Insects are an essential element in a balanced ecosystem. They create the basis of food chains for larger animals plus they pollinate plants, decompose waste and recycle nutrients. In fact, life on Earth could not survive without them, so it is essential we provide habitats for them to thrive in.
Insects are little understood by many of us and we do not always consider their needs. For example the reedbeds down at the wetlands are very important for a number of species including dragonflies. These insects will lay their eggs in the water plants. They hatch as wingless nymphs that live under the water, moulting their skins as they grow. Once they are ready to change into a mature winged dragonfly, the nymphs will crawl out of the water up a plant stem.
Hopefully there will be some warm and sunny weather this summer as not only does it raise our spirits but it means that insects can complete their life cycles. Wet weather and low temperatures are no good for cold blooded insects, for example last summer butterfly sightings were down 11%. Insects also rely on food resources all year round. Farmers are now encouraged to leave edges of fields uncultivated and sow pollen and nectar mixes that support a wide range of insects.
The UK is home to a huge variety of butterflies and moths. Around 56 species of butterfly and 2,500 species of moth have been recorded at some time in the British Isles and we are very lucky to have some at the wetlands as it can take time for species of butterfly to move in to a newly created area such as this one. Whether you will see them or not will depend on the time of year you visit. Some species that like to live in areas like this include the red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady, gatekeeper, meadow brown and common blue. Some of these species have the most amazing story to tell. For example, the red admiral is a summer visitor to the UK. They will fly to the UK in the spring after overwintering in southern-Europe or north Africa - a massive journey of over 1,000 miles!
Why do we see some butterflies all summer long and some only for a few weeks? Some of our butterflies are migrants, blown here on warm southern winds and others will have one, two or even more adult peaks in the summer! With such a variety of plants and habitats in The Wetlands there should be many different butterflies.
They are amazing insects with multi-stage life cycles from egg to caterpillar (larvae) to adult. It is important to make sure the correct plants are present for all stages of the life cycle. For example the larvae of the small tortoiseshell need stinging nettles to feed on and the adults need a range of plants including bramble.
There are 26 ladybird species in Britain. They belong to the beetles which all have biting mouthparts and hard wing cases. Ladybirds release a horrible tasting liquid when disturbed, a very good defence mechanism! Very few animals eat them although some birds and wasps can. A ladybird that might make its home in The Wetlands is the water ladybird (Anisosticta 19-punctata). They actually change colour from red in the summer to beige in the winter and depend on reedbeds.
Our British ladybirds are threatened by the harlequin ladybird, an invasive species that outcompetes native ladybirds by eating the same food sources and even native larvae! It can also eat a wider range of food and breeds all year round unlike our native ladybirds that are dormant in winter. It only arrived in the UK in 2004 from mainland Europe where it has been used as a 'natural' pest control, having been brought over from Asia. Harlequin ladybirds have over 100 colour pattern varieties.
To encourage ladybirds in your garden nearly any plant will do! Ladybirds eat aphids and have long been known as gardener's friends. In the winter ladybirds along with many other insects need places to hibernate so providing bug houses can keep them safe. If you would like to tell somebody about your ladybird sightings the UK Ladybird survey would gratefully receive them as well as sightings of harlequin ladybirds.
A group of insects that can truly be called bugs include critters such as shield bugs, aphids, pond skaters, water boatman and leafhoppers. Searching for and watching this group of insects can occupy children for many a summer afternoon. Leafhoppers are the small dome shaped insects that do 'hop' onto you as you sit in grassy areas. A light touch on their back and they hop off to continue their journey. Pond dipping, which should only be done with a responsible adult in a safe location, is a great way to show the wonders of a range of insects and invertebrates to children. Pond skaters are easily spotted but not so easily caught and water boatman are fascinating to watch as they effortlessly swim around. You may also see shield bugs in the Wildlife Zone. These plant eating insects are as majestic as their name suggests and the adults are relatively easy to find! The adults can grow to over 1cm long, look out for the hawthorn sheildbug that will be living in the hedgerows in The Wetlands.