Nature at Home: Encountering Insects

A garden is the perfect place to look for insects and other invertebrates but for those of us who don’t have one, a walk is a great way to engage with these creatures.

Here’s a brief introduction to flies, beetles and bugs. Do look out for the follow-up Nature at Home posts providing more examples of the minibeasts you may see.

At this time of year many insects are emerging from the winter phase of their lifecycle. For many moths this means they will have spent the winter beneath leaf litter on the ground, hidden inside cocoons. Other insects will have spent the winter as grubs, eggs or adults, usually underground or burrowed into wood.

It may be a strange place to start, as flies are not many people’s favourites, but even the most common fly can be a delightfully shiny specimen if you stop to look. As well as blue and green bottles, there are many other wonderous beasts. The beefly is a curious member of the true flies (Diptera). It has a fuzzy appearance to mimic bees, and it flies with its tongue (proboscis) out. They’re one of those insects that are everywhere but you just don’t realise until someone points them out. If you’re really lucky, you may see them flicking their eggs into the nest of a bee, where their grubs feed on the bee larvae. There are also some surprising treasures, such as the scorpionfly (Mecoptera) pictured below, a distant relation of the true flies. Like many insects, flies can be seen sunning themselves on walls or fences on bright spring days.

Common green bottle (Lucilia sp.) (taken on a point and shoot camera) © Kerrie Curzon.
Greater or dark-edged beefly (Bombylius major) (taken on DSLR camera with 105 mm lens) © Lee Ismail.
Scorpionfly (taken on DSLR camera with 50-500 mm telephoto lens) © Lee Ismail.

Other flying insects include the beetles, of which there are so many different species in the world, they even have an overused (and possibly misused) quote about them. Cockchafers, weevils, stag beetles, the list is too long to mention the ones you may see, however, ladybirds are probably the most familiar. In the UK there are 26 easily recognisable species of ladybird. See how many you can find.

Seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) (taken on Olympus TG5 point and shoot on macro setting) © Lee Ismail.

You may use the term ‘bug’ to mean any type of minibeast, however, it is actually a specific term for a group of insects. True bugs have straw-like piercing and sucking mouth parts. An easy to identify bug is the shield bug (Acanthosomatidae) that has a distinctive, almost triangular shape. They can be spotted on leaves and flowers, though their camouflage may make this more difficult, as they come in many greens and browns.

Shield bug (taken on DSLR camera with 50-500 mm telephoto lens) © Lee Ismail.

While you’re out for a walk or in the garden, stop and watch the insects that you see. Pausing and noticing is recommended to us a lot these days and I have to agree. Not only are you indulging your curiosity and learning about the organism in view, you are also slowing down and focusing. This is a great way to distract your mind from busy and repetitive thoughts. It is also useful for the practise and patience of taking photographs, but some wildlife encounters can be more fulfilling without the pressure to produce the perfect shot.

Get Involved

There’s also a chance this year to get involved in the City Nature Challenge (24th – 27th April 2020) to spot and upload your nature sightings.

The Field Studies Council (FSC) has excellent guides for insects, which are often very easy to use and UK Safari has a guide to flies.

The Woodland Trust produce handy swatches too:

Minibeasts swatch

Invertebrates 

Insects

Beetles

Bugs

Discover More

Read other posts in the Nature at Home series

Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant

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