Insects

There are thousands of types of insects all busily getting on with their lives. We don’t notice them most of the time. But like the other minibeasts they all play a part in the natural world of the Quantocks. Insects can look very different at different stages of their life cycle. They go from egg to larva (or caterpillar) to chrysalis (or pupa) to adult. Then they mate, lay eggs and die. Here are just a few you might spot on the Quantocks.

Grasshoppers

  • Grassgoppers

Grasshoppers come in many types and colours. They hatch in May, and live on grassy slopes. They can fly as well as leap. On summer days you can hear them chirping, by rubbing their hind legs together. They only live for about 5 months, dying when the weather gets colder, but their eggs survive the winter in the soil.

Wood ants

  • Wood ants

Wood ants are the largest British ants. Males and queens can be up to 10mm long. Wood ant nests are quite a common sight on the Quantocks. The workers build up the nests over old tree stumps. These nests can be up to 3m across and contain up to 300,000 ants. A colony this size needs a lot of food. They eat insects, especially caterpillars, which they spray with formic acid. Then they drag the paralysed prey back to the nest. They also stroke the sides of sap-feeding aphids to collect honeydew. Woodpeckers enjoy an easy meal of woodants.

Moths

Emperor moths

Emperor moths are large, (up to 83 mm wing-span) and easy to recognize. Their wing markings look like two pairs of eyes staring out at you. This frightens birds away. The male emperor moths have feathery antennae which can pick up the scent of a female from several hundred metres. Emperor moths lay their eggs on the stems of heather, purple loosestrife or brambles. The little black hairy caterpillars hatch in May and June. As they grow bigger, they turn green which camouflages them very well.

Cinnabar moths

Cinnabar moths and caterpillars are bright red-orange and black. ‘Cinnabar’ is the name of a powerful red-orange pigment. In nature, red is used as a warning colour. Cinnabar moths and caterpillars feed on ragwort and groundsel, which contain poisonous alkaloids. This doesn’t harm them, but it makes them taste horrible. So most insect-eating animals and birds avoid them! This is why you sometimes see so many cinnabar moths in early summer.

Butterflies

On summer days in the Quantocks you might see hundreds of butterflies. There are dozens of different varieties, all with their own markings. Entomologists (people who study insects) have classified them into different groups. These are the main groups you might see on the Quantock Hills.

The Aristocrats

Victorian butterfly collectors (lepidopterists) gave this grand name to a group of large, beautiful butterflies, with brightly coloured markings. On the Quantocks you will probably see tortoiseshell, peacocks and red admiral. They lay their eggs on stinging nettles and on buddleia bushes. During winter, most aristocrats hibernate in sheltered places, sometimes inside buildings. But sometimes the weather is too cold for the red admirals, who migrate south. Their two front legs are very small, so when you look at them, they seem to have only have four legs, which is odd for an insect!

Fritillaries

  • Fritillaries

"Patterns"

Click on the framed picture for tour stop 9

Return Ticket | Next Stop

The word ‘fritillus’ is Latin for dice box. It has come to mean ‘check-patterned’, like a chess-board. Fritillary butterflies have spotted brown, black and white patterns. They are difficult to tell apart. Each species lay their eggs on particular flowering plants, such as wild violets, plantains and cow wheat. These plants live in woodland clearings and the edges of woods. If the woodland is destroyed, the plants don’t grow, so the fritillary caterpillars have nothing to eat and the butterflies die out. This is why places with woodland, like the Quantocks, are so important for rare butterflies.

Browns

All the butterflies in this family (apart from one) are brown! They have false eyes on their wings to confuse insect-eating predators like birds and lizards. The caterpillars eat grass, and can survive the winter because grass is green all year round. Britain’s most common butterfly is the Meadow Brown.

Beetles

  • Beetle

Beetles have hard forewings which protect the rest of their body when they are on the ground. For their size they can be very strong.