This group of insects is called the 'Ephemeroptera'. This comes from the Ancient Greek words: 'ephemera' meaning 'for a day' or 'short lived' and 'ptera' meaning wings.
Mayflies emerge from the water, where they have lived for about year and live just for a few hours or days, as flying adults. As adults, they just find a mate, lay eggs and die. They cannot feed.
Mayflies have one or two pairs of delicate wings. The wings have numerous black veins and cross veins and some dark spots on the forewings.
The forewings are large and triangular shaped. The hind wings are much smaller and shaped like fans.
When mayflies are at rest, as in the photo, the wings are held closed together, vertically above the body.
Mayflies are weak fliers and are usually found in great numbers, close to water.
Mayfly nymphs are important to the diet of many fish. They are often used by fly fishermen, who create model flies, based on them, as bait.
The Mayfly lifecycle is unique among insects. They are the only ones which have a stage as a winged nymph before the final, adult stage. Other insects either emerge as a winged insect from a pupa (e.g. butterfly or bee) after metamorphosis or they hatch from the egg as a mini version of the adult, called a nymph, and keep growing and shedding their skin, getting larger each time, but only grow wings when they reach the adult stage.
There are 51 species of Mayfly in Britain!
Damselflies & Dragonflies
Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the group of insects called 'Odonata', from the Ancient Greek 'odon' for tooth. This refers to the toothed jaws of the underwater nymphs, who are fierce predators. The group subdivides into two groups, for the damselflies and dragonflies.
Dragonflies belong to the group of insects called 'Anisoptera'. This is from the Ancient Greek words 'an-isos', meaning un-equal and 'ptera' meaning wings, so 'unequal-winged' insects.
Damselflies are in the group called 'Zygoptera' from 'zygos' meaning 'yoked' and 'ptera' for wings, so ''yoke-winged' insects. The base of all four wings are narrow and shaped like a yoke, where they join the thorax.
In damselflies and dragonflies, the forewings are not attached to the hind wings, so all four wings can and do move independently, in flight.
Dragonflies and damselflies have two pairs of wide, transparent wings, which usually have no colour or pattern. Transparent wings are good for camouflage as a predator just sees the plants or water through the wings; often the slender body is in line with a plant stem, too so dragonflies are hard to spot on vegetation.
Most species of dragonfly and damselfly have a black or cream spot at the tip of the wings. This is called the 'pterostigma'. This word comes from the Ancient Greek words 'pteron' for wing and 'stigma' meaning mark or stain.
The wings are covered in a network of numerous thin, black veins and cross veins.
This group of insects live as nymphs, underwater, where they have no need of wings.
There are 47 different species of dragonfly or damselfly, which breed in the UK.
Main photo shows an Emperor dragonfly, female
Grasshoppers & Crickets
This insect group is called the 'Orthoptera', from Ancient Greek words, 'orthos' meaning straight and 'ptera' for wings, so 'straight-winged' insects.
The forewings are narrow and leathery, often green or dark brown and patterned for camouflage. They are called the 'tegmen' for this group. The hind wings are membranous and fan-shaped. They fold up under the forewings. You hardly ever see grasshopper wings in the field.
Some grasshopper and crickets have no wings or very short wings which mean they cannot fly.
This group of insects have very long legs for jumping.
The difference between crickets and grasshoppers is that crickets have very long antennae and grasshoppers have short.
There are 35 different species of Orthoptera in the UK.
Main photo shows a specimen box for the Wart-biter, a rare bush cricket, in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity in the Natural History Museum.
This group of insects are called the 'Hemiptera'. This from the Ancient Greek words, 'hemi' meaning half and 'ptera' for wings, so 'half-winged' insects. This is because, for a large number of insects in the group, the forewings are leathery at the top half, where they join the body but membranous in the lower half, towards the wing tip.
All insects in this group have a sucking or piercing mouthpart in the form of a tube. It often folds away under the body.
The group 'Hemiptera' is divided into two sub groups.
One group are called the 'Heteroptera', from the Ancient Greek words, 'heteros' meaning different and 'ptera' for wings, so 'different-winged' insects. This is because the forewings are in two sections, tough and leathery at the top half and membranous in the lower half.
The other group are the 'Homoptera', from Greek for 'homos' meaning the same and 'ptera' for wings, so 'same-winged' insects. This is because the forewings are always the same texture all over, either leathery or membranous, not half and half.
There are about 1,700 species of Hemiptera in Britain.
Photo shows a display case of True Bugs at the Natural History Museum, Oxford
The forewings lie flat and fold over each other, forming an X shape, across the bug's back, when at rest.
In the UK, the group of Hemiptera includes shield bugs such as the Hawthorn shield bug, Tortoise bug, Parent bug, Sloe bug, and Assassin bug. Also water bugs like the Pond Skater and Water boatman.
Aphids include the garden pests, greenfly and black fly. Aphids are mostly wingless creatures but in late summer, some forms hatch which develop wings. These insects fly off to different plants and start new colonies. This is how these normally wingless insects, extend their territory and increase their chances of survival.
Scorpion flies are in the group of 'Mecoptera', from the Ancient Greek words 'mecos' meaning long and 'ptera' for wings, so 'long-winged'. The wings are exceptionally long, longer than the abdomen.
The narrow wings are covered in a network of black veins. Both pairs of wings have a distinctive pattern of black patches, like stained glass windows.
Scorpion flies have long, slender antennae with many segments. They have an elongated head with biting parts, which points downwards. The males have an unusual tail which curls up like a scorpion's tail.
Despite their long wings, these insects rarely fly.
There are 3 species of Scorpion fly, in the UK.
Beetles are in the group of 'Coleoptera'. This comes from the Ancient Greek word 'koleos' for sheath and 'ptera' for wings, meaning 'sheathed wings'. It refers to the fact that a beetle's hind wings are kept in a protective cover, like the sheath for a dagger or knife.
Over time, beetles' forewings have evolved into tough, leathery covers, called 'elytra' which form a protective case over the hind wings; The more delicate hind wings, which the beetle uses to fly, are kept folded up over the back of the body. You rarely see them. You may have seen a ladybird take off or watched a slow-flying Stag beetle take off, on a summer's evening. Look closely next time, to see the hind wings.
The wing cases are different colours and patterns, for camouflage or display. The wing cases meet in a straight line, down the middle of the back. The mid-line starts just below the 'scutellum', a small triangle at the top, where the wing cases meet. For some beetles, the 'elytra' or wing covers do not cover the whole abdomen.
Beetles have adapted, so that they can fly if they need to, but more importantly, their abdomen is protected by the tough wing cases, which form part of the exoskeleton, like a suit of armour.
Beetles' hind wings are thicker and tougher than the wings of other insects. Many beetles are probably heavier, so need stronger wings!
The wings are formed in the same way as for all insect groups, with two layers of membrane stretched over a network of veins, but for beetles, the veins are few. As with other insect groups, the veins at the front of the wings, are the thickest.
Insects in the Beetle group have two other defining characteristics: the last section of the leg is always made up of three or five segments and they have biting or chewing jaws, called mandibles, underneath the head.
There are more than 4,000 different species of beetle in the UK.
Main photo shows an exotic beetle, with outspread wing cases and purple hind wings.
Butterflies & Moths
Butterflies and moths are in the group of insects called 'Lepidoptera'. This is from the Ancient Greek words 'lepis' meaning scale (as in fish or snake scales) and 'ptera' for wings, so insects with 'scaly wings'. This refers to the rows of overlapping, microscopic scales which create the colours and patterns on the wings.
Butterflies and moths have two pairs of large, brightly coloured wings. The forewings are triangular and the hind wings are fan-shaped.
The wings are made of chitin and are actually see-through. They are covered in thousands of microscopic hairs and overlapping scales which create the colour and patterns on the wing. The scales are often three layers deep, maybe a base layer, colour scales and then iridescent scales on top, to catch the sunlight. There may be 600 scales in one millimetre square of wing!
As well as giving colour for display, the scales also make the wings stronger and keep the butterflies and moths, warm.
The scales at the edge of the wings are often longer and toothed.
The wings are very delicate. They have a network of veins running across them. The veins contain insect blood, called 'hemolymph'. This is not red but usually colourless.
This group of insects have a slow, fluttering flight, very slow compared to a dragonfly or wasp!
As well as wings covered in scales, insects in this group have a 'proboscis', which is a long tube-like tongue, often coiled up under the head.
There are over 2,400 species of butterfly and moth in the UK!
Photo shows the scales and hairs on a Moon moth's wing, not a UK species.
When moths rest they usually keep their wings closed.
One of the main differences between butterflies and moths is in the antennae: moths have a threadlike or feathered antenna whereas butterflies have a slender antenna ending in a club shape.
Many of the scales on butterfly wings are iridescent. The colours are formed by the structure of the scale rather than a pigment within them. When the wings move, the iridescent scales catch the light and change colour!
Bees, Wasps and Ants
This group of insects are called the 'Hymenoptera'. This is from the Ancient Greek words 'hymen' meaning membrane and 'ptera' meaning wings, so 'membranous-winged' insects.
Insects in this group, apart from the ants, usually have two pairs of delicate, colourless wings.
The forewings are much larger and wider than the hind wings. Both wings are rounded and narrower at the base.
The wings connect to each other with a row of tiny hooks on the front edge of the hind wing. These hooks are called 'hammuli'.
There are a small number of wavy, pale brown veins on the wings, creating large cells. The thickest veins are at the leading edge of the wings, where they have to cut through the air, in flight.
The wings are tinged brown and are transparent with no patterns. They are covered in tiny hairs, which look like specs in the photos.
At rest, the wings fold back over the insect's body.
This group of insects all have a narrow, pinched waist between the thorax and abdomen. This is called the 'petiole'. These insects all have biting or chewing 'mandibles' or jaws. Bees are covered in branched hairs all over the legs and body, whereas wasps are usually hairless. Ants have elbowed antennae.
There are over 600 different species of bees, wasps and ants in the UK.
Photo shows a Hornet specimen at the Angela Marmont Centre at the Natural History Museum, London.
There are over 600 different species of bees, wasps and ants in the UK. They have all evolved to live very different lives: some are cuckoos like the cuckoo bird and some are fierce predators. We even have our own leaf cutter bees, like the leaf cutter ants in the rainforest! These could all be flying through your park or garden!
Flies are in the insect group called 'Diptera'. This comes from the Ancient Greek words 'duo' for two and 'ptera' for wings, so 'two-winged' insects. This refers to the fact that flies have only one pair of wings, which is very unusual for insects.
The hind wings have evolved to become just small stalks on either side of the body. They are called 'halteres'. The 'halteres' help a fly to balance and steer when it is flying.
Flies have transparent wings, with dark brown veins running across the surface. The veins, pumped full of insect blood, give the wings a rigid structure.
Compared with dragonflies, flies have fewer veins on their wings, creating larger cells. As with all insects, the experts identify different species by examining the shape and layout of these wing cells, amongst other things.
Flies have sucking or piercing mouthparts which are like a needle or sucking tube under the head.
There are over 7,000 species of fly in Britain.
Main photo shows a Bluebottle specimen at the AMC
You can see the 'halteres' on this photo of a hoverfly, inside the blue circles.
Notice how the vein at the front edge, as for the other insects, is strengthened on all these insects.
Photographer, Collector & Wildlife Educator
I am Susanna Ramsey and I have a unique collection of natural history objects relating to British Wildlife. Over the last ten years, I have assembled an extensive range of skulls, skeletons, bones, skins, feathers, wings, antlers, insect specimens and taxidermy, all from animals in the UK.
During 2010-2018, I took my Nature Collection into local primary schools to display and run workshops for the children, linking the exhibition to science topics in the National Curriculum such as Adaptations, Bones, Classification, Food Webs, Habitats, Life Cycles and Local Wildlife.
In 2018-2020, I worked with the leading schools' catalogue, TTS ,to create a range of Educational Resources for primary schools, nurseries, after school clubs and families. To find out more about these products, see below.
I am passionate about encouraging children and adults, to discover the beauty of our local wildlife.
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If you know children who are interested in nature, are a teacher, or would like to learn more about British Wildlife yourself, explore the range of British Wildlife products recently created by The Nature Collection and the leading schools' catalogue, TTS.
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