Cartooning with Chris

Here at Crunchy on the Outside we love insects and we also love cartoons. What could be better, then, than cartoon insects?!

In this video Chris Jarvis shows us how to draw a mighty dung beetle called the Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus) complete with its own ball of dung!

Minotaur beetles grow to about 2cm in length and can be seen between September and July. They live in grassland and heathland with sandy soils. They feed on rabbit droppings and other dung (yum!) which they roll into balls and bury them in nests which can be over a metre deep underground. Male beetles may defend these nests using their long horns. The females lay their eggs in these nests. The eggs then hatch and the larvae feed on the tasty dung!

Watch the video carefully and you will see that Chris has included many of the key features of this fascinating beetle. He has deliberately left one insect feature out of his drawing. Can you spot what is missing? Here’s a clue: they help insects sense their environment.

Let us know what you think is missing by commenting below, or sending us a message using the Contact Us page. We’d also love to see you own cartoon insects!

Helen Roy’s Favourite Ladybirds

Professor Helen Roy, President of the Royal Entomological Society, tells us about a group of insects that interest her most: ladybirds. Also known as ladybugs, ladybirds are in fact beetles. In this video, Helen shares three of her favourites.

Helen Roy shares her favourite ladybirds

Which ladybirds have you spotted? Can you find any of Helen’s favourites? Do you have a favourite of your own? Let us know in the comments section below, or send us a message via the Contact Us page.

Ladybird images credit: Flickr / Gilles San Martin CC BY-SA 2.0

Your Insect Jokes

A few weeks ago we asked for your insect jokes in our post ‘Why did the insect cross the road?’ and you didn’t disappoint us! Here is our top ten selection of the best of your jokes, including those you sent to us online, or that we heard on our visits to schools.

I have a joke about fireflies that most people say is brilliant! alyiakerenina

What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk! Year 3 Great Horwood School

Why are entomologists like spies? They’re always looking for bugs! Anonymous

Why did the boy throw butter into the air? He wanted to see butterfly! Year 4 Bearbrook Primary School

Where do you take a sick hornet? Waspital! anonymous

How do fire flies start a race? Ready, steady, glow! Year 4 Cadmore End Primary School

What is red and black and lives underwater? A ladybird in a submarine! Anonymous

What happened to the Queen bee when she kissed a frog? She broke out in hives! Kerri

Which insect is best with numbers? An account-ant! Anonymous

What do you say to a naughty bumble bee? Bee-hive yourself! Year 5 Thameside Primary School

Think you can do better? We’d love to hear more jokes. Just enter them in the comments below, or send them using the form on the Contact Us page.

The Dark Edged Bee-Fly

The Dark edged bee-fly, Bombylius major, is one of the most conspicuous insects to emerge in early spring because of it’s large size and ability to hover in mid air. It is the most common species of Bee-fly in the UK and can be seen in woodland, heathlands, grasslands and gardens from February to June. It has several other common names known as the ‘dark bordered beefly’ or ‘large beefly’. They get these names from their large size and from the dark wavy leading edge of their wings.

Dark edged bee-fly, Bobylius major. Image credit – Flickr / Jean-Marie Hamon, CC BY-SA 3.0

So, is it a bee or a fly? The single pair of wings tells us that this is a fly. A bee would have two pairs of wings. Why would a fly evolve to look like a bee? We think this is to trick predators into thinking it is more dangerous than it is. It certainly works with humans: many people think that the beefly has a large ‘sting’ at the front. In fact, this is just part the fly’s mouth and is quite harmless. The proboscis is adapted to drink the nectar from a wide variety of early-flowering plants. These include primrose, bugle, blackthorn, and cherry blossom. Because they transfer pollen from flower to flower, they are important pollinators in the spring.

Bee-fly feeding on nectar. You can see pollen grains on its legs and body. Image credit – Flickr / Robert Ault, CC BY-SA 2.0

Bee-flies may be harmless to humans but their life cycle is a bit grisly! Females lay their eggs in the underground nests of solitary mining bee nests such as Clarke’s Mining Bee (Andrena clarkella), the Early mining bee (Andrena haemarrohoa), and the Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva). They collect sand or dust at the end of their abdomens. This sticks to their eggs, making them heavier. It may also help camouflage them. They then flick their eggs into the nest burrows of the bees. Once the eggs hatch, the bee-fly larvae crawl further down the burrows and wait for the bee larvae to grow until they are near full size. The bee-fly larvae then begin to feed on the mining bee larvae, drinking their body fluids and gradually eating them alive. When they have finished feeding, the bee-fly larvae then pupate and overwinter inside the burrow. The next generation of adult bee-flies then emerges from the burrows the following spring.

The Twany mining bee, Andrena fulva. Bee-fly larvae feed on its larvae. Image credit – Flickr / Line Sabroe, CC BY 2.0

You might think that means that bee-flies are bad for other bee species, but this is relationship evolved a long time ago and is part of the complex interaction between living things that exists in all ecosystems. Bee flies do feed on individual mining bees, but there is no evidence that they are harmful to bee populations.

If you spot a bee-fly this spring or summer, you can add your sighting to the national database by completing a simple online form on the Bee-fly Watch website. Why not let us know too? You could even take a picture or draw a picture. Who will spot the first bee-fly of 2021?

Arctic Pollinator Watch

Become an arctic pollination investigator without even putting your coat on! Scientists investing pollinating insects in the arctic need your help. By spotting pollinators in images taken by remote cameras, you can help teach a computer system how to identify these insects which are vital to arctic ecosystems.

Bees, butterflies, beetles and many other insects are pollinators. Image credit – Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Insects are important pollinators all over the world, including the arctic region around the North Pole. By moving pollen from flower to flower, insects enable new seeds and fruits to form. These seeds will grow to become the next generation of plants. Without pollinators, many species of plant would die out because there would be no young plants to replace the old ones.

The Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University in Denmark have set up time-lapse cameras at various arctic locations. For the past three years, these cameras have gathered thousands of pictures of flowers. It would take an enormously long time for humans to locate and identify pollinators in these pictures, so the researchers now want to train a computer to do it. A computer has already identified pictures that include flowers (although it may not always get tis right). The researchers need your help spotting any pollinators that may have visited the flowers in these pictures.

Become a ‘polliwatcher’ on the Pollinator watch website

You can join the project by visiting the Pollinator Watch pages of the Zooniverse website. You can then click ‘Learn more’ to read more about the project and the researchers, or ‘Get started’ to start hunting for pollinators. There is a short tutorial to help you learn how to spot the insects, and then you can hunt through as many pictures as you like.

You don’t need to register with the site to take part but if you want to, make sure that an adult gives permission. Signing in means you can keep up to date with the project and you will get credited if you find something special!

Don’t forget to let us know how you get on by sending us a message on the Contact Us page.

People: Ellen & Frederick Hope

We step back in time to meet the two people who founded the original ‘bug and butterfly’ collection, Ellen Meredith and Frederick William Hope.

Frederick and Ellen were both born near the start of the 1800s. The two young people had a number of shared interests including collecting engravings and learning about nature. What fascinated them the most was entomology – the study of insects. This was to lead to a shared lifetime of learning about them.

Wytham Woods – a great place to look for insects. Image credit – Alan Wood / Wytham Great Wood CC BY-SA 2.0

Frederick had become fascinated by wildlife as a student at Christ Church College, Oxford. He had spent a lot of his spare time collecting insects at Shotover Wood, Port Meadow and Wytham Woods. These are still all good places to look for insects today. Ellen had not studied for a degree because at that time women were not allowed to go to university! She didn’t let that get in the way of pursuing her interest. She became as equally knowledgeable as Frederick, and was elected as the first female Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society in 1835.

“A life as the wife of a politician would have been a very dull one indeed.”

In 1833, Ellen had turned down a proposal of marriage from Benjamin Disraeli (who would later become Prime Minister) because “a life as the wife of a politician would have been a very dull one indeed”. Two years later she married Frederick and they set up home together at 37 Upper Seymour Street, Marylebone, in London.

With two avid insect collectors living in the same house, their home rapidly became a small museum! Frederick and Ellen opened their collection to the public on certain days, and it soon became a popular meeting place for entomologists and others interested in natural history. Many famous naturalists became regular visitors, including Charles Darwin.

The Museum of Natural History became the new home of the Hope Collection

As their collection expanded, they realised that it would eventually outgrow their home. They also wanted to find a way for more people to see and learn about the insects they had collected. In 1849 they offered their entire collection, known fondly as the ‘bug and butterfly’ collection to the University of Oxford. When the Museum of Natural History opened in 1860, it provided a home for the Hope collection, and we have been looking after it ever since.

Sadly, Frederick died in 1862 but Ellen continued to support the Museum as they had done together. She up a £10,000 trust fund to provide for the Keeper of the collection of engravings, the Hope Professor of Zoology, and for the curators of the insect collection, so they could look after and continue to add to it.

Ellen Hope continued to contribute to the collection after Frederick’s death.

Ellen remained actively involved in the Hope collection, donating both money and new insect specimens. Shortly before she died, in 1879, she wrote a stern letter to the university authorities opposing their plan to merge the position of Hope Professor with another job and reminding them that this would break the agreement they had made. She wanted to make sure that the Hope collection would be given the attention it deserved.

The Museum of Natural History will soon install a new Ellen Hope Gallery in the space next to the room that held the original collection. The gallery will look at habitat loss, changes in biodiversity, and the value of museum collections in understanding these changes and their impacts. The insects Ellen and Frederick collected all those years ago, and generations of scientists have added to, will now help us understand how to look after the natural world today and in the future.

If you live in or near Oxford and would like to look for insects in some of the same places Ellen and Frederick did, you could visit these places:

Please check the sites for opening times and rules before you visit.