This year we travelled to Italy for the summer holiday. Starting off in Venice, followed by Tuscany for the largest part. Almost immediately upon arriving at the first house we noticed a small nest of Polistes dominula attached to one of the beams. That was promising and it turned out it was not going to be the last nest this holiday.
After staying for a day we departed to our main destination in Tuscany. The house there was located on a large camping inside a vast oak forest on rocky sandy soil. This type of forest covers many of the high hills in this part of the region. The trees are often interrupted by small or large clearings that often contain some flowers that will attract insects. Flower were quite rare in general due to the heat and drought. But this had a positive side that if something was blooming there was bound to be something on it.
Shortly after arriving on the campsite the first of a long line of Stag beetles (Lucanus cervus) appeared.
This species was very active in the forest. numerous specimen, males and females, could be spotted every day, crawling or flying. Unfortunately some were crushed by the camping service teams’ golf carts. The site itself fortunately was car free. Their activity peak was at dusk. In the morning this frequently lead to the finding of specimen that had expired during the night. I found three dead specimen for the collection, two males and a female.
Other large beetles roamed the forest as well, like the Tanner beetle (Prionus coriarius), Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata) and European rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis).
I’ve collect two dead specimen (and a third with a small horn in the centre of Florence at the parking garage of all places).
The camping area provided shelter to surprisingly many butterflies potentially attracted by the many large patches with flowering lavender plants. From there they roamed around at the pool and entered the shade of the forest.
Among others the Scarce swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) a butterfly that can be found everywhere in Tuscany, more so than the Swallowtail. A dead specimen of this species has been added to the collection as well.
During expeditions and trips in the surrounding area many more nice species, especially hymenopterans, were observed, many of them being very rare species in the Netherlands. So apart from the holiday itself which was very good it also turned out to be a rich experience with plenty of first time observations.
Cavriglia/Greve in Chianti
Observations in this area were primarily made in two locations. The first location is a forest path that started at the campsite parking lot. The path was a chain of large clearings in the growth.
Underneath a pile of overgrown rocks the European hornet (Vespa crabro) had built her nest. Unlike other hornet nests there was no guard, a worker that inspects and smells out anybody approaching the nest. Her missing presence resulted in photographic difficulties since now it had to be one of the appearing specimen from inside the nest on its way out, which gave 1-3 seconds between appearing and take off. The last four free hours of the holiday I’ve spend lying in numerous, physical and mental agonising, uncomfortable postures in front of the nest.
The vegetation surrounding the path provided very few flowers. Only a blackberry had some blooms which had a lycaenid butterfly and some small bees among which this carpenter bee.
A very nice looking ant carried a dead insect endlessly in circles.
I visited the forest path twice with ten day in between visits. The first time many Nine spotted butterflies flew around. But at the second visit these had all disappeared and replaced by some very fresh specimen of the magnificent Southern white admiral (Limenitis reducta).
Everywhere in Tuscany and also here Blue-winged grasshoppers removed themselves quickly from the approaching danger only to observe the danger from a safer distance.
A weathered conifer housed this splendid jewel beetle.
The second location, a large open plane on a hill backing in the sun, was located near the small village Badia a Montemuro. The plane was directly accessible from the main road. The wall of a small building provided the entrance to a nest of the European hornet just beneath the roof. Foraging specimen flew on and off wasps, all of them being checked by the guard at the entrance.
The lack of trees and higher cover makes the area very dry. The few blooming thistle species attracted a diverse cast of characters.
Castello di Querceto (Greve in Chianti)
Near the village Dudda lies the Castello di Querceto. A compound with a playful architecture and a fantastic garden. A Trumpet vine blooming in the courtyard was full of hymenoptera licking nectar from the flower buds, among them Leucospid wasps.
Panzano (Greve in Chianti)
At a strategic position on the roadside at the entrance to the village Panzano in Chianti a motorized hamburger stand sold delicious burgers that could be enjoyed with a cold beer and a splendid view. But more important was the enormous fig tree next to the parking lot. The entire local wesp fauna seemed to be represented in the tree. Possibly a thousand wasps were licking drops of sap that had fallen on the leafs, among them Polistes, Eumenes, Vespula, Isodontia, Lestica, Euodynerus and Leucospidae.
Montegozzi (Gaiole in Chianti)
A ‘lone’ European hornet stationed at a hole in a wall in the small village Montegozzi, exposed the entrance to the nest that she was guarding. The nest seemed to be small still, judging on the total of three workers, including the guard, that showed themselves outside the nest during a period of an hour.
Because the nest as well as the guard were on eye height I tried to photograph her at a close distance of 10 cm. This made her a bit uneasy. At a certain moment she made circling threat flights and even flew through my hair. I stood still and braced myself ready to receive a sting but it didn’t happen. Instead she seemed to be panicking a bit and left her post only flying by every now and then to see if the coast was clear. So shortly after I left them in peace. They remain beautiful and imposing animals.