By Yiwen Chen
2022’s ‘Insect Investigators’ Summer School’, organised by ‘Hope for the Future’ Project, has been a wonderful experience for me. Not only was I able to learn new facts and skills, I also took my interest in insects to the next level. I also met new people and made new friends!
One of my favourite activities was catching insects. We tried this at different places (like the Oxford University Park and Harcourt Arboretum)
and on different days. We were given a large sweeping net, a transparent bag, a tray, and some tubes with lids to contain the insects. The sweeping net was used in the long grass. You sweep in loops, making infinity signs whilst walking through the field. Then, a friend could help you to empty the things caught inside the net into the transparent bag. You then place it upon the tray and see what you have caught. If you want to examine it closer or if you find it unique and interesting, you can gently put the insect into one of the tubes and then use the many insect guide books (brought from the museum) to identify them.
I always felt excitement growing when looking at what I had swept up in the net. I was not only able to learn this new skill, I have also learnt about the many insects I came across: there are larvae which have three pairs of ‘real legs’ and little bags of fat for the rest; grasshoppers drop their legs sometimes to divert their predator’s attention when being hunted (the legs won’t be able to grow back if they are adults); and a wasp nest contains all sorts of hidden treasures like beetles and their larvae.
It was an absolute delight to go to the Oxford Botanic Gardens on our second day. Even more so to learn about taking photos of various insects.
Insects are small creatures, hard to spot, even harder when amongst the enchanting plants and beautiful flowers. But we were told where to look: upon the bitten leaf, beside the blooming flower, within the fallen apple… There, we find the angle, adjust the focus, and carefully, snap!
As we took photos, I was able to learn more about the insects I’d found. For example, on one of the leaves of a tree, I found an ant upon a group of small insects. I later found out that the black ant was eating the sweet sap that aphids (small sap-sucking insects) produce from the tree. The ant then protects the aphids in exchange. It was very interesting. There were also many bees including honeybees and bumblebees that were all busy feeding off the nectar and pollen. This meant that they did not mind us so I was able to snap many good pictures of them. There was a Seven-Spot Ladybird on the smallest leaf of a plant, a few Flea Beetles beside some small flowers, and a Hoverfly resting on a leaf. I even saw a Red-Eyed Damselfly upon a lilypad.
It was stunning to see the beauty of nature around us, and to search for the hidden ones like detectives trailing clues. Photography allows me to capture the special moment and I also love it as a hobby.
Near the end of the week, we were able to put everything we know together to create an investigation. I chose to compare the number of
grasshoppers in two different places— fresher grass and dry grass. My prediction was that there would be more grasshoppers in fresher grass than in dry grass. To make it a fair test, I used the same net, I always made 5 loops/infinity signs when sweeping, and I was always 5 steps in the grass when catching insects.
I was very happy when my results showed that my prediction was correct, My conclusion was that there were more grasshoppers in fresher grass than in dry grass which may be because of five things. First, grasshoppers eat grass and would naturally prefer fresher grass over dry grass. Second, grasshoppers lay their eggs beneath the grass in the soil. Dry grass usually means more exposed to the sun, which means hard and crusty soil— hard to burrow through. Third, some species of grasshoppers are green so they could camouflage better in the fresher, greener grass to escape predators. Next, fresher grass means better conditions, which means a variety of different plants that could provide for them. And last, more plants and fresher grass could also attract other insects. This could either divert their predators’ attention, or work together like the aphids and ants. This was a great way to put everything we’ve learnt together. I’ve enjoyed it very much.
Hope for the Future
As I’ve said before, insects are small creatures, but they are able to make great changes to the world. Looking back and seeing all these little
creatures continuing on with their daily routines, it reminds me of their similarity with us— humans. For we are also creatures very much like them, except we have evolved and created trouble (like climate change and global warming) as well as solutions. Although this brings some sadness into me, I am also filled with hope. My hope for the future is for all humans to be brought together to face problems and to tackle them. Just like the aphids and the ants, we can help each other out. In a way, part of our future relies on insects, so we should spend our time wisely to look at them and see them for what they can do, and achieve. I believe that this ‘Hope for the Future’ Project has done an amazing job to make everything run smoothly, as well as making me enjoy every second of it! They have given me this chance to explore and learn, and I hope to take part in more of their programme!