The world around us is teeming with life, and we just have to stop sometimes and pay attention to explore it. In recent times, lots of us will have become very adept at finding ways to amuse ourselves – particularly with kids at home. A failsafe, fun family activity is to run your own bug treasure hunt! Gardens and open spaces are packed with various different types of bug and minibeast, and each serve their own purpose in their own way (sometimes helpful, sometimes unhelpful).
This is a brilliant activity for kids, but also for those grown-ups who are keen to get to know the tiny creatures of the world! By spotting all of the different bugs and creepy crawlies that are about, you can help your kids to learn more about the natural world and you may even learn something yourself. You can have your own minibeast treasure hunt in your garden, or head to a local park or green space to see what you can spot. Take a magnifying glass to really get up close and personal, and if you’d like to get really serious there are loads of brilliant bug bingo sheets you can download online too.
Here, I’ll give you five special bugs to look out for – and some facts about them to share as you spot.
Beautiful red and black-spotted Harlequin ladybirds were once regarded as tiny messengers from the gods, because they have the holy number of seven spots on their wing cases. Ladybirds aren’t just beautiful to look at – they’re the gardener’s best friend as their favourite snack is aphids. Their brightly coloured wings are a warning to predators to stay away, but they’re fairly friendly critters and children tend to love watching them. Bonus points if you spot other colours, or their spiny black larvae!
These arachnids may give some people the creeps, but spiders are real garden helpers as they quietly prey on troublesome flies and construct intricate webs from their very own silk. Spider silk is stronger by thickness than Kevlar! There are hundreds of different species of spider so they’re quite easy to spot – bonus points if you catch a spider reeling in its prey, or a delicate sac of tiny eggs.
Caterpillars are undoubtedly cute and turn into beautiful butterflies, but they have voracious appetites and will munch at a veg patch or tender plant like nobody’s business as they stock up for getting into their cocoon. There are dozens of species of butterfly and thousands of moths in the UK, each with their own distinctive and usually very beautiful caterpillars. Common caterpillars to spot are tiny green cabbage whites, prickly red and black yellowtails and chunky brown elephant hawk moths.
Children are often inexplicably delighted by slimy, wriggly earthworms! Worms are really important for the eco-system, as they eat decaying leaf matter and break it down into compost. They’re easily found in the ground by spotting their ‘casts’ spiralled around the entrance to their burrows in beds or grass, or squirming through leaf matter on the forest floor.
These beautiful, hard-shelled beetles are a real joy to watch as they mosey slowly along leaves or branches. Their slow movement allows us to get a good look at their structured bodies and bright colours, that change from emerald green in summer to camouflage brown in winter. Shield beetles used to be found only in the south of the UK, but are now more widely spread, and they’re sometimes called ‘stink beetles’ as they can release a smelly odour if handled or disturbed.
There are lots of other wonderful minibeasts you can spot out and about, but hopefully my top five will give you some ideas and facts to share. Which ones have you spotted? I’d love to know – send me your pictures on Facebook and Twitter.