Insects and animals
One of the great things about growing plants is finding out more about the other wildlife associated with plants with which we share the earth.
There are millions of them out there, from grazing animals to microbes – in the soil, on the plants, in the air, all busily supporting our world as we go about our day-to-day lives. By growing wild flowers you can help support them too.
Why do insects and animals matter?
- Everything is connected in our complex and amazing natural world.
- Insects such as bees and butterflies are important pollinators, helping plants to reproduce. In return, the plants provide them with food in the form of nectar and pollen.
- Pollinated plants produce seeds, fruit and vegetables for us and other animals to enjoy.
- Insects themselves are a tasty source of food for birds and animals.
By planting a wildflower patch you’ll be helping to provide food and shelter for a host of insects and animals. Why not keep a note of the insects and animals you spot in your wild flower patch, compare notes with your neighbours and tell us what you’ve seen?
Below is a list of some of the animals and insects you should expect to see.
Bees are our main pollinators of flowering plants, bees are very important for wild flowers and for growing food. Although the bumblebee and honey bee may be the best known, there are actually over 250 species of bee in Britain.
Butterflies, like bees, need our help to stop their declining numbers. They use their long proboscises to feed on nectar from flowers and particularly like purple and yellow flowers.
Moths feed on nectar from a wide range of flowers. Many are nocturnal but day-flying ones occur too. We have over 2,500 species of moth in Britain compared with fewer than 70 species of butterflies and there’s no reason why moths shouldn’t be as popular.
Some of them are just as striking and colourful. Not all moths are nocturnal so keep an eye out for the impressive hummingbird hawk-moth, or the pink and green elephant hawk-moth in your Grow Wild patch. Both are particularly fond of lady’s bedstraw.
There are hundreds of types of wasps, not just the yellow and black ones that annoy us in late summer. Many are pollinators and keep a check on the insect population by eating bugs such as aphids.
Adult hoverflies feed on pollen and nectar while larvae help with pest control by feeding on insects such as aphids.
You’ll already be familiar with the brightly coloured adults but the ugly, grey larvae with orange spots are voracious feeders of aphids so if you see these on your wild flowers you can relax, the aphids are in trouble.
Caterpillars from butterflies and moths can be quite fussy about where they lay their eggs to ensure the right kind of food is available for their larvae to feed on. Wild flowers can often provide just the right caterpillar food. Lady’s bedstraw, for example, is a food source for the huge elephant hawk-moth caterpillar.
As well as feeding on seed heads of wild flowers, birds will also enjoy feasting on insects attracted to the plants.
Bats feed on insects flying in the air, such as moths.
Small animals such as hedgehogs munch their way through vast numbers of bugs and will benefit from insects attracted to your wild flowers.
How does growing wild flowers help insects and animals?
The good thing about growing native wild flowers is that they’re fantastic for our native wildlife. Having evolved alongside each other, our wildlife and wild flowers are well suited. Wild flowers provide food in the form of nectar, pollen, seeds, fruits and foliage. Common knapweed, oxeye daisy and lady’s bedstraw are all rich sources of nectar for pollinating insects. Wild flowers also provide nesting sites, larval food, forage and shelter.
Apart from growing wildflowers, how else can I help insects?
Be a little messy. Insects love a bit of debris and dead plant material for hiding and hibernating in. In autumn, sweep fallen leaves into a pile in a corner of your garden or create a log pile. This’ll provide somewhere for insects to hide out over winter.
Leave some of the stems of your wild flowers standing over winter to provide food and shelter for insects such as ladybirds. If you’re lucky you might even see birds such as goldfinches feeding on the seed heads of the knapweed, meadowsweet and ribwort plantain in your patch. Read Defra's five simple actions for pollinators.
How can I identify the insects and animals I see in my garden?
The Field Studies Council (FSC) produces really handy guides to British insects, animals and much more besides. The Buglife and Royal Entomological Society also provide useful information on all manner of bugs (see the website links below).
What do insects and animals tell us about our local environment?
Insects and animals are an important part of a biologically diverse and healthy ecosystem. Bats, for example, can be a really useful indicator of the health of an area. They’re particularly sensitive to environmental changes so their numbers can tell us a lot.
Want to know more?
Try these websites for exploring further.
Did you know?
Scientists recently discovered that flowers communicate with bees via an electrical signal. It seems that, along with signs such as colour, pattern and fragrance, flowers also emit electrostatic fields to attract pollinators such as bumblebees. The bees are able to detect and distinguish between these electrical signals.
Now find out how to create a bee street in your neighbourhood.