Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: A small tree with bright red apples and emerging ivy flowers is humming with hoverflies, droneflies, greenbottles, solitary bees and wasps
It looks as though it carries a switch; its wings are folded in a triangle within the yellow and black warning guards; its scarlet legs carry it over surfaces into open sunlight without fear of attack; its antennae pick up signals from mysterious sources. This is a red-legged or forest shieldbug, Pentatoma rufipes, basking on a log in the sunshine. It has a defensive strategy that its distinctive shape and colours advertise to potential predators. If I press the switch there will be a stink.
Shieldbugs are also called stinkbugs, and this one may let off a pong with an almond scent, the signature smell for cyanide. Perhaps this has something to do with the insect’s preference for apples (pips contain cyanide). With its pointed beak of a mouth it feeds on fruit juices and tree sap, and may sometimes suck on caterpillars. It could be detecting apples on the breeze and preparing for a journey to find windfalls. Eaters, cookers and crabs, many apples have become lush planets decaying in their orbits around the fruit trees, symbols of a providence neglected by affluent humans but feasted on by others.
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