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Subject: ‘Insects’

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Nature’s colour coding for poison

Posted in Animals, Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 13 February 2016

This edited article about poisonous creatures originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1018 published on 12 September 1981.

ladybird, picture, image, illustration

The colourful but poisonous ladybird is avoided by birds

Green, amber, red . . . we are all familiar with traffic lights, and understand that green is safe, amber a warning, and red emphatically means “Stop!” Traffic lights are a relatively recent invention, but warning colours are far from new, and have evolved over millions of years. In nature, vivid colours – particularly red – often warn of danger, and it can be as wise to stop well away from an animal or insect with bright warning colours as it is to obey the red traffic light.

In Britain there are few dangerous or poisonous creatures, but if you think carefully you might well recall some examples. The wasp’s bright yellow and black stripes warn of its nasty sting, just as the zig-zag pattern on the back of an adder hints at its venom. In contrast, the harmless grass snake is green. However, have you ever wondered why ladybirds are red and black, or why certain moths, such as the garden tiger and red underwing, have bright red underwings?

The answer, of course, is simple. Ladybirds are poisonous, and their colouring warns birds to leave them well alone. Starlings feed their young on insects, but in a study in Holland it was found that out of 16,484 insects taken to feed nestling starlings by their parents, only two were ladybirds, so their coloration really does protect them.

An interesting aspect of the ladybird’s defence is its ability to ooze blood from its leg joints when attacked. This is called reflex bleeding.

Ladybirds are not the only British beetles to display warning colours, for the cardinal beetle does so too. This crimson-red beetle receives its name from the similarity of its colouring to a cardinal’s robe; like the ladybird, it is also distasteful to birds.

Most moths, when at rest, have cryptic colouring which helps them merge with their background. However, certain species, when disturbed, suddenly reveal bright red underwings, which has the effect of alarming a predator.

This display is called flash coloration, and is often found among grasshoppers, cicadas, moths and butterflies. One of the best examples is the garden tiger, which is a common moth in Britain and often flies by day, even in bright sunshine. Glands in the tiger moth’s thorax secrete a poison, and birds soon learn to avoid this species.

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The best pictures from educational trade cards, 96

Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, Best pictures, Bible, British Towns, Famous battles, Famous landmarks, Farming, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Insects, Legend, Myth, Religion, Trade, War on Thursday, 26 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows the destruction and burning of Troy.

Troy, picture, image, illustration

The destruction and burning of Troy

The second picture shows manufacturing Cheshire cheese in England.

cheese, picture, image, illustration

Manufacturing Cheshire cheese in England

The third picture shows a monk in his cell.

monk, picture, image, illustration

A monastic cell

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 59

Posted in Absurd, Ancient History, Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Best pictures, Educational card, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Industry, Insects, Oddities, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 25 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows the Rape of the Sabine women.

Sabine women, picture, image, illustration

The Rape of the Sabine women

The second picture shows anthropomorphic insects.

insects, picture, image, illustration

Anthropomorphic insects

The third picture shows the bricklayer.

The bricklayer, picture, image, illustration

The bricklayer

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures from educational trade cards, 34

Posted in Absurd, Ancient History, Artist, Best pictures, Disasters, Discoveries, Educational card, Historical articles, History, Industry, Insects, Music, Oddities, Religion, Royalty, Science, Trade on Tuesday, 24 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows monks bringing the first silk cocoons to the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople.

silk, picture, image, illustration

Monks bringing the first silk cocoons to the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople

The second picture shows the death of Georg Wilhelm Richmann, the German physicist.

Richmann, picture, image, illustration

Victims of Science: The death of Georg Wilhelm Richmann, German physicist (1711-1753)

The third picture shows a performance artist and his musical balancing act.

artiste, picture, image, illustration

Musical balancing act

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of Chinese silk workers

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Best pictures, Farming, Historical articles, History, Insects on Monday, 14 September 2015

The best pictures of silk workers in China show silkworm breeders, factory workers and weavers.
The first picture shows a Chinese silkworm farmer.

silk, picture, image, illustration

Silk comes from silkworms in China

The second picture shows a silk factory in China.

silk, picture, image, illustration

A Chinese Silk Factory

The third picture shows Chinese silk weavers.

silk, picture, image, illustration

Chinese weaving by Charles Robinson

Many more pictures of China can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of Bees

Posted in Best pictures, Historical articles, History, Insects, Nature, Plants on Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The best pictures of bees show these important insects at work and in more unusual circumstances.
The first picture shows bees collecting pollen from clover.

bees, picture, image, illustration

The busy bees and their cousins by Maude Scrivener

The second picture shows a dangerous swarm of bees in Wellington Street in London being harvested by a bee-keeper.

bees, picture, image, illustration

Swarm of Bees in Wellington-Street, Strand by Harry Furniss

The third picture shows an exhibition of living bees in Whitechapel Free Library and Museum.

bees, picture, image, illustration

Practical Lessons in Elementary Science in Whitechapel, an Exhibition of Living Bees by F C Dickinson

Many more pictures of bees can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The Eyed Hawk Moth has frightening wing markings

Posted in Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about moths first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.

Eyed Hawk Moth,  picture, image, illustration

Eyed Hawk Moth

On a beautiful, spring day, you can often see gaily coloured butterflies lounging on flowers.

Often it is difficult to distinguish them from their close relative the moth, but one of the best ways is to observe them resting. Butterflies close their wings together so that they stick straight up from the back, and moths generally spread their wings out flat on the surface they’re resting on.

More than 2,000 different species of moth live in the British Isles. If your garden has an apple tree in it, the Eyed Hawk moth is probably a frequent visitor, for this is its favourite feeding place.

But you would not see it very often, for like most moths it usually flies only at night. It spends its days resting quietly on a tree trunk, and since its brown tints merge with the background, it is often overlooked.

But if the Eyed Hawk moth thinks that it’s being threatened, it will alternatively raise and lower its forewings to expose two glaring “eye” marks on the underwings. The sight of this is enough to scare off any insect-eating bird looking for a meal.

Delicate lacewings are hungry consumers of greenflies

Posted in Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about insects first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.

Lacewing and othet flies, picture. image, illustration

Lacewing fly (bottom right corner)

The lacewing is a delicate insect, and for most people it is a familiar sight. Lacewings are irresistibly attracted to artificial light, and they often fly in at open windows at night.

The female lacewing has a most extraordinary way of laying eggs. She first exhudes a drop of sticky liquid on the underside of a leaf, and then she raises her abdomen to draw it out into a hair-like stalk. This hardens immediately, and then she lays an egg at the end of this.

The larvae which hatch from the eggs laid by a lacewing have two long scimitar-shaped jaws. Since they are voracious feeders on greenflies, they are the good friends of gardeners.

The brief and fragile life of the Mayfly

Posted in Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about insects first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 594 published on 2 June 1973.

Girl and May flies,  picture, image, illustration

Girl being pulled through the water by accurately painted May flies

Enormous numbers of Mayflies can be seen swarming over the rivers and streams at this time of the year. The eggs are laid in the water and the young “nymphs” which hatch from them spend as long as four years under the water feeding on vegetable matter.

When fully grown, the nymph crawls out of the water on to a reed stem or stone. Then, its skin splits open and a winged insect, called a sub-imago, crawls out. After some time, it moults again and the perfect Mayfly emerges.

Its first instinct is to find a mate. Once this has been accomplished, after about a day or sometimes only a few hours, it falls into the water and drowns or is eaten by a fish. Meanwhile, its mate lays her eggs and the strange life cycle begins again.

The Cockchafer is a large beetle with an enormous appetite

Posted in Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about insects first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

Cockchafer,  picture, image, illustration

Cockchafer

The Cockchafer or May Bug is a large, harmless beetle which buzzes noisily and sometimes bumbles indoors through open windows on warm May evenings.

Every few years the beetles appear in huge numbers and become a serious pest especially on the continent of Europe. They do much damage to trees, especially elms and oaks, the leaves of which they eat voraciously. There was such a large outbreak of cockchafers in Austria in 1912 that over 1,000 tons of these beetles were collected and destroyed.

The female lays her eggs in the ground and these hatch out into grubs or larvae that live for as long as three years, feeding on the roots of grasses and other plants. The Cockchafer grub is about two inches long, fat and has a shiny brown head armed with strong jaws like a pair of pincers. Although it has six legs it is helpless if placed on a flat surface because its large and fleshy U shaped body causes it to fall over on its side.

The adult Cockchafers, which live for only a few weeks, have very conspicuous “feelers” or antennae which are highly sensitive to sound and smells. These feelers are spread out like fans when in use.