are followed by tiny, dry fruit. The flowers are yellow-white in colour and popular with bees.

Learn about other common street trees.

Lime tree branch

Lime tree leaves and flowers. The common lime that we see all over the UK is a hybrid of our two native limes, Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos. © N p holmes (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

9. Common pipistrelle bats

Pipistrelle bats eat flying insects and emerge at dusk to hunt. You might see them swooping above waterways or by woodland glades. You could also spot these tiny mammals - the UK's most common bat - chasing their prey around streetlights or above parks and gardens. 

Females give birth in June and July, and their babies are ready to leave the roost in August.

Check out our guide to identifying five common UK bats.

A bat flying against the night sky

A common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) © Barracuda1983 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

10. Wild carrots

Wild carrot flowerheads are made up of lots of tiny white flowers. A dark red flower in the centre helps to attract pollinators. This plant likes to grow in fields, meadows and on disturbed ground next to roads.

Watch our video on YouTube about this plant's pollination tactic.

A wild carrot flower

A wild carrot flower (Daucus carota) © Peter O'Connor (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

11. Fox cubs

Fox cubs are mostly born in March. You might see the cubs playing or relaxing in the sunshine as they grow over the summer.

Learn about the secret life of urban foxes.

A red fox on a step

A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) © Peter Trimming (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

12. Bee orchids

Bee orchids mimic the shape and scent of bees to lure them into 'pseudocopulation', where the male insect attempts to mate with the flower. In the UK the orchid pollinates itself as its partner bee doesn't live here.  

Growing in grassy areas, including on disturbed ground, this orchid is one of the most likely to establish itself in towns and cities. It can even turn up in unmown lawns. However, it is scarce or absent from Cornwall, north Devon and Scotland.

Watch our video about bee orchids.

A bee orchid flower

Bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) flower from early June to late July. Image by Donald Macauley (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

We hope you enjoyed this article…

... or that it helped you learn something new. Now we're wondering if you can help us.  

Every year, more people are reading our articles to learn about the challenges facing the natural world. Our future depends on nature, but we are not doing enough to protect our life support system.  

British wildlife is under threat. The animals and plants that make our island unique are facing a fight to survive. Hedgehog habitats are disappearing, porpoises are choking on plastic and ancient woodlands are being paved over. 

But if we don't look after nature, nature can't look after us. We must act on scientific evidence, we must act together, and we must act now.

Despite the mounting pressures, hope is not lost. Museum scientists are working hard to understand and fight against the threats facing British wildlife. 

For many, the Museum is a place that inspires learning, gives purpose and provides hope. People tell us they 'still get shivers walking through the front door', and thank us for inspiring the next generation of scientists.

To reverse the damage we've done and protect the future, we need the knowledge that comes from scientific discovery. Understanding and protecting life on our planet is the greatest scientific challenge of our age. And you can help.  

We are a charity and we rely on your support. No matter the size, every gift to the Museum is critical to our 300 scientists' work in understanding and protecting the natural world.  

From as little as £2, you can help us to find new ways to protect nature. Thank you.