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Zanna's Nature Notes: The Magical World of Creepy Crawlies

Discover the amazing natural world around you with Usborne author Zanna Davidson. 

This week, I’ve been looking closer at the miniature, magical world of creepy crawlies. On walks, I’ve crouched down and peered at the tops of thistles and hogweed, lain down in grassy fields listening to grasshoppers and peered into flowers in hedgerows. And what have I seen? A whole other alien world…

Bee feeding

Close up, even the familiar honey bee looks strange and other-worldly, with its huge eyes and its long straw-like proboscis, which it uses to suck up nectar.

Insect colours are amazing too…

Thick-legged flower beetle

This spectacular metallic-green insect is a thick-legged flower beetle. Look for them on open flowers, including cow parsley, ox-eye daisy, dandelions and bramble. You can tell this one is a male, as they are the ones with thick thighs!

For some insects, colour is a way to protect themselves. The scarlet-coloured body of the black-headed cardinal beetle lets other animals know that its toxic to eat, so predators leave well alone.

Cardinal beetle

Look for cardinal beetles in hedgerows this month - adults are short-lived, and can only be seen from April to June.

Predators use colour too, as a way to entrap their prey. The white body of the crab spider helps to camouflage it against flowers, where it looks like part of the flower pattern. When bees, moths and other insects come to feed on the flower, the crab spider lunges out and grabs them in its front legs.

Crab spider

Here’s a tiny, ghostly-white crab spider on a foxglove, ready to ambush its insect prey.

Crab spiders get their name from their crab-like front legs. They can also run sideways!

It’s a bug-eat-bug world out there, and rather than use colour to protect itself, the spittlebug can do something even more amazing. The young, or nypmhs, create blobs of frothy white bubbles known as ‘cuckoo spit’. This stops the nymphs from drying out, and helps to hide them from anything that might want to eat them.

Inside this blob of cuckoo spit is a tiny creamy white spittlebug nymph, about 4-6mm (¼in) long.

A nymph creates the bubbles by sucking up plant sap and then squeezing out the bubbles through its bum!

Last but not least this week are baby spiders - or spiderlings. How does a mother spider keep her tiny babies safe? The Nursery web spider has come up with an ingenious solution. Before her eggs are ready to hatch, she fixes her egg sac to a plant, then spins a silken tent around it. This protects the spiderlings when they hatch, until they are ready to make their own way in world.

Can you see these Nursery web spiderlings, moving around under the web? (Click on the bottom right corner to make the video bigger).

How to catch a grasshopper 

  • Fields and meadows will be full of grasshoppers just now, all churring away. Try and catch one!
  • First, find a patch of long grass. See if you can spot some grasshoppers jumping about.
  • Now it’s time to get your eye in! Focus on one grasshopper. Then cup your hands and bring them together around the grasshopper, being very careful not to squash it! You’ll need to move fast.
  • Slowly, slowly open your cupped hands and wait for the grasshopper to come out. You'll need to be very gentle.
  • Take a note of what it looks like. There are 11 different species of grasshopper in the UK. See if you can identify what you find.
  • Make sure you release the grasshopper back where you found it.

Photos by Zanna Davidson, Helen Bennett and Arthur Davidson-Kelly.

About Zanna Davidson

Zanna Davidson

My name is Zanna Davidson and I write children’s books for Usborne, including the Billy and the Mini Monsters series. When I’m not writing, my favourite thing is to go outside and be in nature. Sometimes that means birdwatching, sometimes that means looking at wild flowers and other times it just means sitting under a tree and not thinking about anything at all. 

I’m very lucky to live in the Surrey Hills, an area that is protected because it’s full of amazing nature - from smooth snakes and natterjack toads to rare birds and butterflies. 

But to find nature, you don’t need to live in the countryside. It’s everywhere! In a back garden or a front yard, in parks or creeping up through pavement cracks, and in the skies above you. Look down! Look up! Stop a while and peer closer, and closer still, and nature will come to you.

Tags: Zanna's nature notes

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