Insects give perfect start for junior nature-lovers

Looking at bugs is a brilliant introduction to nature for children. Looking at bugs is a brilliant introduction to nature for children.

Sunday, May 25, 2014
11:39 AM

Children love the bugs in the garden and the park. And, according to Aggie Rothon of the RSPB, they make a brilliant introduction to the natural world.

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Sawyer Tanner longhorn beetle.Sawyer Tanner longhorn beetle.

If there is one season that every child should be given free rein to explore it is spring. Spring brings natural delights vividly close to us; we are woken early by birdsong, the trees are burgeoning with bright green leaves and the fields are full of fox cubs and rabbit kits.

For me, the creatures that created my most vivid memories were the huge variety of bugs that fill gardens at this time of year. In fact, I am still awestruck by the sheer diversity and quirkiness of our insect world. There are 40,000 species of invertebrate in Britain alone and an average garden in the UK can be home to up to 2,000 different bugs. With the warm spring weather bringing many of these creatures out to play, May is certainly the month to search out the weirdest and most wonderful garden invertebrates that you can.

Bugs are an easy win with children. Lying in the sun with my little boy the other day, his focus was swiftly diverted away from ‘needing an ice cream for breakfast’ by a tiny, armoured woodlouse stumbling determinedly through the grass. With a robustly reinforced outer skeleton I cherished these little insects as a child and even tried keeping a herd of them as pets. Of course I called them by their more commonly known name – to me they were ‘pill bugs’ or ‘roly polies’.

Of course, bugs can also be an easy win with adults too. Picknicking beneath an oak tree at the weekend an acorn weevil landed with a bounce on to our Tuppaware full of sandwiches. It looked like the bug version of Gonzo from The Muppet Show with its long, trunk-like nose protruding from between large, round eyes. The acorn weevil’s nose, or rostrum, is used to bore a hole in to the wall of a developing acorn in to which an egg is laid. The hole then heals up as the acorn develops and the larva develops inside, burrowing out at a later date to pupate in the soil.

Pill woodlouse.Pill woodlouse.

If you think you might have a child (or a child-hearted adult!) in your family that would delight in the world of bugs, there is no better place for them than the garden.

Look out for froghoppers - small, brown insects that hold their wings together like a tent over their body. Froghopper larvae are often seen coated in a mass of froth – or cuckoo spit – on plant stems. Click bugs are another favourite - when threatened, attacked or overturned, these beetles can flick themselves into the air emitting an audible click – hence their name.

David Attenborough once said: “If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” Surely there is no better reason to start looking after our bugs.

There is plenty you can do to maximise your chances of enticing as many species of invertebrate to your garden. Laying a number of flat stones around the garden will provide shelter for predators such as centipedes and ground beetles, while dead and rotting wood is important for a number of invertebrates. Making a log pile in a shady spot can attract spectacular beetles if you’re lucky, but the less glamorous characters can be just as intriguing to watch.

Seven spot ladybird.Seven spot ladybird.

Whether you go out and look at your garden insects for the love of the planet or simply because they are endlessly fascinating to see, spring is the time to get out there and investigate.

So inspire the next generation – garden for bugs!

n For more information on how to garden for wildlife go to www.homes.rspb.org.uk

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