If you’ve got six legs, you’re an insect

Entomological – there’s a word to get your chops round. Try saying it fast five times. Much easier to say ‘insects’. But what are insects, exactly? John Harrison, Aberlady Bay’s own countryside ranger, explains…

Bumblebee – Snail – Butterfly – Moth – Hoverfly – Fly – Beetle – Wasp – Damselfly – Spider – but in which order?

There’s such a great variety of insects and they are so different – how can we recognise them? Well, let’s start with the fact that they all have six legs. If it ain’t got six legs, it ain’t an insect. Most, but not all can fly at some point in their lives. And their bodies are divided into three distinct sections: head, thorax and abdomen.

Insects have distinct stages in their lives. Some, like grasshoppers, always look pretty much the same, just getting bigger as they change stages. Others, like ladybirds, hatch out of their egg looking a little bit like a ladybird, then hide away in a little case that they make for themselves before emerging looking a lot like a ladybird!

This amazing pupation stage is taken a step further by things like moths and butterflies, which can, incredibly, change from a constantly eating sausage with legs into a delicate, flying adult, some of which don’t eat at all. Some don’t even have mouths!

Quiz challenge

Right, quiz time. Can you identify all the minibeasts in the big picture above? How many of them are insects? If you know any of the species names, then you get extra respect.

How to help insects

Insects, like much of the natural world, are having a tough time of it at the moment, but there are things you can do to help them. Three easy ones are:

1) Let a bit of your garden, or just a pot of soil, go completely wild. Plants like nettles are brilliant for young insects to feed on.

2) Plant some wildflowers – even just a wee tub-full on a window ledge will provide important food. The ideal is to grow a mix of plants that will provide nectar throughout most of the year. If you’re not sure what plants to grow, gardening experts have done the choosing for you and you can buy good packs of mixed seed.

3) Water! Whether you dig a loch in your garden or you fill up an old saucepan, keep it wet and it’ll provide a super habitat for aquatic insects. If your container has steep sides, remember to pop something in, such as a stick, to let other beasties crawl out.

A northern brown argus – a butterfly… but is it an insect?

We’re counting on you!

So, you’re now all expert entomologists and you’ve got awesome insect nature reserves at home – time to get recording! We need to know more about what’s happening to our insect life and you can help with a fun quick survey.

A FIT count (Flower-Insect Timed count) is a survey you can do just about anywhere you find flowers. And who wouldn’t fancy ten minutes sitting in the sunshine counting flitting butterflies, buzzing bees and all their insect pals?!

For more info go to www.ceh.ac.uk/pollinator-monitoring.

I’ll be doing some too, so when I see you next, we can compare entomological notes!

May 18, 2020 • by John Harrison, warden, Aberlady Bay

Event: ‘Garden Bioblitz’, May 25, 2020

Spend a few hours looking out for wildlfe of all kinds in your garden. Take photos, make notes – send the results to @ELCrangers through their Facebook page by 4pm on the day, and by May 26 the results will be online! See…



You can find East Lothian’s Countryside Rangers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.




Further reading


RSPB – Birds and Wildlife

Woodland Trust – Insect identification
www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ blog/ 2017/ 11/ common-uk-insect-identification/

Butterfly Conservation