The Harlequin ladybird (above) is one of The Bad, according to The National Trust. Image © David Bridges
As the UK prepares for National Insect Week, the National Trust has taken the ruthless step of dividing stars of the critter world into three lists naming and shaming the most productive and destructive members of the tiny kingdom.
Headed The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the rundowns praise the “vital” pollination of bees, food chain importance of moths and “majestically impressive” beauty of stag beetles, who get brownie points for breaking down dead wood into rich soil for flowers and crops to grow in.
Green or blackfly aphids are lambasted as “the nemesis” of gardeners nationwide for their virulent pestilence, the new influx of predatory Harlequin ladybirds are defined as “the most invasive insect on the planet”, and death watch beetles are criticised for their part in chewing away hardwood beams, staircases and ancient books at Blickling Hall in Norwich.
Chart compiler Stuart Warrington, a Nature Conservation Advisor for the Trust, cruelly chooses rat-tailed maggots (“disgusting name, disgusting nature”) in the Ugly section, although they probably deserve it for their rotting plant and sewage habitats and diets.
The harmless water scorpion is derided for its “ugly mug and massive, pincer-like legs”, joined by silverfish insects, whose pretty appearance belies the hideous marks they leave on books and wallpapers.
The National Trust’s guide to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:
Bees Quite literally the buzz word of today, bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees are all vitally important pollinators of a huge number of plants, including the crops of Wimpole and fruit trees of our orchards and walled gardens the region over.
Without them many plants simply would not be able to produce fruit for us to enjoy and set seed to make sure they grow next year. Not to mention the delicious honey the honey bees kindly produce for us to enjoy in our biscuits and cakes.
Moths These night time flyers can get a bit of a bad press, but if you take the time to look lots of them are absolutely beautiful, and apart from giving us a sneak peak into the nocturnal world they also provide a huge amount of food for some of our favourite furry friends – bats.
A single bat can eat around 3,000 insects each night, a large portion of which are moths. So next time you see one of these brownish beauties flitting around, remember how important they are for those higher up the food chain.
Stag beetle Without a doubt the king of the beetles, the stag beetle is Britain’s biggest at 5cm long.
Apart from being majestically impressive with its fearsome antler-like horns, the stag beetle, found at Sutton Hoo and Bourne Mill, and its smaller cousin the lesser stag beetle, found across all of our properties, play a vital role in making soil.
Their hungry grubs are part of the chain of animals that break down dead wood, turning it into lovely rich soil for our flowers and crops to grow in.
Aphids The nemesis of gardeners Trust-wide, commonly called greenfly or blackfly. Aphids are a notorious pest of roses, beans and peas, sucking out the plant juices. They can be a serious pest of cereal crops.
But you have to admire their ability to multiply before your very eyes, partly due to the fact that females can produce live offspring with no need for males or eggs. They can even do away with wings so that more energy goes into reproduction, developing wings only when they need to move away from an over-crowded host plant.
Death watch beetle This small black and yellow beetle is responsible for a whole lot of damage at several of our historic properties where they have been found munching away at hard-wood beams, staircases and even making their way into 17th century Venetian books at Blickling Hall.
In the wild these beetles do a great job of breaking down deadwood, but in the wrong place they can cause irreparable damage over the eight-year lifespan of the grubs.
Harlequin ladybird Possibly the most invasive insect on the planet, this spotted impostor has spread rapidly across both Europe and North America from its original home in Asia and is fast becoming the most common ladybird to be found in southern Britain.
In the East of England our gardeners and countryside staff have seen a massive influx at our properties over the last few years; last year 10,000 of them landed in one day at Dunwich, only to disappear into the mist the following day.
They might look nice, but these aggressive insects are thoroughly bad news, eating almost any other insect and their eggs and young, including all those lovely native ladybirds that hoover up the aphids in our gardens.
Rat-tailed maggot Disgusting name, disgusting nature. The Rat-tailed maggot lives in the most disgusting liquids, formed of rotting plants or even sewage. It feeds on this “organic soup” and breathes through its rat-like tail which acts as an extendable snorkel to reach “fresh” air above the stinking soup.
But it’s not all bad because, surprisingly, this ugly insect duckling develops into a nice colourful hoverfly that comes to feed on our garden flowers. Lots of the adults are seen buzzing around the Wimpole meadows, perhaps a product of the rich offerings from the farm.
Water scorpion This pond loving insect sounds and looks like its notoriously venomous desert-dwelling namesake, but in actual fact is completely harmless to humans.
Found in our still-watered ponds and waterways, these critters might have ugly mugs and massive pincer-like legs, but they get top marks for camouflage with their leaf-like bodies and do provide great food for the fishes.
Silverfish Pretty to look at, ugly impact on our beautiful books and wallpaper. These little paper-loving insects do resemble fish in their silvery, slithery appearance and are found where water has got into books and under wallpaper.
Once they’ve found a new home, the silverfish set about grazing their way across the surface of the paper and, in the case of some of our lavish wallpapers, leaving their ugly mark in large patches of damage.