Insects and their Allies
We are told that insects are amongst the most beneficial creatures as they are important for pollination, and as a food source for higher animals. But we tend to include all creepy crawlies in the general heading of ‘insect’. In fact, to be an insect, you need to have 6 legs, and three body parts (head, thorax and abdomen) and (usually) two pairs of wings. This large group of creatures therefore includes butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, bees, wasps and ants, grasshoppers and crickets, bugs, fleas and flies. If the 20,000 different UK species in this group are not enough to sate one's appetite, there then come the spiders with no wings, 8 legs, 2 body parts (head and abdomen) and comprising some 650 species in this country.
Then there are those creepy-crawlies that do not fit either of these categories, such as springtails, bristletails, woodlice, centipedes and millipedes, ticks and mites and so on.
So there are plenty of interesting little creatures out there for us to become inquisitive about. Regrettably, on a national scale, we are losing huge numbers of many species through development and land management practices. (When did you last have to get out of the car on a journey to clean the dead bugs off the headlights?!)
What’s happening to insects and their allies in Maidenhead?
If only we knew: one of the reasons Wild Maidenhead has been formed is to try and bring together what knowledge we have locally about populations of all of the families of creatures, as lack of knowledge could lead to the loss of essential habitats for them.
Some species, such as butterflies and moths, dragonflies and butterflies, have well established monitoring programmes in our area but for most of the rest of the family, there is no structured programme of studying, identification and recording.
What is known of course is that all of these fascinating animals have specific habitat requirements and the more that can be done to protect what habitats we have left, and do minimum damage to our countryside and gardens, the better will become the lot of our insect community.
What can I do?
Look up and tag some of the better UK insect or entomological web site. If you have a family, try to get them interested too.
Then get inquisitive and look more closely at some of the key features that will help you identify what calls into your garden currently. Perhaps get some plastic or glass pots in which to capture some gently so you can get a closer look at them (letting them out again as soon as possible of course).
Note which plants they prefer: if you are not seeing insects in your garden ask yourself why not. It might be your garden is planted almost exclusively with overseas plants our insects do not recognise, and some may need replacing with indigenous varieties (see https://www.amentsoc.org/insects/insects-and-man/gardening-for-insects.html)
Overcome phobias – spiders create an unwarranted foreboding in the minds of many folk, but hardly any have anything like a bite which can harm us and most are exquisitely marked.
Construct some bug hotels to be placed around the garden, and generally ‘Make Space for Nature’.
Finally, be sure to join a local organisation, such as the Wildlife Trust, whose resources and regular news magazines are packed with information about our fascinating mini-beasts. (http://www.bbowt.org.uk/)