Bugs get a bad name, so after I spotted a locust out and about at work I decided to have a look at a insect that almost everyone seems to cringe at. Locusts are a species of grasshopper and are the first insect to ever be drawn by humans. However, they are linked throughout history to biblical plagues and their swarms seen as a bad omen.

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This is the guy that started today off, just in the middle of the pathway underneath the sun.

Locusts are sometimes solitary insects with lifestyles much like grasshoppers. But they do have another behavioral phase called the gregarious phase. When environmental conditions produce many green plants this promotes and encourages breeding – locusts can then congregate into thick, huge, ravenous swarms.

Quite rightly they are still feared as a swarm, it’s a devastating natural distaster and destroys agriculture. However, as damaging as they are collectively, locusts are a vital part of the food chain for other species. They play an important part in live feeding for captive species, and many other birds, rodents and small mammals throughout the animal kingdom rely on them for nourishment.

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The best shot I could have taken is this ‘breeding in progress’ foursome where everyone involved looks worried at being caught. During mating the male ‘inserts the tip of his abdomen into the females abdomen opening’ which is nice and graphic. After laying eggs, in around 10-20 days young locusts will hatch and begin their life cycle. At most they can live to about eight weeks where the goal is to reproduce before dying. Happy days.

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These are the delicate wings almost like parchment paper with individual stained glass panels: they’re pretty interesting close-up.

To end, I’ve picked an insect that I spotted with a brilliant metallic green armoured back and huge red compound eyes. This is the common green bottle fly and they exist by quite literally eating shit. But look how happy they seem about it.

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The thing I like most is that even though they can be damaging to other creatures, sheep for example by laying eggs in wool then migrating to feed on the skins surface leading to infection, they also are unique in helping inadvertently solve murder cases.

The Common Green Bottle fly (Lucilia. sericata) is an important species to forensic entomologists. Their lifecycle and habits are well documented, amongst other things the females will lay their eggs in human corpses.The stage of development on a corpse is used to calculate a minimum post mortem interval, so that it can be used to help calculate the time of death of the victim.

Usually in open air a corpse will attract blowflies such as the green bottle fly in around ten minutes. The stage of the eggs, the maggots and pupae can provide information on the condition of the corpse. What happens in the early stages of the flies life cycle after hatching can usually very accurately match up to a possible time of death.

For example eggs will tend to hatch in cooler temperatures after 9 hours, the first stage lasts 53 hours, second 42 and third 98 hours – these times decrease with warmer weather. If the insects seem to be on the path of their normal development, the corpse likely has been undisturbed. If, however, the insect shows signs of a disturbed lifecycle, or is absent from the body, this suggests tampering with the body after death.  Because L. sericata is one of the first insects to colonise a corpse and almost always follows the same exact patern, it is preferred in determining an approximate time of death.

To end on a positive, these flies help solve one of the hardest questions to answer in a murder case – the time of death, so,  although leading what seems like a gruesome life they are definetely playing their part.

Published by Kirsty Grant