It may be apocryphal, but when theologians asked JBS Haldane, an atheist, what creation told him about the mind of the creator, his response is said to have been ‘an inordinate fondness for beetles’. To stretch the point a little – not just beetles! Britain and Ireland are home to over 24,000 species of insects. Here are some six-legged stories to inspire you.
Remarkable anatomy – dragonflies and damselflies
Almost 50 species of true dragonfly and damselfly breed in Britain and Ireland. Look at the wings on one that has settled. If they stick out more or less at right angles to the body it’s a true dragonfly. If they are held along its ‘back’, or stick out at about 45° (a handful of species do that) it’s a damselfly. Typically these wonderful insects spend a year or two underwater as a larva before taking to the air for a brief adult existence – a couple of weeks for a damselfly and maybe a couple of months for a true dragonfly. Uniquely among insects, males have two sets of genitalia on different parts of the abdomen. When they mate the male and female form a ‘romantic’ heart shape! Foxearth Meadows, our nature reserve on the Essex/Suffolk border, is managed primarily for these fascinating creatures. When you are able to, we’d encourage you to come dragonfly and damselfly spotting at our reserves!
Long-haul with stop-overs – the Painted Lady
This beautiful beast is the butterfly world’s champion migrant. The UK has good painted lady years, with lots around, and not so good years. ‘Our’ ladies probably fly here directly from North Africa. That’s impressive, but the journey can stretch from Africa’s tropics right up to the Arctic Circle – a mere 9,000 miles or so. But no one insect does the whole trip – it’s a multi-generation adventure, and could take as many as six generations to clock up all the air-miles.
The high jump – click beetles
This beetle has a trick up its sleeve, or rather, a peg and ridge mechanism underneath its body. To get out of trouble or turn itself the right way up a click beetle does the high jump. It bends, then uses the peg and ridge to hold that position while its muscles tense. The tension becomes too much for the peg, the body bends, there’s an audible click and up goes the beetle. A self-launched click beetle can reach a 30cm altitude, tumbling in mid-air. And if it lands on its back it does it again. Over 70 species of click beetle live in Britain and Ireland.
Masters of disguise – hoverflies
Believe it or not, Britain is home to more than 280 hoverfly species. Many are yellow and black and do a pretty good impression of a bee or wasp. But unlike bees and wasps they have one pair of wings, not two. By donning yellow and black warning colours they may look dangerous but don’t sting or bite. Hoverflies are often seen at flowers plundering nectar and pollen – they are important pollinators and in some countries are known as ‘flower flies’.
A parental role-model – the earwig
When it comes to parenting, Mrs Earwig may not be an obvious mentor, but maybe she should be. After depositing 20-50 eggs in the soil, she looks after them through the winter, and when the young emerge, cares for them, and feeds them, until they are grown-up and ready to step out from the parental home. Both sexes have pincers. The male uses his to keep shrews and hedgehogs at bay and to do battle with other earwigs. He might even ‘pincer’ a person – but you’ll probably survive…
To find out more and to help
Buglife – ‘Saving the small things that run the planet’ – buglife.org.uk
Butterfly Conservation – ‘Saving butterflies, moths and our environment’ – butterfly-conservation.org
British Dragonfly Society – ‘Working to conserve dragonflies and their wetland habitats’ – british-dragonflies.org.uk
This blog was written by David Chandler for the ‘Nature and prayer’ Wild Christian email. David is an A Rocha UK Trustee and a freelance writer and wildlife guide.