Take a closer look at the insect world and you will discover there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to behaviour. You name it and insects do it, and you’ll find plenty of parallels with the human traits.

Understandably, parental care is something that most people associate with mammals and birds. But there are examples of this behaviour among insects too, and one in particular can be found in the British countryside at the moment. Look closely at the undersides of the leaves of Silver Birch Betula pendula and you may come across the intriguing Parent Bug Elasmucha grisea. Females of this shieldbug species live up to the promise of their English name and are fascinating to watch.

142347Above: Typically a female Parent Bug lays a batch of perhaps 15 or 20 eggs. To reduce the risk of predation or parasitism, she stands guard over the developing eggs and continues her vigil as the youngsters progress through their first two or three instars.

156469Above: Occasionally the young of other females join the family group, presumably if their mother has died or been forced to abandon them. The sight of a single Parent Bug trying to corral a crèche of young of different ages is akin to a teacher trying to control a group of slightly unruly school children.

The caterpillars of various blue butterfly species are well known for having associations with ants. And at this time of year, there is a chance to observe it firsthand if you know where to look for near you for Chalkhill Blues Polyommatus coridon. Visit the site, find a good patch of Horseshoe-vetch Hippocrepis comosa (the larval foodplant) and settle down to wait for the sun to go down. As dusk approaches, Chalkhill Blue caterpillars will emerge from the soil, with bands of red ants dancing attendance.

Chalkhill Blue Larva - Polyommatus coridonAbove: These insect care-workers defend the juicy caterpillars from predators and parasites and in return ‘milk’ them for sugary secretions. The relationship between Chalkhill Blue and ants is maintained throughout the larval and pupal stages of the butterfly.