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How to Study Bugs

Violet oil beetle (c) David Fenwick

Violet oil beetle (c) David Fenwick

Some tips from our experts… but remember, even experts start as complete novices!

Start with the recognisable ones

What appeals to you? Do you like to keep your nose to the ground, detective style? Or in amongst the flowers, checking out the pollinator action? Or scouring the skies for barnstorming dragonflies?

Do you like the challenge of spotting something that lurks (the ‘Where’s Wally’ approach)? Or are you in love with colour and movement? Then maybe go for the ‘Showbiz’ bugs with shiny suits, stripes, spots and impressive moves.

Whatever gets you wanting to head out and start studying, remember:

  • Choose a reasonably small group of invertebrates which are easily recognisable and for which there good identification guides (for example dragonflies, ladybirds or butterflies).
  • Photograph the ones that interest you. Many digital compact cameras have a macro setting so you can focus at close range. Leave the bug where it is, but take your pictures home to continue detective work there. As well as your identification books, there are many online forums that will help you to identify your pictures.
  • Start by learning the main types of insects and other invertebrates, before attempting to get down to the finer levels of species identification. How do you tell a beetle from a shield bug, for example? Or a centipede from a millipede?

If you are already interested in plants, then galls and leaf-mines may be a good way or developing your interest.

An interest in fungi could extend to the creatures that live in amongst them.

How to find bugs

Invertebrates are practically everywhere – you don’t need to travel to a nature reserve to find lots of species. You do need to be observant, but knowing where and how to look is the real trick.

A few tips:-

  • Don’t overlook the obvious ones but keep a keen and patient eye to spot the camouflaged ones too.
  • Many types of flowers are irresistible to insects.
  • Look under stones.
  • Rummage in leaf litter and in dead wood.
  • If plants leaves have been eaten, find the culprit.
  • Beside water is usually a happy hunting ground. There will be many types of insects there, and of course dragonflies in summer.
  • Look at a pond for insects on the surface and spot what lurks beneath.