National Insect Week : Teaching about mini-beasts


National Insect Week (25 June – 1 July) is a great opportunity to explore the wonderful world of mini-beasts – as relevant and fascinating to explore in gardens, local parks or countryside as they are in more exotic environments.

Cover of "Minibeasts (Fun with Science)"
Cover of Minibeasts (Fun with Science)

More than 100 events have been organised for schools and families by the Royal Entomological Society, from moth walks to bioblitzes. To find one near you, see

The Guardian Teacher Network has pulled together a set of resources that should help your insect week go with a buzz. The wood ant activity pack is a series of well-thought-out, fun games and activities revolving around Wendy the wood ant. Access to a wood ants‘ nest is preferable, but not at all necessary.

Twelve insects have been singled out from the several thousand species in Britain as representatives of the main insect orders for Insect Week. You can find spotter’s guides and print information on the special 12, including the banded demoisellegreen shieldbug and the interestingly named cockchafer. Find the full list here.

National Insect Week has also organised an Olympics-themed drawing competition where children are asked to design an imaginary super insect.

Woodland Trust
Woodland Trust (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Woodland Trust has produced a set of engaging and useful resources for primary school-aged children. From a spotter sheet tick list of all the common creepy-crawlies to a printable set of ladybird dominoes to a mini-beast crossword. Find out how to tell a dragonfly from a damsel fly and unearth fascinating ladybird facts. Children can learn how to build their own butterfly feeders. Families, schools and groups can also enter The Woodland Trust’s mini-beast art competition – for more information, see

Twinkl’s Minibeasts collection provides a super-speedy route to creating a gorgeously creepy summer-term classroom display. There are mini-beast display borders to print, cut and go, ready-made display posters and insect-themed banners for displays or role-play areas. Find combined mini-beast number and alphabet strips and page borders – perfect for children’s independent work. There are also creepy-crawly editable class table signs and editable drawer or peg labels.

The Wildlife Trusts have created a colourful set of spotting sheets to help you identify a wide variety of mini-beasts, from beetles to snails tocaterpillars. Learn how to catch the critters to get a closer look and how to make an express or deluxe insect hotel.

Marvellous mini-beasts by ARKive invites seven- to 11-year-old students to create and design a new species of mini-beast, and in doing so learn how different species are adapted to survive particular habitats. There are also teachers’ notes.

Guess Zoo is ARKive’s module for 11- to 14-year-olds researching the defining characteristics of insect orders.

Finally, see this resource from Access Art on making insects with wire.

The Guardian Teacher Network has more than 100,000 pages of lesson plans and interactive materials. To see and share for yourself, go to

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Wildlife Update : British creatures tough out the weird weather

A National Trust property sign at Gordale
Image via Wikipedia

From The Telegraph Earth

The hot early spring was a boon for insects, providing more food for breeding birds, while the autumn’s warm temperatures and sunshine saw something of a “second spring” with shrubs and plants such as dandelions and white dead nettle flowering again.

But in between the summer months were hit by wet conditions in the north and a cold drought in central and eastern England, causing some species such as late emerging butterflies to suffer.

The purple emperor laid hardly any eggs, while drought conditions hit species on a localised basis including frogs and toads which require shallow water for breeding and some birds such as waders which saw their food supplies affected.

Matthew Oates, wildlife adviser at the National Trust, said the year’s weather had been “fantastically quirky”, confusing native wildlife.

However certain species have thrived in the unusual conditions. For example dry conditions meant herbs and plants which get crowded out by coarse grass in wet years, including orchids, did extremely well.

“It was a mixed year. The overall winners were spring insects – not just butterflies and moths, but all the other things like mining bees and bee flies, many of which have done really well,” he said.

“But the late summer insects fared very badly and there will be knock-ons for them in 2012.”

“Early birds nesting in spring also benefited from the good weather.

“There were no periods of foul and abusive weather, which kill things off, until June.

“There weren’t any gusty storms knocking everything out or drowning things in their nests.”

The spring that promised so much gave way to a poor summer, but an Indian summer in the autumn months with spring-like temperatures led to second appearances of wild and garden plants, an abundance of berries and migrant species of birds and insects to UK shores, Mr Oates said.

“It just demonstrates how reactive and strongly influenced wildlife is to weather, and how it can exploit good weather windows like those in the spring and again in the autumn,” he added.

The warm autumn, following on from a good spring, saw an abundance of fruits and berries from spring-flowering shrubs and trees with a great year for apple, hawthorn, sloes, beechnuts and acorns, while holly and mistletoe berries were also in good supply.

The autumn feast has provided deer, badgers and grey squirrels with plenty of food, and winter birds should also benefit.

But with erratic weather dominating the year, Mr Oates said it was now a question of “what next?!”.

The last good July and August were in 2006, and according to the law of averages – and Mr Oates – 2012 could perhaps just be the year to have a ‘staycation’ or holiday at home.

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