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Insects In Spring

Information and Activities

A Buzz in the Air

When spring comes we all want to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather. Guess what, Jock and his insect pals are just the same!

In Jock’s Autumn section he looked at how minibeasts spend the winter months- they have different ways of avoiding the cold! Some take shelter under the soil, or under logs, rocks or in leaf piles, some go inside the wood of logs and trees and others even come inside our homes! Many will die off at the end of summer but they leave their eggs, larvae pupae to keep their species going the following spring. Others will spend the winter as adults, effectively hibernating. While we often speak of insects hibernating, the correct term is diapause , which means they go dormant. Only warm-blooded creatures hibernate in the true sense of the word.

Whichever way they have done their best to avoid the cold of winter, spring is a really important time for minibeasts. As cold blooded creatures their body temperature is set by the temperature outside. As it warms up in spring, insects start to become active again, and they are really hungry and thirsty. So the first thing they do is to head out to find food!

It is absolutely vital to have early flowering plants to provide pollen and nectar for these ravenous critters.

We’re going to look at bees and butterflies, and as we do so we will talk about their different stages of development - this has a fancy name, called metamorphosis. This video explains metamorphosis;

Insects and Life Cycles!
Speckled Wood Butterfly
Speckled Wood Butterfly Dr Mark Young
Green-Veined White Butterfly
Green-Veined White Butterfly Dr Mark Young

Fuzzy and Buzzy-Bumblebees

The hum of a bumblebee’s wings zooming past makes Jock go all warm and fuzzy inside! Seeing these lovely creatures so busy with all their jobs is one of his favourite parts of spring! He doesn’t see as many of them these days as he used to - they're in trouble and need our help.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust can tell us loads about them: The Bumblebee Lifecycle

Once the warmer spring days arrive the bumblebee queens who have been hibernating alone in the soil gradually wake up. They are really hungry as they will have used up all the fat they had stored for winter.

The first job for the queen bumblebee is to find food - feeding on the early spring flowers , and drinking their nectar gives her energy. These spring flowers like pussy willow, lungwort and gorse are really important as the queen tries to regain her strength.

Next on this busy bee’s to-do list is to find a suitable nest site. She has no time to chat to Jock as she busily zig-zags around his ankles looking for possible nest sites. Depending on what type of bumblebee she is, she might choose a nice hole in the ground, like an ld mouse nest or in a dry rock cavity, or under your garden shed, in tussocky grass, or she might even set up home in a bird box.

Most bumblebees nest underground, but some, like the carder bee will comb grass and moss together to make her nest. The tree bumblebee, quite a new species here, uses hollows in trees and even bird boxes!

Once she has found her ‘des res’ she collects pollen from flowers, bringing it back to her nest. Now she makes a mound from pollen and wax, which she produces from her body, and she lays her first brood of eggs in it. This is going to give the newly hatched larvae a food source.

She also uses this wax to make herself a wee pot to store nectar which she gathers from the flowers. She puts the pot in front of her mound. She keeps her eggs warm by sitting on her wax "nest" shivering her muscles to keep warm.

The queen incubates her eggs like this for several days, sipping her nectar to give her energy. Soon the tiny larvae emerge. Flying back and forth to the flowers, the queen feeds her larvae on nectar and pollen.

After around 2 weeks, the larvae spin a cocoon and gradually develop into adult bees. This first brood will all be female workers. Their job is to carry out the work of the nest - inside and out. They help the queen to grow the colony. They will clean the nest, guard it and collect nectar and pollen for the next batch of offspring.

Meanwhile, the queen is busy laying her next batch of eggs, and she will stay inside the nest from now on. A large colony can have 400 bees in it! In late summer, new queens( females) and males are produced, so the colony can reproduce. The males leave the nest, and it’s their job to try to mate. The new queens will mate soon after leaving the nest.

These mated new queens gorge themselves on nectar and pollen to build up their fat reserves for the coming winter hibernation. Only the new queens survive to the next spring in a sheltered spot, digging down about 10 cm-isn’t that incredible for a tiny bee!

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock says:

Please don’t be afraid of bumblebees, leave them alone. Give them space to do their work. They won’t sting unless they're frightened or are protecting their home.

Bumblebees are in trouble, mainly due to pesticides (chemicals which are sprayed on crops to kill pests) and loss of their habitats. They really matter to us as we need them to pollinate our crops. They need our help!

How you can you help bumblebees? Try some of the following suggestions...

For more information and to identify bumblebees try the following links:

Solitary Bees

The Wildlife Trusts can tell us loads about solitary bees: Solitary bees

Most folks are aware of bumblebees and honey bees, but did you know that of the 270 types of bees in the UK , 230 are solitary bees! These little guys are really important pollinators for us. Unlike bumblebees and honey bees who live in colonies, solitary bees tend to like to be alone, they don’t make honey.

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock says: Solitary bees have tiny stingers and rarely sting.

Most of our solitary bees nest in the ground, tunnelling out their own nest. The female uses her body to dig out a nesting chamber, waterproofing it from a gland in her body. She adds pollen for the larva to eat, which she often moistens with nectar, and lays her egg. She seals off that section of the chamber, before adding a few more nest cells with an egg in each until the chamber is full. If they find an especially good nest site, like a warm south facing bank with sandy soil, several solitary bees might decide to nest there. The developing larvae eat the pollen, and after about 6 weeks spin a cocoon, pupate and eventually change into bees. The bee spends the rest of the summer and winter in the nest cell, waiting for spring, when it emerges to mate and continue the cycle.

Some species like to nest higher up, for example in old beetle holes, often sealing the nests with a saliva like substance, mud, chewed up leaves, tree resin, or parts of leaves which they have cut with their jaws. If you have made a bug hotel in your garden, you might well have some of these solitary bees nesting as guests!

One species, Ceratina Cyanea, digs out her nest in bramble stems, digging out the pith of the stem and laying her eggs there.

In Britain, we even have 3 species of solitary bee which like to nest in old snail shells! They use chewed up leaves to seal off each section of the empty nest shells, and often try to camouflage the shell in some way! Here’s a great fact sheet about bees: Urban Bees

For more information on solitary and other bees, especially those who visit bee hotels, visit the Wild bees of Scotland Identification Guide.

Mining Bee Andrena Sp
Mining Bee (Andrena sp.) (Credits Helen Rowe)
Willughby Leafcutter Bee
Willughby Leafcutter Bee (Credits Helen Rowe)
Bumblebees
Bumblebee Nest
Butterfly Life Cycle FOR KIDS
Tree Bees Nesting In a Bird Box
Tree Bees Nesting In a Bird Box (Credit Margaret Garden)
Mining Bee on Dandelion
Mining Bee (Andrena sp.) on Dandelion (Credits Helen Rowe)
Red Mason Bee
Red Mason Bee (Credits Helen Rowe)
Red Mason Bee
Red Mason Bee (Credits Helen Rowe)

Spring Butterflies

Over the long dreary winter months, Jock yearns for his first sighting of a fluttering butterfly - that always puts a smile on his face, signalling spring is under way!

The Butterfly Conservation have loads of facts about butterflies: https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/the-secret-life-of-butterflies

Spring is an important time for butterflies, but they don't all come into spring as adult butterflies!

Butterflies have 4 life stages. They develop from the egg, to the larva (caterpillar) the pupa (chrysalis) and the adult butterfly.

To understand this we need to look at the life cycle of butterflies. Watch this video to learn more.

Butterfly Life Cycle FOR KIDS

Some species like Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Brimstone will have spent the winter hibernating as adults. You might even have had Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock butterflies hibernating in your house. You’d think this would be a great plan, but as we turn our heating up, sometimes they waken up thinking spring has arrived, using up precious energy trying to get out to find flowers to feed on when there are none.

As cold blooded creatures, butterflies rely on external sources of heat to warm them up. As the days get warmer, hibernating butterflies will waken up, very hungry and thirsty. If they don't eat within a day or 2, they might not survive. So timing coming out of hibernation when there is food around is vital.

Jock is always relieved to see the pussy willow catkins opening - the bright yellow catkins are male, with their yellow pollen. Some female insects need its protein to mature their eggs. The green catkins are female and later produce fluffy seeds. Both male and female catkins provide nectar, vital energy for insect pollinators. Spring blossoms like cherry blossom, lesser celandine and dandelions are also important food sources.

Most butterflies spend winter as caterpillars. The eggs will have been laid in time for the caterpillars to hatch before it gets too cold. They will bury themselves underground or in leaf litter till spring. Come spring, an army of leaf eating caterpillars will set out to munch their way through our gardens!

Others spend winter as a pupae or chrysalis, most likely pupating at the base of plants close to the ground or hidden in fallen leaves. As the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, its wings will be wet and weak, and the butterfly needs to pump a liquid into its wings to make them strong enough to fly.

Apart from those which hibernate, most adult butterflies will only live for a few weeks, and their job is find a mate and to lay eggs.

As spring gets under way, keep your eyes open for the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock, and if you're really lucky the Comma which Jock says is slowly colonising the area. The early season emerging species include the Orange-tip, Green-veined White and Green Hairstreak.

Common garden butterflies and their caterpillars-ID Guide Butterflies and Caterpillars (PDF).

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock says: Butterflies need our help!

These lovely creatures are in trouble and need our help! Jock has been noticing their numbers have been falling over the years. Climate change and losing their habitats and pollution are all to blame. The good news is there’s plenty we can do to help them in our gardens and school grounds! Just by growing some of the plants they need you can create a fuel station for them where they can fill up on nectar. But as well as nectar they need plants to lay their eggs on which the caterpillars will then munch. You don't need to be an expert gardener or have a huge garden to help butterflies-a balcony or window box, or pots by your front door will do.

Here are some suggestions on how to help.

More Information

For more information about butterflies browse the web sites.

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock's jokes:

Why is the letter A like a flower? Because a bee comes after it!

What did the Mother Earth worm say to the little worm? Where in Earth have you been?

It’s absolutely no coincidence that many birds reappear soon after the insects emerge - swallows, house martins swifts for example arrive from their migration northwards from the tropics - all set to munch their way through as many insects as they can find! Some, like swallows, prefer flying insects, others prefer crawling insects like caterpillars.

Comma Butterfly
Comma Butterfly (Credit Dr Mark Young)
Peacock Butterfly (Credit Dr Mark Young)
Small Tortoiseshell (Credit Alba Birds and Beasts)
Small Tortoiseshell (Credit Alba Birds and Beasts)
Spotting Spring Butterflies
Spotting Spring Butterflies (PDF) (Butterfly Conservation)
Munching Caterpillars
Identify Butterflies and Their Caperpillars (PDF) (www.munchingcaterpillars.org)
Feeling Thirsty? The Butterfly Fuel Menu (PDF)
Feeling Thirsty? The Butterfly Fuel Menu (PDF) (www.munchingcaterpillars.org)
Make Your Own Plant Labels
Make Your Own Plant Labels (DOC) (www.munchingcaterpillars.org)

Also See

All About Spring

All About Spring

Learn more about Spring, when does it start and end, and why we have different seasons.
Birds In Spring

Birds In Spring

Learn about how Spring affect birds and how it changes their behaviour.
Animals In Spring

Animals In Spring

Learn more about why spring is a special time for animals and their young.
Amphibians In Spring

Amphibians In Spring

Spring is an important time for amphibians, such as Frogs, Toads and the Palmate Newt.
Insects In Spring

Insects In Spring

In Spring there is always a "buzz" in the air. Find out all those insects are busy doing!
Spring Activities

Spring Activities

Join in the Spring fun for all the family with our range of indoor and outdoor activities.
Competition

Competition

Enter our competition and see how you get on.

Also see our Spring Programme 2021, Winter Programme 2020, Autumn Programme 2020 and Summer Programme 2020 information, and don't forget to enter our Competition.

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