Let there be Light!

When is a worm not a worm?  When it’s a glow-worm… because a glow-worm is actually a beetle!

Male glow-worms look like typical beetles with wing cases (elytra) covering their second pair of wings, but the females are very different, having no wings and resembling beetle larvae.  It is the females who emit a greenish-orange glow from their back ends by a process called bioluminescence. Light is produced by energy released from chemical reactions occurring inside the glow-worm’s body.  In nature, bioluminescence occurs in many different types of organisms from bacteria to marine vertebrates and invertebrates.  It serves different purposes such as to warn or evade predators; lure or detect prey; or, in the case of the glow-worm, as a means of communication. The female glow-worms use the light to attract males.  Male glow-worms have large eyes with a high degree of sensitivity to light, so they are well adapted to being able to spot females in the dark. Once the glow-worms have mated, the females stop glowing and lay their eggs. If you are out for a night time walk in an area of grassland in June or July, you may be lucky enough to spot these amazing insects glowing in the dark! Glow-worms can be found in England (particularly in the South), but also in lowland Scotland and Wales.

Ferocious Predators

Glow-worm larva hunting snails. Image credit: CC-BY-SA-4.0, Hans Hillewaert

It is not only the female glow-worms who can glow, however.  The larvae are also able to flash a light on and off and it is thought that this is to deter predators or to help with their night time hunting. Glow-worm larvae are ferocious hunters of slugs and snails!  They have formidable mandibles and inject toxins into their prey which paralyses and liquefies them.  The toxin can take a while to take effect so the larva may ride around on the shell of the snail, waiting for it to die! The larval stage of the glow-worm lasts for between 2 and 3 years.  Winters, when prey is scarce, are spent in a state of torpor under logs and stones, or buried in the ground. 

The Race is On!

Once the larvae have pupated, the glow-worms need to mate as quickly as possible.  They do not eat as adults and only have enough stored energy from their larval stage to survive for about 10 days before starving to death.  Hopefully with a bright lantern to attract the males, the females will mate successfully and have her eggs fertilised before dying.   

Have you seen a glow-worm recently?  We would love to hear about it.  Let us know in the comments below or via the contact us section of the blog.

Book your place at our FREE Event this Easter!

Are you aged 10 – 14? Then join us for a FREE Crunchy on the Outside event here at the museum this Easter.

A Game of Life Cycles – Tuesday 12th April 2022, 1 – 3pm

Discover more about the stages of insect life cycles, then make and play your own insect-themed board game.  Can your insect make it through all the stages of metamorphosis to become an adult? Can they overcome the challenges along the way and lay eggs to make the next generation?

Here are all the details you need:

WHAT:              FREE workshop – A Game of Life Cycles

WHEN:             Tuesday 12th April 2022 , 1pm to 3pm

WHERE:           Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW

WHO:               10 to 14 year olds

To book – email: hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk

Insect Fun in the Museum – Saturday 12th March

Super Science Saturday: Fantastic Minibeasts

OUMNH Super Science Saturday by IWPhotographic

Drop in to the museum for this fun family Science Fair on Saturday 12th March, 12-4pm. Meet experts to find out more about tiny creatures like insects, spiders and more!

No need to book – just come along and, whilst you are in the museum, why not join us for our Insect Show: Insects: Beasties or Besties.

Insects: Beasties or Besties Family Science Show

Saturday 12th March, 1pm and 2.30pm

Ages 6+

Come along to our fun and interactive family show all about insects. You’ll meet a visitor to the museum, with a dislike of insects, who is confronted by a giant talking dung beetle! The unlikely pair take a journey, looking at the wonderful, and vitally important, role of insects in our world.

Please note that the show will be held in the Museum’s Lecture Theatre which has a capacity of 195 seats and social distancing will not be in place. Visitors are encouraged to wear a face mask for the duration of the show and hand sanitiser will be available when you enter/exit. 

The show is FREE but please book online.

Bee-flies: A sign of Spring

At this time of year, after the long winter months, we are all looking for signs of Spring.   One thing that entomologists look forward to is the first sightings of bee-flies.   These very cute, furry flies start to emerge in late February and early March.

Bombylius major, the dark-edged bee-fly, is one of Erica McAlister’s favourite British insects and she tells us why in this video.

Find out more about Bee-flies

To find out more about bee-flies, check out this page on the Dipterists Forum. There is also an excellent guide to bee-fly identification which you can find here.

In addition, the Dipterists Forum run an annual Bee-fly Watch which gathers together records of sightings.  This is really important for monitoring changes in distribution and flight period.  You can contribute to this important science project by adding your sightings here:

Bee-fly Watch | Soldierflies and Allies Recording Scheme (brc.ac.uk)

Have you seen any bee-flies yet this Spring? Let us know, too, by telling us below or by using the Contact Us page.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14th is St Valentine’s Day, traditionally a day to celebrate love!   To mark this special day, we thought it would be fun to look at love in the insect world. Of course, insects don’t go on dates but how do they go about securing a mate?  There is a dazzling array of ways in which insects have evolved to attract a mate, as well as some bizarre mating behaviours; some rather romantic and some definitely not!

Tokens of Love!

The Empididae family of flies, also known as dagger flies because of their piercing mouthparts, include some species where the male fly will tempt females into mating by offering them a so-called nuptial gift.  This gift is not a lovely box of chocolates or a dozen red roses, but a juicy item of prey carefully wrapped in silk.  The male gives this nuptial gift to the female who catches his eye.  Females of some species have evolved special features to attract males, such as feathery scales on their legs or inflatable abdominal sacs.  Entomologists have even discovered that there is a relationship between the size of the gift given and the time that the females will spend mating.  So the bigger the gift, the more likely the mating is to be successful. 

© Lennart Tange, CC BY-NC 2.0

Off with his head!

Rather less romantic, is the alarming mating behaviour of the praying mantis. With more than 2,400 known species ranging from 1cm to 18cm in size, praying mantises (Order: Mantodea) are a diverse group of insects found in many different habitats.  Most are found in warmer regions, particularly in tropical and subtropical climates, although they can also be found in some areas of Southern Europe. 

© CatDancing, CC BY-NC 2.0

Highly-skilled hunters, praying mantises eat insects and other small invertebrates such as spiders, but larger species have also been known to eat mice, small amphibians, snakes, and even birds and bats!  When it comes to mating, the male takes his life in his hands! Hungry females, who will soon need to lay eggs, need all the food they can get and if the male isn’t very careful, he can find himself turned into a meal as the female munches into his head whilst they mate. Read this article and watch this video if you dare!

Deadly Praying Mantis Love

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!  Do you know any other examples of bizarre or interesting insect behaviour that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments, or by using the Contact Us page

Book your place at our FREE Event this half term!

Are you aged 10 – 14? Then join us for a FREE Crunchy on the Outside event here at the museum this half term.

Insects Under the Lens

Wednesday 23rd February 2022, 1 – 3pm

Take a closer look at some of the museum’s 5 million insect specimens under a variety of different lenses. We will be using microscopes and digital photography to reveal beautiful details of insect anatomy not visible to the naked eye.  This workshop promises to unlock some of the secrets of the insect world and develop your powers of observation!

Here are all the details you need:

WHAT: FREE workshop – Insects Under the Lens 

WHEN: Wednesday 23rd February 2022 , 1pm to 3pm

WHERE: Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW

WHO: 10 to 14 year olds

To book, email: hopelearning@oum.ox.ac.uk