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National Insect Week returns in 2018

Getting to know your insects

A big problem getting to grips with insects is that there are just so many of them. The total number of individuals has to be described with numbers that have the distinct air of the ridiculous about them. A quintillion (a 1 followed by 18 zeros) anyone? We may as well stick to “lots” and give up for all the everyday use numbers like a billion billion are.

Even the number of different species is vast – some people estimate as many as 30 million, though most estimates tend to cluster south of the 5 million bracket. In the UK alone though there are more than 7000 different types of flies! Daunting barely begins to describe it.

Illustrated image of locusts swarming and peasant farmers fighting them to save their crops

© Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH

Swarm of Locusts (Acrididae), 1884

However, it’s easier than you think to get stuck in. Get a good book (the Royal Entomological Society’s Book of British Insects isn’t a bad place to start) and start by learning a few Orders. These are the big groupings within the insects, many of which you might already know – the beetles (Coleoptera), the flies (Diptera), the Lepidoptera (the “scaly winged ones” – the butterflies and moths) and so on.

After Order comes Family – the click beetles, the ground beetles, the soldier beetles… Getting to grips with these big groupings is a real advantage if you want to take your insect knowledge further – and it’s extraordinarily satisfying. Just don’t get disheartened if you don’t find your actual beastie in a book – the full handbook of British insects would need a very large rucksack indeed…!

Adam Hart, University of Gloucester

Did you know?

Fleeting mayflies

Adult mayflies may live for only a few days and females of Dolania americana live for just a few minutes

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