Great yellow bumblebee

Insects and other minibeasts

Insects and other bugs and minibeasts are an important and fascinating part of the wildlife in our gardens and they make their homes in all sorts of places.

Marvellous minibeasts

Insects are valuable friends to our gardens and vital to the natural world as a whole – not to mention fascinating and diverse creatures to share a home with. 

There are so many reasons why insects and other bugs and minibeasts should be welcomed to our outdoor spaces. They can be an important source of food for other animals like birds and bats, essential to pollinate our flowering plants and crops, predators to other insects like aphids, and useful workers when it comes to decomposition and giving us nutrient rich soil. 

Butterflies and moths, worms, snails and slugs, spiders, centipedes, beetles, bees and wasps - we can attract them and give them a home in a variety of ways, from simply planting insect-friendly plants and flowers, to building habitats for them to live. 

 Stag beetle Lucanus cervus, male, Suffolk

A home for bugs

One great way to give a home to bugs is to build a wildlife stack! They’re simple to do and made of recycled material – in fact you may even have everything you need already lying around in your garden. 

Bug boxes provide snug, safe places for insects to hibernate. Full of dark nooks and crannies and different structures, they’re great fun to build and brilliantly replicate the kind of features lots of minibeasts and other animals look for in our gardens.

They are especially good for lacewings and ladybirds. These two species are very important in the garden as lacewing larvae and adult ladybirds and larvae consume insect pests. They avidly devour aphids!

Wood lice and hibernating solitary bees and wasps, may also take up residence at the stack. Possibly even frogs and toads!

Follow the link on this page to learn how to build your own amazing bug hotel, and work towards your personal plan.

If building one isn’t for you, you can also buy one from the RSPB shop.

 

Butterflies

Butterflies and moths can be some of the most beautiful visitors to our gardens. Growing a variety of different flowers and caterpillar friendly plants, can help attract these amazing insects.

They’re important pollinators and a joy to share our outdoor spaces with.  If we can give them a good source of food, shade and shelter, we can enjoy their company and may even be lucky enough to see their life-cycle unfold in front of us if they decide to stay and breed.

Ripe fruit, such as mashed banana can also be a sweet incentive for these fluttering beauties to come down and give you a closer look.

To learn how to plant butterfly friendly plants, follow the link on this page. You can also find out about growing plants for hungry caterpillars!

Helping bees, wasps and hoverflies

Bee numbers have been declining at an alarming rate in recent years and it’s more important than ever for us to make sure our gardens are bee friendly.  

Bees, wasps and hoverflies are just few of the broader names, of the many similar insects which inhabit our outdoor spaces. They’re all important pollinators and all have different characteristics, needs and conditions we can help with when it comes to gardening. 

Different types

There are a variety of different types of bee that we’ll be familiar with seeing. Some of them will be social bees, like the honey-bee or bumblebee. These social bees live in large groups, usually in hives. The honey bee is perhaps the most social, and can live in colonies made up of tens of thousands of individual bees. Bumblebees tend to be in smaller group of around 100. 

The other type of bees are called solitary. These bees will likely find a home burrowed underground, or in old dead wood or brickwork. The queen will lay and look after her own eggs, as opposed to relying on worker bees like her more social relatives. 

You may also see wasps, solitary wasps and a range of flies related closely to the bee and wasp family. Hoverflies and bee flies for example, will be a familiar sight to many people. These can often cause concern, as they mimic wasps and bees, but are actually perfectly harmless insects without a painful sting!  

Solitary wasps and the hoverfly, amongst others, are parasites, and will help keep other less welcome pest insects down. 

How to help

All of these bees, wasps and flies are fantastic pollinators and will benefit from clever bee-friendly planting. If we can give them a diverse range of flowering plants, throughout the season, we can cater for their varying flight periods and provide food for them all.

Making sure our gardens are stocked up with pollen covered, nectar-rich flowers is one of the best things we can do to help. Single petal flowers are often best, as they often provide more nectar. A range of colours and shapes are also important, to make sure every type of bee is attracted and can access the delicious nectar inside. It also goes without saying, that avoiding the use of pesticides is very important. 

For solitary bees, home-made bug hotels and wildlife stacks will provide a great place for them to live, lay their eggs and hibernate. Leaving natural homes for them, such as piles of dead wood and cut branches and plants, can also be very helpful. 

Areas of south-facing bare earth can be good as well, to provide a place to bask, and for some, a spot to burrow and nest.

There are a number of fun activities that can all count towards your personal plan in our Give Nature a Home section. From growing bee friendly flowers, to building a bee box.

Natural homes

There are lots of natural features which minibeasts can claim as their home. Some of which we can give them a little helping hand with, and some that it’s good just to have an awareness of. 

  • Keeping the dead stems of plants to one side, can give many insects and bugs a great place to shelter. The hollow stems of herbaceous plants and shrubs, such as elder or buddleia, are particularly useful for hibernating minibeasts and larvae. 
  • Piles of dead wood, logs, leaf litter and dead vegetation are very popular with hibernating and breeding insects, beetles, wood lice and ladybirds in particular. 
  • As long as there is no structural risk, small holes in the mortar between bricks can be useful places for various insects and solitary wasps and bees to hibernate and breed. So if you have to carry out any re-pointing, keep an eye out for tiny potential minibeast homes!
  • Solitary bees and wasps will burrow into dry sunny banks or warm patches of bare earth in a lawn or border, even amongst a pile of rocks! 
Log pile

How fences and walls can be important habitats

Fences and walls can be havens for wildlife, especially if they are not maintained particularly well. Butterflies and moths may use them as pupating sites. Spiders and other invertebrates will hide in the cracks and crevices. 

Lichens, moss, algae and small flowering plants may grow on them. These in turn will be used by insects and other invertebrates as food and possibly shelter. Birds use fences and walls as lookout posts and song perches, and they forage for insects on them. Butterflies will use them to bask in sunny areas.

Make the most of your garden

  • Grow native climbers, such as ivy, up a fence or over a wall. This will attract a variety of different species.   

Why rock and stone piles can make good habitats

A pile of rocks and stones provides cover for plenty of creatures. Try putting such piles in different places around the garden to encourage as many species as possible.

Insects and invertebrates which use a rock pile in a shady, damp spot will be very different from those using one that receives more sun. 

Make sure you use a range of sizes, and do not disturb the pile once built. Birds, insect predators and small mammals will hunt for prey in the pile.

Make the most of your garden

  • Dig a shallow depression and place some bigger stones over it – this will attract large creatures seeking shelter, such as toads.   
  • Song thrushes use large stones as anvils to crack open snail shells.