My Top 5 Favourite UK Insects I’ve Seen: Introduction

The always beloved bumblebee may not need much effort to boost its reputation, but other insects may be just as valuable and sadly underappreciated or even persecuted. (Credit: Me)

Happy Insect Week!

If you’ve been following for a while you’ll know my history with insects, but if not here’s the story.

I was, at one point, before an autistic burnout turned my dreams to ashes, an aspiring biologist. It is safe to say that biology, ecology and wildlife were my first true academic love. However I never caught the bug ‘bug’ until it came to writing my Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals articles, specifically the one on wasps – which came #1 on the list!

A very active social wasp! Like Vespula vulgaris, the common wasp, One of the most beautiful insect forms, a voracious predator of many things that will destroy your garden, likely a significant pollinator and yet these critters have a reputation for being mean, annoying and pointless. It’s a shame as they are far from it! (Credit: Me)

I definitely committed the crime of ‘assumed knowledge’ when it came to wasps. I thought everyone thought as I did. That social wasps (Vespula sp. – the yellowjackets you flail your arms wildly at, think are ‘mean’ when they’re not and most associate with being annoying and stinging) could be a bit of pain but they have their place in our ecosystems, and that these actually represent only a small sample of the much more diverse group known as ‘wasps’.

I was wrong!

To many people ‘wasps’ are just yellowjackets. In fact to some of those people so are lots of native bees that aren’t bumblebees or honey bees! So I wrote a piece to try to set the record straight, and my research for it developed a strong love for wasps. It also put me in contact with Professor Seirian Sumner, possibly one of the most enthusiastic wasp enthusiasts you could imagine, and co-founder of ‘Big Wasp Survey’.

At the time the Big Wasp Survey had a project called #WaspFlower. A citizen science project (where you get normal people to go out and do stuff for science because money is tight and the project is too huge!) aimed at photographing wasps on flowers. Partially a PR exercise to show more wasps and in more situations than just robbing the ham from your sandwich or falling into your can of coke. Mostly to determine what flowers wasps may be visiting and offering pollination services for.

My first ever parasitoid wasp seen in the wild. The lengthy curled appendage behind her is not a massive sting, but an ovipositor, used for depositing her eggs. Parasitoid wasps like this tend to hunt prey, or else lay their eggs on or in prey, helping regulate populations of other invertebrates. Particular caterpillars, aphids etc. that may also be garden or crop damaging. It is hard to explain how fast my heart was beating and how happy I was to see this wasp. (Credit: Me)

As a keen walker and wildlife spotter, I put on my worn-out shoes and went out. A LOT! And in searching for wasps on flowers I found a whole tiny world that even I, as a biology enthusiast, had been overlooking and ignoring.

I got to see spider nests bursting with tiny little arachnids, obnoxiously long earthworms, caterpillars of all shapes and sizes, beetles having it off, tiny little bronzed shield bugs, the delicate dance of hoverflies on the wing, maggots crawling over decaying animals, spiders mid-bite on unfortunate bees, ants marching as one, a dragonfly successfully hunting and so much more!

We are giants compared to this world. It is easy to see how we can overlook it. But these creatures are vital to our ecosystems – they help keep the whole thing ticking over! Providing pollination for our plants, dispersing their seeds, dealing with the rotten vegetation and flesh, recycling the nutrients, feeding our birds and rodents that go on to feed our predators like birds of prey. They are not merely connected to nature and its processes – Invertebrates and insects are a keystone in the whole thing.

Butterflies like this peacock (Aglais io) have a wonderful reputation with the public despite the fact their larval form, their caterpillars, can often be hugely deterimental to our gardens and crops. Does the beauty of their adult, flying form inform our opinions more than their actual role and interactions with our world? (Credit: Me)

Yet our relationship with them is one of misunderstandings. It’s all pesticides and creepy-crawlies. It’s all talk of pests and control. Especially when it comes to insects and our interaction with them serious research needs to be done on what is, or isn’t important in our ecosystems. Serious PR work needs to be done to communicate these findings, and the importance of insects and invertebrates, to the public.

We need to change our relationships with these species from one of antagonism, from us-versus-them, into one of understanding and greater co-existence.

To help this process of understanding I am going to write about five insects I have seen on my walks in the UK (mainly the southeast) and tell you about them and why they are some of my favourites.

If you wish to get more involved or learn my about insects and invertebrates here are some links to The Royal Entomological Society and Insect Week resources.

Royal Entomological Society Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram

Insect Week Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram

Or you can read some of my other articles about insects and invertebrates below.

Top Five Insects #5 – The Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)
Under-appreciated spring bee with a female who has incredible fox-red fur.
Top Five Insects #4 – The Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata)
An otherworldly jewel of a beetle.
Top Five Insects #3 – The Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)
Proof that moths can be as amazing as butterflies, with a lovely caterpillar!
Top Five Insects #2 – The Thick-Legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis)
A charming iridescent green flower beetle, some of whom have thick thighs!
Top Five Insects #1 – The Ruby-Tailed Wasps (Chrysis sp. or Family Chrysididae)
Stunning little jewels that can teach us much about the diversity of wasps and insects.

Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals – #1 – Wasps
A look at wasps in all their diverse beauty and glory and why they are important to us. A long-read.

The Wasp Tragedy – How Can We Help?
A few tips on how you can encourage wasps and other insect and invertebrate biodiversity in your home or garden.

Insects: The Savage Eden Before Your Eyes
A more in-depth look at my journey as I developed a relationship with insects and their role in our ecosystems.

Grown-Ups Guides: Hedge-Hunting for Bugs!
A short guide on how a total novice can get started appreciating the tiny wildlife in the undergrowth (safely)! Aimed at adults.

Human Bias and Animal Myth in Conservation
Not insect-specific but hugely relevant. Adapted from a twitter thread looking at how humans form ideas and relationships with the natural world.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Karl Anthony Mercer is a writer, poet, author, musician and part-time dandy. He can often be found squatting in fields looking at insects (he is an unapologetic wasp fanatic), wandering around museums over-dressed, or hiding in a dank corner singing sad songs on a small guitar. His writing on WordPress consists of MercersPoems - an outlet for his poetry often using natural imagery, gothicism and decadence to explore the struggles of living as an autistic person; and We Lack Discipline - Where he writes about factual, often academic topics he has learned and is interested in (e.g. biology, psychology, Roman history etc.) with an inimitable, often light-hearted and irreverant style. You can support Karl by; Subscribing to the We Lack Discipline Patreon - https://www.patreon.com/WeLackDiscipline Or buying him a coffee (he loves coffee!) - https://ko-fi.com/welackdiscipline

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