Jul 20
Photo of male Greek goldenring Cordulegaster helladica helladica

Greek goldenring (Cordulegaster helladica)

Species: Greek goldenring (Cordulegaster helladica)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Like other dragonflies, the Greek goldenring is a supreme aerial predator, hunting a range of other insects in flight.

The Greek goldenring is a large, beautifully patterned dragonfly with wide yellow rings encircling its otherwise black abdomen. It also has bright yellow markings on its thorax, and its eyes are large and green. Male and female Greek goldenrings are similar in appearance, but females are slightly larger, growing up to about eight centimetres in length. Like other golden-ringed dragonflies, the female Greek goldenring lays its eggs by driving them into the sandy sediments of rivers and brooks in a distinctive rhythmic, vertical flight. The eggs are likely to take a few weeks to hatch, but the larvae do not transform into adults for around two to six years, depending on the altitude. As its name suggests, the Greek goldenring is endemic to Greece, where it is found in the south of the country and on a number of islands.

Populations of the Greek goldenring are severely fragmented, and are believed to be declining due to habitat destruction and water extraction by humans. Some previously reported sites for this species have dried up in recent years, and drought and forest fires are also significant threats which could potentially increase due to climate change. Three subspecies of Greek goldenring are recognised, one of which is classified as Critically Endangered as it inhabits just a single spring at the Delphi archaeological site. No specific conservation measures are currently targeted at this threatened insect, but forest preservation and the control of water extraction have been recommended. The single site at Delphi also needs greater protection.

 

Find out more about European dragonflies and their conservation at the British Dragonfly Society and the European Red List of Dragonflies.

You can also find out more about conservation in Greece at WWF – Active conservation projects in Greece.

See images of the Greek goldenring on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 1
Photo of violet click beetle

Violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus)

Species: Violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The violet click beetle is named for its ability to right itself by leaping into the air with an audible clicking sound.

The violet click beetle is a rare insect found only in a few locations across Europe, including just three sites in the UK. The adult violet click beetle is black with a faint blue sheen, and grows to just 1.2 centimetres in length. Like other click beetles, the violet click beetle possesses a ‘groove’ and ‘peg’ system on its underside which allows it to right itself or to leap into the air if threatened. By slamming the peg into the groove, the beetle is thrown into the air with a clicking sound. Adult violet click beetles are thought to be nocturnal and to feed on plant nectar, while their larvae live only in wood mould inside old, decaying trees, usually in large cavities in the trunks.

Although quite widespread across Europe, the violet click beetle is rare throughout its range, and has become extinct in some areas, such as in Denmark. The particular conditions it prefers are not common, and are becoming rarer as old trees are felled and removed by unfavourable forest management methods. This rare beetle is legally protected in the UK and in Hungary, and the sites where it occurs are also protected. Various conservation measures are underway to protect the violet click beetle, including preserving old-growth trees and providing artificial breeding sites by creating suitable cavities in trees.

Find out more about the violet click beetle at the Natural History Museum and The Wildlife Trusts.

Find out more about insect conservation in the UK on the Buglife website.

See images of the violet click beetle on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 29

Neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for bee deaths are to be banned across Europe after an EU vote which took place today.

Photo of honey bee heavily laden with pollen

Honey bees are vital pollinators, but are in decline

Wild species such as honey bees are believed to be responsible for the pollination of around a third of the world’s crops, and contribute billions of dollars each year to the global economy. However, there has been widespread concern about their rapid decline, which has been blamed on a number of factors, including habitat loss, disease and the use of insecticides.

Neonicotinoids are nicotine-like chemicals which are toxic to insects and which have been widely used as pesticides for more than a decade. They are usually applied to seeds, and are taken up by all parts of the growing plant, including its pollen and nectar.

Although less harmful than some of the pesticides they replaced, neonicotinoids have been blamed for contributing to bee declines, with a number of studies showing harmful effects on bee behaviour and survival. The combined effects of more than one pesticide have also been shown to put bumblebee colonies at risk.

Photo of buff-tailed bumblebee

Pesticides have also been shown to have negative effects on bumblebees

However, many farmers and chemical companies argue that the science is inconclusive and the studies do not necessarily reflect field conditions, and that a ban on these pesticides would harm food production.

Intense lobbying

There has been intense lobbying by both sides in the run-up to today’s vote, with nearly 3 million signatures collected in support of a ban, and campaigners rallying in London last Friday to call for action.

Some countries, including Germany, Italy and France, have already put restrictions on neonicotinoids, while some UK retailers have taken action by removing them from their shelves and supply chains.

A previous vote by the EU on whether to ban the chemicals was inconclusive, so the European Commission went to an appeals committee. Fifteen countries have now voted in favour of a ban, while eight voted against, including the UK, and four abstained. Although not a large majority, this was enough for the Commission to put in place a two-year ban on neonicotinoids.

Photo of honey bee bees at entrance of hive

Other threats to bees include habitat loss and disease

After the vote, the EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said, “I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over 22 billion Euros ($29 billion) annually to European agriculture, are protected.”

More to be done for bees

Speaking about the vote, Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said, “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The new ban will prohibit the sale and use of seeds treated with neonicotinoids, and will also prohibit the sale of these chemicals to amateur growers. However, it will not apply to crops that are non-attractive to bees, or to crops that are grown over winter.

Some have warned that the ban could lead to the return of older, more harmful pesticides. However, supporters say that this has not happened in countries that have already banned the chemicals, and that the use of more natural methods of pest control can tackle any problems.

Photo of honey bee in flight carrying pollen

Bees are estimated to be worth billions of dollars to the global economy

Few people would disagree that we need to protect our food production, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of damaging the environment. Indeed, there are several alternatives to using neonicotinoids, and other pesticides, and this a great opportunity for farmers to adopt these practices to protect bees and other pollinators,” said Professor Simon Potts, a scientist at the University of Reading.

A short-term decision to keep using harmful products may be convenient, but will almost certainly have much greater long-term costs for food production and the environment,” he said.

Although the ban is good news for bees, these important pollinators still face a number of other threats, and more still needs to be done to protect them. A monitoring programme will also be needed to assess the effects of the two-year ban on bees and other pollinating insects.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Bee deaths: EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides and The Guardian – Bee-harming pesticides banned in Europe.

View photos and videos of bees on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 18

They may not be cute or fluffy, but insects are definitely some of the most fascinating animals on the planet. These tiny creatures make up nearly half of all known species and are vital to the world’s ecosystems.

All insects have a hard, chitinous ‘exoskeleton’, six pairs of legs and a body divided into three sections. However, they are extremely diverse and show an incredible range of adaptations.

Join us as we delve into a miniature world and explore ten of ARKive’s most fascinating insects and their adaptations!

Brilliant beetles

Photo of male elephant beetle, anterior view

A giant of the insect world, the male elephant beetle has a long, rhinoceros-like horn on its head which it uses to fight other males. The larvae of this species grow to an even more impressive size than the adults, measuring up to 22 centimetres in length! Beetles are characterised by their tough pair of modified forewings, or ‘elytra’, and are the most successful group of animals on the planet, making up around 40% of insect species and 1 in 5 of all animals.

Flying beauty

Photo of monarch butterfly in flight

The monarch butterfly is best known for its spectacular long-distance migrations, with some populations travelling as far as 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) south to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Millions of individuals congregate in small areas of forest over winter, blanketing the trees on which they roost. Insects are the only invertebrates to have evolved the ability to fly, and this has played a key role in their success.

Powerful predator

Photo of dragonhunter

The dragonhunter is an aptly named species, as it specialises in hunting other dragonflies as well as other large insects. It is a large and distinctive species with long, powerful legs and wings, and like other dragonflies it is a voracious predator. Adult dragonflies have acute eyesight and superb flying abilities, and are able to catch prey in the air. Dragonfly larvae live in water and are also formidable predators, shooting out their modified mouthparts to catch prey.

Dramatic transformation

Photo of large white caterpillar hatching from egg

A common and widespread butterfly, the large white lays batches of eggs on its food plant, and the eggs hatch into caterpillars a week or two later. The caterpillars feed, grow and moult, and eventually turn into pupae. Some pupae hatch into adults in just two weeks, but later ones remain as pupae over winter, hatching into adults the following spring. This process of metamorphosis occurs in many insects, and means the adult stage has the primary purpose of dispersing and reproducing, while the main function of the larva is to feed and grow.

Super senses

Photo of house fly

Although unpopular, the house fly plays a vital role in decomposition and the recycling of nutrients. To feed, this species spits onto food before sucking it up with its sponge-like mouthparts. As in other flies, its second pair of wings is modified into small appendages which help with balance, and claws and pads on its feet help the house fly to grip any surface. This species has surprisingly keen senses, with acute vision and an amazing ability to taste with its feet!

Now you see it…

Photo of Lompoc grasshopper side profile showing legs

Like many insects, the Lompoc grasshopper uses camouflage to avoid predators. Other species go to the opposite extreme, displaying bright colours that advertise to predators that they are toxic or taste bad. Grasshoppers differ from crickets in their shorter antennae and they produce sound by rubbing their hind legs against their wings, rather than by rubbing their wings together. Intriguingly, grasshoppers have ears on their abdomen, and crickets have them on their front legs.

Sociable species

Photo of leaf-cutter ants carrying leaves back to the nest

Like other ant species, the leaf-cutter ant has a fascinating and complex social system. Its colonies contain millions of individuals, divided into different types or ‘castes’, each of which does a different job. Only the queen reproduces, laying thousands of eggs each day, while large soldiers protect the colony and other workers cut leaves to bring back to the huge underground nest. Leaf-cutter ants don’t actually eat leaves, instead using them to cultivate a fungus on which they feed.

Bouncing bugs

Photo of common froghopper

The common froghopper is capable of leaping 70 centimetres into the air – the equivalent of a human jumping over a tower block – and its jump is so powerful that it creates G-forces of over 400 gravities, compared to the 5 gravities experienced by astronauts blasting into space! Although many insects are referred to as bugs, the ‘true’ bugs are species in the order Hemiptera, which include the common froghopper. All bugs have specialised piercing and sucking mouthparts, which in the froghopper are used for feeding on plant sap.

Important insect

Photo of honey bee worker feeding

Honey bees live in hives consisting of wax ‘honeycombs’, which are made up of cells used to store food and rear the young. Only the queen honey bee reproduces, while the sterile workers collect nectar and pollen and store the nectar as honey. The honey bee plays a vital role in pollinating flowering plants, including crops, and has been domesticated by humans for at least 5,000 years. However, this important species is under threat from habitat loss, the use of insecticides and the spread of a parasitic mite.

Under threat

Photo of Lord Howe Island stick-insect

The large, heavy-bodied Lord Howe Island stick-insect was thought to have become extinct around 1920 after rats were introduced to Lord Howe Island, the only place it was known to exist. Fortunately, the species was rediscovered on a small rocky outcrop 23 kilometres away in 2001. This unusual insect, sometimes known as the ‘tree lobster’, is now being bred in captivity with the hope of reintroducing it into the wild.

 

Insects are not always the most popular or well-loved of animals, and are often overlooked in favour of furrier, cuddlier and cuter species. However, they are vitally important to the planet and are captivating creatures in their own right.

The insect world is currently being celebrated in the new ‘Alien Nation Season’ showing on BBC Four in the UK, and you can also find out more these fascinating creatures at BBC Nature – Insects.

You can also view more photos and videos of insects on ARKive.

With over a million species of insect described so far it’s tricky to pick a favourite, but if there’s one you think we should be celebrating we would love to hear about it!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jan 19
Photo of a Sinai baton blue

Sinai baton blue (Pseudophilotes sinaicus)

Species: Sinai baton blue (Pseudophilotes sinaicus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Sinai baton blue is thought to be the smallest butterfly in the world, with a wingspan of just six to nine millimetres.

The Sinai baton blue is restricted to one tiny, mountainous, arid area in southern Sinai, Egypt, where its entire world population occupies a mere seven square kilometres. Both the adults and caterpillars feed almost exclusively on Sinai thyme (Thymus decussatus). The caterpillars of this species are sometimes tended by ants, in return secreting sugary droplets which the ants consume. The Sinai baton blue caterpillars pupate in the soil beneath their host plant over winter, emerging as adults between May and mid-June.

The Sinai baton blue is under threat from climate change, which may further reduce its already limited habitat. It is also vulnerable to human disturbance and the collection of its host plant for medicinal purposes. Fortunately, this tiny butterfly occurs entirely within the St Katherine Protectorate, where efforts are underway to protect both the butterfly and its host plant. Action is also being taken to increase public awareness of the Sinai baton blue, which is considered to be a flagship species for the area.

Find out more about the conservation of the Sinai baton blue at the Sinai Baton Blue Butterfly Conservation Project.

See more images of the Sinai baton blue on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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