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Invertebrates by the dozen

Becky Dyer, one of the brilliant #TEAMINVERTS leaders, tells us about her top 12 insect species that you could find in your garden…

“Now that spring is in full swing there are so many different types of invertebrate that will be active and visible in your local parks, woods, and grasslands and there will even be plenty going on in your back garden! Invertebrates are fascinating because they go through so many different stages in their life cycle, from egg, to larvae, to pupae, to the adult.  This is exciting because you may discover them in all stages of their lifecycles during the event, which adds an extra challenging dimension to the identification of different species.

So with the City Nature Challenge less than two weeks away, here is a list of some of the more widespread, yet still striking species you may find in your local park or garden, to help get you started…

  1. The Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus is thought to be the UK’s most common hoverfly. They can be visible all year round, due to their habit of hibernating through the winter and coming out on warmer days to feed on pollen and nectar. They are one of the few species that are able to crush pollen grains to eat! They are at their most numerous in summer and can gather on flowers like tansy, ragwort and cow parsley (which are a favourite nectar source) in quite large numbers. Their markings resemble honey bees or wasps, but this is only to fool potential predators, they are in fact completely harmless. Their larvae feed on aphids, so are a great species to find in your garden. As well as breeding in the UK in some years, large numbers migrate here from Europe where they can be seen busily feeding on coastal and inland. Photo credit: Adrianalexalexander
  2. The Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris is a particularly striking, early emerging species of bumblebee. Only last year’s new queens hibernate through the winter and newly emerged Queens can be spotted on warm days in early spring busily gathering nectar from early Spring flowers to fuel the creation of a new nest and colony. The nests are made underground and they commonly use old mouse nests for their new colony. The Buff-tailed Bumblebee is so named after the Queen bees who are the ones with the buff coloured tails. The worker bee and drones are slightly smaller and have thin buff strip around their abdomen above a white tip tail tip so can sometimes be confused with White-tailed Bumblebee species.
  3. The Brimstone butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni can successfully hibernate over winter in Ivy, Holly and brambles using it leaf like wings to camouflage itself. Because of this it is one of the earliest spring butterflies to be seen in its adult form on the wing. Front wings of the male Brimstone are a much more bright Sulphur yellow, (giving the species it common name) with the females wings being a paler more limey-green yellow. It is said to be the main pollinator of the wild Primrose Primula vulgaris (whose flower colouring it matches perfectly) and the caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica and Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus shrubs. Photo credit: Steve Childs
  4. The 7-spot ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata is the UK’s most well-known and ubiquitous species. It can be spotted pretty much anywhere where there are aphids for the adults and larvae to feed on. Favourite habitats include gardens and parks and they are a welcome visitor due to their voracious appetite for aphids. The adults hibernate in hollow plant stems, tree cavities and outbuildings, sometimes clustering together in large numbers. The 7-spot Ladybird is also a migratory species, with large numbers flying every spring, boosting our population numbers. The bright colours are to warn predators that they are distasteful to eat. Some individuals can be yellow with black spots.
  5. The Violet ground beetle Carabus violaceus is so named for the violet coloured edges on its smooth, oval elytra (wing cases) and thorax. It is a common beetle found in gardens, farmland and meadows. They are a flightless species but are fast runners and active, nocturnal predators, chasing and catching smaller invertebrates. They are particularly helpful to gardeners for their habit of preying on ‘pest’ species such as slugs. As they are nocturnal, they can commonly be found resting during the day under logs and stones and in leaf litter. Photo credit: Bernard Dupont
  6. The Garden banded snail (White lipped snail) Cepaea hortensis a common species often found in gardens. They come in many different colour varieties, with shells of different base colours between yellow, rose, red and brown and different types of banding, from un-banded forms, single band forms up to multiple band forms, such as five bands. They are similar in appearance to the brown-lipped snail, but generally smaller, with a white band around the edge of the shell rather than a brown band. Both species hibernate over winter by digging into the ground and closing off the mouth of their shell with mucous. The main predator of these snail species is the Song Thrush, who has learnt the skill of cracking the shell by hitting the snail against a stone!
  7. The Orange-tip butterfly Anthocharis cardamines is a pretty, medium sized butterfly that can be found in gardens, hedgerows and woodland edges, especially where the caterpillars food plant Cuckooflower and Garlic Mustard can be found. It is one of the first butterflies to appear in spring that has not over-wintered as an adult. This butterfly forms no set territory and wanders in every direction as it flies along hedgerows and woodland margins looking for a mate, nectar sources or caterpillar’s food plants to lay its eggs on. The butterfly is named for the orange tips present on the forewings of the male. These are not present on the female. Both sexes do however have very pretty green-gold mottled pattern on the underside of their bottom wings. Photo credit: Milo Bostock
  8. The Common Woodlouse Oniscus asellus is actually a terrestrial crustacean and therefore related to its aquatic cousins, crabs and lobsters. It feeds on mildew, rotting plants and other dead and decaying matter and is an important nutrient-recycler in the various habitats it lives in. Because of its diet it can be mainly found in compost heaps, under rocks or in other damp, hidden away areas of the garden, such as in leaf litter. It easily becomes desiccated so is mainly active at night, hiding in damp places during the day, especially in hot, dry weather. The woodlouse has a shell-like exoskeleton, which it sheds as it grows. This moulting process takes place in two stages. The back half is shed first, followed two or three days later by the front. This method of moulting is different from that of most arthropods, which shed their exoskeletons all in one go. The female woodlouse will get her eggs and young offspring attached to the underside of her body between her legs to protect them. They can be confused with their cousin the Pill bug, but unlike the Pill bug which has the ability to roll into a tight, protective ball when disturbed, woodlice are unable to do this.
  9. The Common Earwig Forficula auricularia is mostly nocturnal, scavenging for mainly dead plant and animal matter overnight, then retreating to hide in damp crevices, in dead wood, leaf litter, under logs or stones during the daytime. Female Common Earwigs are excellent mothers: laying their eggs in damp crevices, they guard the nest and gently clean the eggs until the young hatch. They will then guard the young until after their second moult, when they are ready to fend for themselves. The pincers of the earwig are more curved in the male and straighter in the female. When harassed earwigs can give a human a small nip with its pincers, but they are generally used as a deterrent to scare off predators. Despite having wings neatly tucked away, they are usually very reluctant to fly anywhere, maybe due to increased risk of predation on the wing. Its common name is derived from the Old English for ‘ear beetle’ but the evidence of earwigs crawling into people ears is purely anecdotal and most likely a myth or mistake.
  10. The Zebra Spider Salticus scenicus is a common jumping spider that stalks its prey on walls, rocks and tree trunks. Unlike other spiders it does not build a web and wait for its prey to get ensnared in the sticky silk. Instead it uses its four pairs of large eyes to locate its prey, creeping up on it cat-like, before pouncing on it. Zebra Spiders frequent gardens, walls, fences and sometimes come into houses. Males attract females through a complex courtship dance, moving around the females, waving their legs in the air and moving their abdomen up and down. The better the dance the more likely the female will choose to mate. The females create a silk cocoon in which protects the eggs, until the young hatch. They are so named for the vivid black and white striped pattern on their abdomen and thorax which is similar to a Zebra and helps with camouflage
  11. The Common Green Lacewing Chrysoperla carnea is a beautiful, delicate insect which is lime green, with large, delicately veined, translucent wings and copper coloured compound eyes. There are 14 species of lacewing found in the UK. They are nocturnal and commonly found in gardens, where they help to keep pests under control as both the adults and larvae feed on aphids. Some adult species also supplement their diet with pollen, nectar and honeydew. They are also widespread in parks, woods and meadows. Female lacewings lay their eggs at night, suspended from a thread of hardened mucus, attached to the underside of a leaf, either singly or in small groups. They are placed on plants, usually where aphids are nearby in plentiful numbers. They larvae are known as Aphid Lions for their voracious appetite! Adult lacewings will hibernate over winter, often in buildings.
  12. The Ruby-tailed Wasp Chrysis ignata is a stunningly beautiful species of parasitic wasp, with the most lovely, iridescent red, blue and bronze colouring. Their common name comes from the metallic ruby red colouring of their abdomens. It is one of many species of solitary bee and wasp that can be spotted in many different habitats from walls to sandy quarries, rocky outcrops to tree trunks. They are active from April to September, but at only 1cm long can be tricky to spot! They can be seen running over walls and tree trunks, using their downward-curving antennae to pick up the scent of a host insect nest, in which to lay their egg. Being a solitary species, they do not live in colonies like Honey Bees and instead the adult female of the Ruby-tailed Wasp seeks out a host insect’s nest where the female lays her eggs. The nests of other solitary bees and wasps, especially Mason Bees are particularly favoured. When the eggs hatch, they eat the larvae of the Mason Bees and develop, giving the Ruby-tailed Wasp its other common name, ‘Cuckoo Wasp’.

I hope this article has piqued your interest into the fascinating world of invertebrates and given you the confidence and curiosity to get outside and start exploring and documenting what you find. This is just the tip of the invertebrate iceberg! There are so many weird and wonderful different types of invertebrate out there to discover and a large number of them will literally be on your doorstop, in your local park or in your back garden. Once you start looking you will be surprised at how many species you find!

So what are you waiting for?! Download the iNaturalist app onto your smartphone, grab a magnifying glass and I.D book (if you have one) and get out in your local area on your very own City Nature Challenge mini-beast hunt! The City Nature Challenge needs you to ‘Make Time’, ‘Make Space’ and ‘Make Change’ for citizen science and nature. Together we can put Bristol and Bath on the mini-beast map!

Happy bug hunting!”