Incredible insects

Blog post by Tom Hibbert on 08 Apr, 2020

Insects are everywhere, often overlooked, but playing vital roles in almost every ecosystem. Meet some of the miniature miracle-workers that help keep our world running.



Early bumblebee, by Jon Hawkins – Surrey Hills Photography

Early bumblebee, by Jon Hawkins – Surrey Hills Photography

When you think about the benefits of having insects around, pollination is probably the first thing that springs to mind. There’s a good reason for this, since 87% of all plant species require animal pollination and most of this is delivered by insects. In fact, around three-quarters of all crop types grown by humans need to be pollinated by insects.

Bees are the most famous pollinators, bumbling between flowers on sunny days, their gentle buzzing part of the soundtrack of summer. But all kinds of insects play important roles as pollinators, including flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and hoverflies.


The poo police

For most of us, a big pile of poo is a pretty unappealing prospect. But for some creatures, there’s no finer sight than a massive mound of dung. By feasting on faeces, these flies, beetles and other waste-loving wildlife prevent poo from building up in pastures, improve soils and even help control pests.

Rollers get most of the attention; the beetles often seen on nature shows, rolling balls of poo across the African savannah like a child intent on building an enormous snowman. But rollers aren’t found in the UK, instead our dung beetles are either tunnellers or dwellers. Tunnellers, like the mighty minotaur beetle, drag dung down into their burrows to feed their larvae, whereas dwellers can spend their entire lives within the confines of a dung pile.

Worms and flies also munch on mounds of dung. In summer you might spot yellow dung flies courting on cow pats, males competing for the attention of the females that lay their eggs in the dung. Only the larvae feed on faeces, the adult flies are ambush predators of hoverflies and other insects.

Yellow dung fly ©Nick Upton from Wildlife Trusts on Vimeo.


Keep calm and carrion

Early bumblebee, by Jon Hawkins – Surrey Hills Photography

Sexton beetle, by Richard Burkmar

If you’re not keen on the idea of piles of poo left littering the landscape, imagine how much worse things would be without the host of insects that feed on carrion. Animal carcasses could take months to rot without the swift action of maggots and beetles, like the bright, orange-splashed sexton beetles. Male and female sexton beetles work together to dig beneath the bodies of dead birds and small mammals, burying them to create a larder for their growing larvae.

Feed the birds (and other wildlife)

Insects are a vital food source for many species, including bats, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds. Great spotted woodpeckers hammer at rotting wood, prying beetle larvae from behind the bark with their long tongue. Blue tits collect caterpillars to feed their chicks, with a single chick needing up to 100 caterpillars a day. Daubenton’s bats scoop aquatic insects from the surface of lakes and rivers, while pipistrelles hunt down midges and mosquitos in midair.

But falling insect numbers have already been linked to declines in some of the species that rely on them, like the spotted flycatcher, a bird whose UK population plummeted by 93% between 1967 and 2016. These aerial acrobats swoop from a perch to snatch flying insects, both to feed themselves and to supply to their chicks, so their survival is dependent on finding enough insect prey. If our insects disappear, so will the countless other species that depend on them.


Spotted flycatcher feeding chicks ©John Bridges from Wildlife Trusts on Vimeo.


What about wasps?

Some insects have a bad reputation. Ants and wasps aren’t the most popular creatures, but they’re no less important than the more widely appreciated species like butterflies and dragonflies. Wasps are pollinators and “pest controllers”, hunting many of the insects that feed on our crops. Ants (and wasps and other burrowers) aerate the soil, digging tunnels that help transport oxygen, water and nutrients to plant roots – they're also a favourite snack of the green woodpecker.

Insects in trouble

We’re facing a global biodiversity crisis, with many species declining at an alarming rate. Animals and plants that were once common are now scarce, and insects are no exception. Recent evidence suggests that insect abundance may have declined by 50% or more since 1970, but insect declines are not as well studied as those in larger animals, like birds and mammals. The best data we have in the UK is for butterflies and moths, which show a broad decline. You can read more about our disappearing insects in Insect declines and why they matter.

But it’s not too late. Insect populations can recover rapidly if given the chance. To bring about this recovery, we have to make more space for insects. Gardens can be a haven for wildlife, helping connect up wild places in our wider landscape, creating a Nature Recovery Network that enables nature to live alongside us. Find out how you can help: Take Action For Insects.

Header image by Lyn Ibbitson-Elks
Share this

Latest Blog Posts

A New Direction: Starting Small by Creating Norfolk Wetlands A New Direction: Starting S...
by William Walker on 21 Oct, 2021
Broadland Group Moth Night Broadland Group Moth Night
by Jerry Simpson on 07 Oct, 2021
Moth and butterfly survival strategies Moth and butterfly survival...
by The Wildlife Trusts on 23 Sep, 2021
Out for Nature: Reflections on Pride with The Wildlife Trusts LGBTQ+ Employee Network Out for Nature: Reflections...
by Meg Watts on 14 Sep, 2021
Celebrating bees with our supporters, Lisa Angel Celebrating bees with our s...
by Susannah Armstrong & Lisa Angel on 09 Sep, 2021
Horsey Butterfly Walk by the Broadland Local Group Horsey Butterfly Walk by th...
by Jerry Simpson on 26 Aug, 2021
Recognising birds of prey Recognising birds of prey
by The Wildlife Trusts on 12 Aug, 2021
Cley Calling: Closer to Home Festival Review Cley Calling: Closer to Hom...
by Evie York on 29 Jul, 2021
Day Flying Moths Day Flying Moths
by Robert Morgan on 17 Jul, 2021
Bishop's Garden July Update: From Moths to Wild Flowers Bishop's Garden July Update...
by Barry Madden on 15 Jul, 2021
Swift Awareness Week Swift Awareness Week
by Sarah Gibson on 01 Jul, 2021
Exploring Living Landscapes: Finding Common Ground and connecting young people with nature Exploring Living Landscapes...
by Meg Watts on 24 Jun, 2021
A 30 Days Wild Minibeast Hunt A 30 Days Wild Minibeast Hunt
by The Wildlife Trusts on 17 Jun, 2021
Secrets of the Water Vole Secrets of the Water Vole
by Kelly Hollings on 10 Jun, 2021
Wild Gardening for Small Budgets & Spaces Wild Gardening for Small Bu...
by Meg Watts on 03 Jun, 2021
Bishop's Garden May Update: A World of Wild Flowers Bishop's Garden May Update:...
by Barry Madden on 27 May, 2021
Walking the Eastern Coast Walking the Eastern Coast
by Katy Ellis on 20 May, 2021
Good for us, Good for Nature Good for us, Good for Nature
by Robert Morgan on 13 May, 2021
Take a stroll with us for National Walking Month Take a stroll with us for N...
by Chloe Webb on 06 May, 2021
International Dawn Chorus Day 2021 International Dawn Chorus D...
by Robert Morgan on 29 Apr, 2021
The Humble House Sparrow The Humble House Sparrow
by Tom Hibbert on 15 Apr, 2021
Bishop's Garden March Update: A Haven for Birds Bishop's Garden March Updat...
by Barry Madden on 01 Apr, 2021
Meet our Diversity Intern Meet our Diversity Intern
by Meg Watts on 25 Mar, 2021
Growing Wild in the City Growing Wild in the City
by Sam Garland on 11 Mar, 2021