Insects Online

When the weather is chilly there aren’t many insects about, but we still have lots of online ‘Crunchy’ insect activities for you to try. We hope they will boost your insect expertise!

How to spot an insect

What makes an insect an insect? How to spot an insect is an introduction to insect anatomy: the body parts that make up an insect. Discover the key features entomologists use spot insects and how insects are different from some of their close relatives. You can then test yourself with our quick quiz!

Insect ID

Ever wondered what that insect is? Insect ID takes you into a deeper exploration of the ‘Big 5’ groups of insects in Britain:

  • beetles
  • bees, wasps & ants
  • butterflies & moths
  • true flies
  • true bugs.

Discover the differences between them, learn how to spot each type and put your skills to the test with our ID challenge.  

Know your bees

There is more to bees than hives and honey! Know your bees explores some of the rich variety of bees found in Britain. We’ve also included some tools to help you make your own observations of bees.

Looking for more?

Hummingbird hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum. Image credit: Rodger Caseby

If you’d like to go a bit further and, as the weather gets a bit warmer, get outside and do some investigating of your own, why not try one of our inset investigation ideas:

  • Different flowers asks whether different types of flower attract different insects
  • Insect Pollination investigates the range of important insect pollinators (it’s not just bees!)
  • Time of day explores whether different insects visit flowers at different times of day

We would love to hear how you get on. Get in touch using the comments below or the Contact Us page.

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.

Red-Tailed Bumblebee

If you see a big jet-black bumblebee with a red tail in Britain, its probably the Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius. If it has a scruffy white collar, then its a male.

The Red-tailed Bubmblebee has extended its range northwards in recent years and is now common throughout Britain. It can often be seen in parks and gardens. The workers have short tongues and forage on flowers like daisies and thistles which have a big area for them to land on and are made up of small florets, each with a little nectar. Leaving dandelions to grow in the spring helps provide food for these and other insects early on in the growing season.

Let dandelions grow in spring to help insects. Image credit: Pixabay / Claudiu Mladin CC0

The Queens nest under stones and so are sometimes disturbed when these are moved. If you find one like this, have a look without disturbing it then just put the stone back. They may also enter our homes through open windows in search of nesting sites.

The Red-shanked carder bee, Bombus ruderarius, can look similar but is much scarcer in the UK. While the Queens of B. ruderarius are smaller. the workers of the two species can be a similar size. You can tell the difference by looking at the back legs. B ruderarius has red pollen baskets on its otherwise black legs, whereas the leg hairs of B. lapidarius are all black.

Lincoln Kwong was one of the participants at our Summer school in August. He was so inspired by the HOPE collections team at the museum that he decided to start his own insect collection. One of his first specimens was a dead red-tailed bumblebee that he found in his garden. He preserved and pinned this and recorded the data following advice from James.

Bombus lapidarius. Image credit: Lincoln Kwong

Let us know if you have your own collection. You can get in touch using the CONTACT US page. We’d also love to see any pictures any would be happy to feature them in our PHOTO GALLERY!

Featured image credit: Gail Hampshire CC BY 2.0

Christmas Quiz Answers

We hope you enjoyed our Crunchy Christmas Quiz! Here are the answers.

  1. The holly and the ivy mining bee
  2. Adventomologists
  3. The Grinchafer
  4. The most wonderful time of the yearwig
  5. Snowmantis / Snowmantid
  6. Bethlehemiptera
  7. Myrrhino beetle
  8. 25 December moth
  9. Angelytra
  10. Yulepidoptera

Have fun over the holidays and have a Happy New Year!

Christmas Quiz 2021

To round off an eventful year here at Crunchy on the Outside, we have put together a quiz for you combining our two favourite things: Insects and Christmas!

There are ten questions in the video. Each of the answers is formed by smashing together the two clues. One clue is about insects, the other about Christmas. We’ve included a couple of examples at the start to help you get the hang of it. Don’t worry if a question seems tricky, it’s just for fun and we’ve included some clues below.

Clues

  1. The scientific name of this insect is Colletes hederae.
  2. You will find out about what these scientists study here: https://crunchyontheoutside.com/category/people/
  3. We wrote about these insects in the summer: https://crunchyontheoutside.com/2021/07/05/chafers/
  4. Complete title of the song: Clue: “It’s the most wonderful….”.
  5. This insect may seem holy, but it’s looking for prey.
  6. Find out the name of this group of insects here: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/files/2insectidpdf-0
  7. This beetle is named after another horned animal.
  8. We wrote about this insect recently: https://crunchyontheoutside.com/2021/11/29/the-delightful-december-moth/
  9. You’ll need to know the scientific name for the wingcases/hardened forewings of a beetle.
  10. Find the name of this group of insects here: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/files/2insectidpdf-0

Answers

Good luck! We’ll publish the answers on the blog on Christmas Eve, so keep an eye out for them. Let us know how many you got right!

Best wishes for Christmas and the new year from all of us at the Crunchy blog!

Kate, Rodger & Susie

The Delightful December Moth

The December Moth, Poecilocampa populi, is found all over the UK. Because it is more resistant to cold than most other moths, the adults are common in parks, gardens and woodland during late autumn and winter.

Marvellous Moths

Many people don’t give moths a lot of thought. Most have incredible camouflage and they often fly at night, so we don’t tend to see them. When we do think of moths, it may be just as a kind of drab butterfly that sometimes eats our clothes. In reality, there is much more to the world of moths than we might think, and they are very important to our world.

Moths, together with butterflies, belong to the group of insects called the Lepidoptera (“scaly wings”) There are over 2,500 species of moth in the UK and only a very few will eat our clothes. Many of these moths are beautiful, either because of their spectacular colouration or because of the way their camouflage enables them to blend into their habitat.

Moths are important in ecosystems. Both adult moths and their caterpillars play crucial roles in food chains, feeding on plants and being eaten by bats, birds and other animals. It is estimated that about 35 million caterpillars are eaten by blue tit chicks every year! Moths also play a vital part in the reproduction of several plant species because of their role as pollinators.

‘Like a moth to a flame’

December moth showing black and brown colouration.

Adult December moths are night-flying and, like other moths, they are attracted to light at night. Entomologists are still not sure exactly why this is. One theory is that moths use the moon to navigate and can mistake a light for the moon. Another is that they normally fly with the lighter sky above them and a light source near the ground confuses them into flying downwards. This would explain why they are attracted to street lights and lit windows, and also why they fly downwards into light traps.

December moth, Poecilocampa populi. Photo: Ben Sale CC-BY 2.0

Life Cycle of the December Moth

Larvae and pupae of the December moth
Larvae and pupae of the December Moth in the HOPE Collection at the Museum

While adult December Moths can be found throughout autumn and winter, each individual is short-lived and does not feed. They mate and the females lay their eggs on food plants. The eggs overwinter and the larvae only emerge the following spring. These caterpillars can be found throughout spring and summer taking advantage of the new growth of leaves. They are active voracious feeders at this time and will eat the leaves of a wide range of deciduous trees. When they have gained enough weight, they pupate, with the adult moths emerging to repeat the cycle in late summer and autumn.

Pinned adult DEcember moths in the HOPE collection.

Moths are important indicator species: their presence tells us about the overall health of the environment.  Unfortunately, what moth populations seem to be telling us is that something is wrong.

Comparing the number and type of moths found in Britain today with those recorded in historic insect collections like the HOPE Collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, shows us that moths have declined by about 40% in southern Britain. Over 60 moth species have become extinct in the UK over the last century and many more are at risk of disappearing forever.

Other animal species which rely on moths as food are also suffering, including a decline in bats flying over farmland and reduced numbers of cuckoos, which specialise in feeding on hairy moth caterpillars which other birds tend to avoid.

We need to do more research to fully understand exactly why moth species are declining in Britain, but it is likely to be because of a combination of factors including loss of habitat, farming practices such as clearing hedgerows and the use of pesticides, and climate change.

Adult December moths in the HOPE Collection

Ways we can help moths

Fortunately, many moth species under threat are found in parks and gardens, so we can all do things to help:

  • Not over-tidying gardens; a more natural look is much better for insects.
  • Growing a wide variety of large and small flowering plants and, if you have room, shrubs and trees.
  • Avoiding the use of weed killers and insecticides.
  • Reducing light pollution from outdoor lights
  • Reducing your carbon footprint, for example, by driving less and walking or cycling more.

If you enjoyed reading about the December Moth, you might like this post by Ben on Raising Poplar Hawk Moths.