It’s not all bad, we can still see the sky. That’s a plus.

Reds and greys everywhere. I like to imagine the collections of pigeon shit up top; the smell of it close up.

‘If You Can’t Wall Them, Wall Them’ was the slogan they went with, after considering ‘Everyone Likes a Wall-builder’ and others too tedious to list here. You can imagine.

The slogan might seem a bit much, but the spin around it was more ingenious; emphasising that walls aren’t just a fearful, pessimistic method of keeping out AN Other, but a cosy way…

Photo: Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University,

When a pest gets an abbreviation, you know it’s serious. Such is the case with Drosophila suzukii, spotted-wing drosophila, or more commonly-known, simply SWD.

It’s a name extremely familiar to growers of soft fruit, but no so much by the general population — aside from the time it enjoyed a tangential route into semi-public consciousness via a series of TikTok videos. These viral favourites saw people dunking strawberries into salt water, expressing surprise and disgust at the discovery that plants might have close relationships with insects.

From a human perspective, such closeness can have both positive and negative effects. Pollination…

Lock up your fungus. Photo: Robert Webster /

My Insects and That co-conspirator Niah last week wrote an intriguing account of her attempts to rationalise the unending war waged by her staircase against adventurous woodlice. In that vein, I thought I would perhaps spur the idea of a ‘Pandemic Entomology’ series by recounting my own recent experiences trying to vanquish a substantial population of fungus gnats (Sciaridae) in a one-bedroom flat.

Firstly, this annoyance is one predominantly, if not entirely, of my own creation. I thought fit to bring into this living space a mint plant grown from a cutting of my mum’s outdoor-grown specimens, without carrying anything…

“You know, I reckon they’re hyping it up. Hardly anyone’s come in with it this week.”

They were not talking Covid-19 very seriously at that point. Or at least they weren’t in Accident and Emergency; the ambulance crew had bothered with some cursory questions about persistent coughs and temperature before deciding not to leave me at the scene. It was, after all, a full week before a national lockdown was declared, so who was to know that this was a big deal?

Whether the first pandemic denier I encountered was a doctor or nurse I cannot say, given my head…

I should make it clear from the start: this piece is about the ingenious engineering approaches employed by the larvae of antlions (Myrmeleontidae) — notably ferocious predators, particularly if you happen to be an ant. If any minimalist psychopaths have clicked this headline, stop reading now.

It is well-known that antlion juveniles dig pits in sand, and hide, with only jaws showing, in wait of prey — not only ants but any small insect that happens to misadventure. It’s also known that they fling sand up the slopes of their pits with fast flicks of their head as a means…

For many, thoughts of interaction with the insect world would mainly end with a splat, squish or crunch. But the truth is, humans and insects have always been closely linked — and it’s not such a one-dimensional connection. From the snacks of the earliest hunter-gatherers to today’s ‘entopreneurs’ doing big bug business, via the moths that spun the Silk Road, a few million crop failures and Malaria, worlds have collided with successes for both sides.

This ever-creative clash of a few billion Goliaths and a few quintillion Davids has its own academic niche: ethnoentomology. …

The red flat bark beetle: made for extreme cold, but doesn’t compare with others below. Photo: Judy Gallagher

Insects tend to scutter perilously on the dividing line between life and death. Moderate behaviours in moderate environments are far from standard — but there are some species that push things further than most to eke out a living.

Enter the extreme survivalists: the bugs which make Bear Grylls’s efforts appear pretty tame.

The driest fly

The excellently-named midge Polypedilum vanderplanki, known as the ‘sleeping Chironomid’, seems like a good place to start. This super fly’s larvae live in temporary pools and can survive their habitats drying out completely. …

Photo: lhannemann/Pixabay

In debates about ecology and conservation, the term ‘ecosystem services’ usually pops up pretty quickly. What this means is essentially the bang for your buck that any conservation attempts bring, and in the case of arthropods, the services with the biggest dollar signs attached are crop pollination and pest control.

The addition of more wild flowers in agricultural settings is often suggested as a smart move towards bringing in the bugs to deliver such benefits. Restoring field margins and introducing wild flower strips have proved popular choices from among the options available in the UK’s Countryside Stewardship subsidy scheme.


The human quest to produce more and better is often — and mostly, correctly — seen as a key factor in the global decimation of species, from bugs to birds. Yet nature is also serving as inspiration for those seeking to solve some of our most pressing problems, with insects in particular getting a lot of attention.

A recent special edition of Current Opinion in Insect Science aimed to ask where insects might fit into the quest to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It concluded that there’s a place for them almost right across the board. While some…

Photo: Jacop Hayi from Pixabay

Recent years have seen much talk of the benefits of creating habitats in towns and cities that benefit wildlife, prompting a number of urban planners, enthusiastic schools and gardeners to do their bit.

There’s no doubt that gardens, parks and other specially-created green spaces have a huge role to play in attracting — and keeping — insects around. Looking at gardens alone, there’s 15 million of them in the UK, covering a greater area than all the country’s nature reserves.

There is lots of advice out there about how to make such spaces more bug friendly, from growing pollinator-suitable plants…

Gary Hartley

Writer of different things. Come for the insects, stay for the odd literary works, or vice versa. @garyfromleeds

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