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Insects

Insects are part of a bigger animal group called arthropods. The word Arthropod literally means jointed limbs. The arthropods are the first animal group to have jointed legs. Insects have certain characteristics. They have six legs. They have three body parts, a head, a thorax and an abdomen. They have wings. They are by far the largest animal group. They also have an outer or exoskeleton made of a substance called chitin. There are over 950,000 species of insects. While they are relatively small in size compared to many animal groups, they are well adapted to their environments. Most live on land and all grow from eggs. They go through various stages until they reach adulthood. This transformation through these stages is called metamorphosis. Insects undergo either complete or incomplete metamorphosis. The dragonfly, termite, grasshopper and true bug undergo incomplete metamorphosis. In this process there are three stages called egg, nymph and adult. When the nymph hatches from the egg, it looks like the adult insect except it is smaller, has no wings and cannot reproduce yet. As the nymph grows it outgrows its outside skeleton and it is shed. It then regrows a new one. This happens several times before it finally becomes an adult. Insects like the butterfly, bee, ant, beetle and fly undergo complete metamorphosis. This involves four stages: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. The larvae looks like a worm and hatches from the egg. As it grows, it also sheds it skin. It then grows into a pupa. While the pupa doesn’t move around like the larva, it does eventually at this stage change from an immature form to adult form. There is another group within the arthropods called the arachnids. The arachnids are spiders, scorpions, etc. The annelids are similar to insects. However, they have eight legs. Their wings are quite different from those of the insects.

Oak Eggar Moth

Oak Eggar Moth

Oak Eggar Moth Eggs

The Oak Eggar Moth (wingspan of 45 – 75mm), despite its name, does not feed on Oak, but is so-called because the shape of its chrysalis resembles that of an acorn. The food plants are mainly heather and bilberry, but also include bramble sallow, broom, sloe, hawthorn and hazel. They are often confused with butterflies but their flight is fast with sharp changes in direction as they sweep low, back and forth, tasting the air, over the vegetation in which females that have emerged the night before, are resting. The male Oak Eggar Moth is most often seen flying on sunny afternoons while the female flies early in the evening. Once a female has been found the male will mate with her and then move on to find another female. Egg laying for an Oak Eggar moth is a fairly random affair – sometimes, she simply drops the eggs (2mm in diameter) onto the ground whilst flying around and in some cases she will release them in a cluster in one location. The larvae of the Oak Eggar Moth can grow up to 6.5cm long. They are dark brown with a line of white spots along their flanks and sometimes a row of red markings is visible lower down. The hairs grow in tufts and act as a defence against predation since they can cause skin irritation, but they are still eaten by some specialists such as the cuckoo. It can take up to 2 years for the full life cycle depending on the warmth of the climate.

Woodlouse

Spanish-Woodlouse

The Woodlouse may look like an insect, but in fact it’s a crustacean and is related to the crab and the lobster. It’s thought there are about 3,500 species of woodlice in the world, and 35 to 40 of these can be found in the British Isles. Woodlice are sometime called Pill Bugs and Slater’s. The Pill woodlouse gets its name because it can roll itself up into a ball. Woodlice like damp, dark places and can be found hiding in walls, under stones and in compost heaps. Some species such as the common sea slater are only found on the coast. A woodlouse has 14 legs and an outer shell called an exoskeleton. When a woodlouse grows too big for its exoskeleton it has to molt to allow a new shell to take its place. Molting takes place in two stages, first the back half is shed and a day or so later the front half falls off. They have a pair of antennae to help them find their way around, and two small ‘tubes’, called uropod’s, sticking out of the back of their bodies. The uropod’s help them navigate and some species use them to produce chemicals to discourage predators. Most woodlice are found on land, but their ancestors used to live in water and breathe using gills. Woodlice eat rotting plants, fungi and their own faeces, but they don’t pee. They get rid of their waste by producing strong-smelling chemical called ammonia, which passes out through their shells as a gas. After mating, females carry their fertilised eggs in a small brood pouch under their bodies. The young hatch inside the pouch and stay there until they are big enough to survive on their own. A common woodlouse can live for three to four years. Apart from man, its main predators are centipedes, toads, shrews and spiders.

Death’s Head Moth

Death's Head Moth

 

 

 

The Death’s Head Moth is a large hawk moth with a wingspan of 90–130 mm (about 3.5 to 5 inches). Being one of the largest moths to be found in Europe, it is easily distinguishable by the human skull-shaped pattern of markings on the back of its head. Because of these markings, it has featured in films such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Silence Of The Lambs & The Mothman Phrophecies. The moth also has numerous other unusual features. It has the ability to emit a loud mouse-like squeak if irritated. This sound is produced by expelling air from its proboscis. It often accompanies this sound with flashing its brightly marked abdomen in a further attempt to deter its predators. It is commonly observed raiding beehives for honey at night and is attacked by guard bees at the entrance, but the thick cuticle and resistance to venom allows it to enter the hive. It is able to move about in the hives unmolested because it mimics the scent of the bees. It rests during the day in trees or in the litter, holding the wings like a tent over the body.

Fox Moth Caterpillar

Fox Moth Caterpillar

 

 

 

 

 

The Fox Moth is one of Ireland’s largest moths with a wingspan of 60 to 70mm (2.5 – 3 inches). It is found in most parts of the country and can be seen in May to early July. The male Fox Moths are a reddish brown colour (resembling that of a fox) with two, thin yellow stripes running straight across each forewing. Female Fox Moths are paler and more greyish in colour. The male flies by day and night, while the female only flies at night. The Fox Moth Caterpillar can be a little tricky to identify as they change colour as they grow. The younger caterpillars are black with thin orange bands along their length. The older caterpillars are a reddish-brown colour and covered in long grey hairs, known as setae. Although many species depend on camouflage as a form of protection against predators, the hair acts as a defence against birds and predatory insects such as parasitoid wasps, which find it difficult to penetrate beyond the hairs to lay eggs beneath the caterpillar’s skin. The Caterpillars eat a remarkably wide range of plants i.e.: Brambles, Strawberries, Raspberries, Alfalfa, Clovers, Blackthorn, Potentillas, Heathers and Roses. They live communally, protecting themselves with a web and hibernating through the winter. These dark hairy caterpillars can often be mistaken for the dreaded, but unrelated, Processionary Caterpillars, which have severely irritant hairs (similar to the Stinging Nettle or Poison Ivy). The caterpillars of the Fox Moth can be picked up and handled, although if you have sensitive skin you might find that they will give you a rash. The caterpillar won’t be too impressed either and will form a coil in self-defence. They can be found in grassland habitats including moorland, damp meadows, sand dunes and open woodland.

 

Buff Ermine Moth

Buff Ermine Moth

 

 

 

The Buff Ermine Moth (34- 42 mm wingspan) is a hairy moth with a variable pastel, yellow to cream colour. The eggs are deposited in large groups in summer. They hatch quickly; the caterpillars eat a lot and grow fast. Young larvae of the Buff Ermine moth often live together in large groups, but they split up once they get older. The larvae are extremely mobile and capable of covering large distances quickly and when threatened, they will either freeze or run away. In autumn, cocoons are woven in which the pupation takes place. The cocoons can be found among leaf litter and other plant debris during winter. The caterpillar of the Buff Ermine Moth will eat almost everything from small garden plants to shrubs and birch trees. Even though the first Buff Ermines appear in April and the last are seen by the end of August, most fly about from mid-June to mid-July. This moth only flies during the night. Should you find one resting during the day, you can easily take some photos as it hardly ever moves and never flies off. This is probably due to the fact that both adult and larva are foul tasting and even slightly poisonous for birds. Adult moths do not eat and they are very common throughout Ireland, the UK and the continent.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth

 

 

 

The Elephant Hawk Moth can be found throughout Britain and Ireland. The adults are seen from May to July and the caterpillars from July to September. It has a typically wing span of 50–70 mm (2.0–2.8 inches). It is spectacularly coloured, shimmer with green and red when in motion. Humans are not very good at seeing in the dark but many animals are active at night and can see what we can’t see. One champion among them is the Elephant Hawk Moth. It flies around in the middle of the night in search of flowers such as Honeysuckles and Petunias and drinks their nectar, hovering in front of them like a hummingbird. The adults have been shown to be capable of making colour discriminations at night-time levels of illumination. The adult moths are eaten by some species of bats.

Small Heath Butterfly

Small Heath Butterfly

 

 

 

Despite its name, the Small Heath Butterfly is not confined to heathland and can be found in a wide variety of habitats. This charming little butterfly always settles with its wings closed, where the eyespot on the underside of the forewing is usually visible, acting as a decoy to any predator. The forewings are tucked behind the hind wings when roosting for long periods, or in dull weather. Males set up territories where they can be found perching, although they also spend time patrolling in search of a mate. When a male encounters another, the pair fly a few meters up into the air before separating. Females will also zigzag over the vegetation in search of a mate. Mating may happen at any time of day and a mating pair may remain coupled from as little as 10 minutes up to 5 hours. Mated females tend to avoid male territories, flying over sparse grassland where they lay their eggs. Both sexes feed on a variety of nectar sources.

Common Blue Butterfly

Common Blue Butterfly (33 Images Stacked)

This Common Blue Butterfly was photographed in August (2014) in a disused limestone quarry in Kilkenny. The quarry, which is surrounded by 11 acres of wild meadow, has not been used in over 60 years. These meadows are populated by a host of wild flowers and are a haven for butterflies. The ‘Common Blue’ butterfly is the most common of the Blues found in Ireland. It has a wingspan of 29 – 35mm and it is tightly tied to dense stands of its food plants i.e., the Bird’s Foot Trefoil and the Common Restharrow. The male is a very attractive shiny blue, whereas the female is mainly brown with her underside being very decorative, with orange crescents and black spots. It is active in sunshine but during dull weather it rests on grass stems with its wings closed. The males fly around their host plants in order to find females. The caterpillars secrete nutrient-containing substances that attract ants and in turn, the ants protect the caterpillars from predators.

Green Orb-Weaver Spider

Green Orb-Weaver Spider

The Green Orb-Weaver Spider (5-7mm in length), as the name suggests, has a bright green abdomen and a yellow or reddish coloured head. Just above the spinners (the tail end) it has a bright red spot. This is more obvious on young spiders and can only be seen from underneath the spider. Freshly hatched spiderlings are red, and change to brown before the autumn. Despite it’s almost fluorescent colour the Green Orb-Weaver Spider can remain very well camouflaged amongst vegetation. It is only when it strays from its normal habitat that it get noticed. It is a common native species that is found throughout the UK and northern Europe.

Nursery Web Spider

 

Nursery Web Spider

Members of this family of spiders (12-15mm long) are active hunters with good vision. The Nursery Web Spider hunts amongst low vegetation as well as on the ground. When detecting prey, they characteristically rest on vegetation with the first two pairs of legs together, held out at an angle. During courtship, the male Nursery Web Spider presents the female with a ‘nuptial gift’ in the form of an insect wrapped in silk. Until fairly recently, this gift was thought to protect the male from becoming the female’s next meal. Research has shown, however, that the gift entices the female to mate, and what’s more, the size of the gift is related to how long the female will mate with a male. The larger the gift, the longer copulation will last and so more eggs will be fertilized by more ‘generous’ males bringing larger gifts. Female spiders belonging to this family produce very large egg sacs, which they carry around beneath their body. When the time for the spiderlings to emerge approaches, the female deposits the egg sac on a leaf and spins a protective silk ‘nursery web’ around it. She then opens the egg sac slightly, and stands guard until the spiderlings emerge. These spiders are large, brown and hairy and are often confused with the Wolf Spider. Unlike the wolf spiders, which have two very prominent eyes in addition to the other six, the eyes of the nursery web spiders are more or less the same size. Many species are able to walk on the surface of still bodies of water, and may even dive beneath the surface for a time to escape enemies. These spiders are venomous & can bite you but they are not dangerous. There bite is similar to an ant bite resulting in some very mild swelling for a few days.