Not guilty? It looks a bit sheepish. Photo: Olaf Leillinger

Forensic entomology is not for the faint-hearted. While insect-related evidence has been known to be used in the odd civil case, for the most part, it’s about creating a narrative around human death, often in grisly circumstances, based on insect feeding and reproduction on, in and around cadavers.

It requires a certain sort of constitution, and its decidedly dark edge means it’s unlikely to be the inspiration for a hit crime series in itself, despite occasional appearances in the CSI: franchise, among others. Indeed, having originally pitched this story to a well-known publication, it was judged “too gruesome for our…

Let’s get it on. Photo: Bernard Dupont/ Wikimedia Commons

Insects would appear to be strong subscribers to the mantra of ‘fake it ’til you make it’, whether that’s non-threatening species evolving to share the colours or patterns of those that are, those that hoodwink other insects into sharing their brooding locations, or those that fake the aesthetics of their habitat to blend into the background. Whatever works for survival in a very busy part of the food chain, really.

In a minibeast world full of tricksters and dupes, perhaps the sneakiest of all are the male insects that circumvent the conventional channels of dominance to mate with eligible females…

The fact there are just so damn many insects can feel daunting — I imagine even to seasoned entomologists at times. But at risk of seeming like I’m quoting directly from a sunset motivational meme, with abundance comes great opportunity.

As just a small hint of such possibilities, a friend of mine who works in nature tourism, predominantly in the Balkans, brought to my attention the damselfly Pyrrhosoma elisabethae, roughly translated as flame-bodied Elizabeth but more commonly known as the Greek red damselfly.

They’d recently been in contact with a Odonata expert with particular interest in the species. One of…



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. …

Gary Hartley

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

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