Black vine-weevil

( Latin: Otiorrhynchus sulcatus)

This is one of the larger weevils. It moves around in a characteristic slow manner, and like all weevils it is vegetarian. The larvae live in the soil and feed on the underground parts of plants.

The adults avoid the light and hide themselves during the day, often in the surface soil at the base of a plant, but they emerge at night to feed. They attack many different kinds of plant and may cause considerable damage to fruit trees and bushes.

These beetles are sometimes brought indoors, usually with pot plants. If only a few are seen there is no need for concern. They cannot damage textiles or timber, nor do they bite or sting humans.

Crane fly

( Latin: Tipula paludosa)

Crane flies are among the animals which can cause panic in the bedroom when – attracted by the light – then fly in from outside and flap against the lampshades.

Crane flies are merely large flies. They do not feed as adults, nor do they bite or sting. The female lays eggs in the ground, where the larvae feed on vegetation, sometimes causing damage by gnawing the roots of plants.

As mentioned on p. 159, some crane flies can live in old thatch.

Drone fly larva

( Latin: Eristalis tenax)

This is the larva of a hoverfly (Family Syrphidae), and it is not very well known, perhaps because it lives in drainage channels, in pools receiving water from dunghills and similar places with water that is grossly polluted with organic matter.

At its rear end this larva has a breathing tube which can be extended like a telescope to a length of up to 15 cm. With this organ it is able to reach the surface of oxygen-deficient water and breathe air.

When fully grown and ready to pupate, the larva, often known as a rat tail larva, creeps out on to the land and seeks a suit- able dry place in which to pupate. In so doing it may enter porches or cellars. The pupae are 10-12 mm long, grey-brown, almost oval, but they retain the long ‘tail’ and look somewhat like tiny grey mice.

From the pupa emerges a hoverfly, but unlike those •already mentioned, this species is remarkably like a honey bee (see p. 31).

Some hoverfly larvae can live in carrion and these have given rise to the very old story that bees can come forth from the rotting carcase of an ox. The myth appears to have been old in the time of the ancient Egyptians where both the bull and the bee were sacred animals, and in somewhat altered form it found its way to the Bible where Samson, after having killed a lion, finds both bees and honey in the mouth of the rotting carcase. There are also numerous references to this phenomenon in Greek and Roman literature. The myth continued right up to modern times and the final explanation, namely that it referred to hoverflies, not bees, did not come until the 1880s.

The rat tail larvae that find their way into the house are quite harmless, and the best thing is just to take them out again. If they continue to appear and start to become a nuisance, it would be a good idea to find out where they have come from and then drain the source, so that the adult hoverflies can find no stagnant polluted water in the immediate vicinity of the house in which to lay their eggs.


( Latin: Syrphus ribesii)

During the late summer of some years the house may be swarming with enormous numbers of rather attractive insects, resembling small wasps. These are hoverflies which on a sunny day can be seen hovering almost motionless in the air, and suddenly darting off so quickly that it is very difficult to follow them with the eye.

Like all the true flies they have only one pair of wings, whereas the wasps with which they may be confused have two pairs of wings.
Their resemblance to wasps provides a good example of the phenomenon known as mimicry, in which a peaceful; harmless species may closely resemble another species which is dangerous or aggressive. Wasps can be said to be dangerous, and of course not just to man, and they advertise the fact by having a striking pattern of yellow and black which serves as warning coloration.

Over a period of perhaps millions of years certain hoverflies have developed a pattern of warning colours similar to that of the wasps. This has not been a conscious effort on the part of the hoverflies but is the result of natural selection over a long period of time, based on the principle that those hoverflies which resemble the model best will be less likely to be eaten. These will be the hoverflies that survive to pass their mimicking coloration to their descendants.

Hoverflies are sometimes seen perched on flowers, particularly umbellifers, for they feed on the flower nectar and pollen, and play an important role in pollination. Their larvae are very effective consumers of aphids (greenfly), so in addition to being attractive hoverflies are also extremely beneficial, and with them in mind it may sometimes pay not to spray the garden with an insecticide.

When hoverflies come indoors it is simply because the house, with open doors and windows, acts as a large trap, from which they have difficulty in finding their way out.

Cis boleti

A great number of different animals may be brought into the house with cut flowers and other garden produce, and there is seldom any doubt about where they come from. It is however particularly annoying when a house or flat is suddenly found to be teeming with these small, dark beetles. The larvae live in fungi of the type that grows on stumps and fallen trees, and that may be taken home for decorative purposes. The beetles emerge from the fungi through round holes, often long after the decoration has been put aside and forgotten, and one wonders where they have come from.

Some of the fungi which attack building timber have fruiting bodies (comparable to toadstools) which these beetles could live in, so if there is no more feasible explanation for their appearance, it may be advisable to have the house examined for fungus.

Devil’s coach-horse

( Latin: Staphylinus olens)

This large predatory beetle is common in woodland, but is also found in gardens and sometimes enters houses when hunting for prey, usually small insects, slugs and worms.

It is easily recognizable by its size (up to 3 cm long) and by its dark colour. As is typical of the staphylinid beetles the elytra are very short, and in fact they only cover the foremost part of the segmented abdomen, while the remainder is therefore free and very mobile – somewhat resembling the abdomen of an earwig.

When threatened this beetle assumes a posture with the abdomen bent upwards, rather like a scorpion. This is, however, an empty threat for the beetle can neither sting nor bite with its abdomen. What then is the function of this behaviour pattern? It is, indeed, a fact that some people are frightened by it, and it is quite likely that the beetle’s natural enemies, insectivorous birds and mammals, are also scared by it.

When seized a staphylinid will naturally try to bite with its powerful mandibles, but they are not powerful enough to pierce skin, so from the human viewpoint this is a completely harmless insect.

Carabus nemoralis

These are fast-moving, agile beetles with powerful legs and long antennae. The species normally seen indoors are 2-3 cm long and black or brownish. Only a few of them can fly, and in some species the elytra which cover the abdomen are fused together.

Most carabid beetles are predatory, feeding on worms, slugs and insects, and some species have been released in American forests to control injurious moth larvae. These beetles handle their prey in a characteristic manner, for much of the digestive process takes place outside the animal. They regurgitate dark brown digestive juices on to the prey, which is thus paralyzed. Its tissues gradually become liquefied and this liquid is then sucked up.

Carabids or ground beetles spend the day hidden among vegetation, under stones, behind loose bark or in similar places. Several species are very common in gardens and fields, and these may find their way into houses when they are running around at night in search of food. As they prefer damp places they are frequently seen in cellars.

Some species are partly vegetarian and in rare cases these may attack vegetables and fruit, and very rarely they have been known to gnaw textiles, but by and large carabids can be regarded as quite harmless visitors.

If it feels threatened a carabid may regurgitate on to a finger, and they also have another form of chemical warfare. If one is seized it will often produce a secretion with a sharp, sour smell, which remains on the fingers for a long time. The secretion is produced by certain glands at the rear end of the abdomen; it contains various organic acids, and probably serves as a means of defence against attackers. Some mammals which normally eat insects are very sensitive to strong smells.

Cone bug

( Latin:   Gastrodes ferrugineus)

This is an example of an insect which has nothing to do in a house, but which may be brought indoors from time to time. It is a bug that lives in coniferous forests where it can be found under the bark of trees. In winter large numbers of these bugs live in fallen spruce cones, and if a number of these are collected for decoration it is quite easy for the bugs to find their way into the house.

Dusky cockroach

( Latin: Ectobius lapponicus)

As already mentioned (p. 59) the cockroach species commonly found indoors come from warmer climates. On the other hand, the dusky cockroach occurs throughout Europe from Lapland to the Mediterranean. These small, active cockroaches live mainly in woodland and on heathland where they run around among vegetation on the ground; they also fly well. In Lapland they are very common ‘domestic’ animals in the tents and further south in Europe they may occasionally occur indoors. They are frequently seen in weekend cottages, mainly because these are often close to their natural habitat.


( Latin: Forficula auricularia)

Earwigs start to come into houses in late summer, seeking good hiding-places, for they are nocturnal animals which spend the day in sheltered places. These they find in abundance in the human environment, in the cracks and crevices of doors and windows, folded handkerchiefs, bath towels and so on.

By mid-September, however, they have mostly buried themselves in the ground where they spend the winter.

Earwigs mate in the autumn and the male and female often spend the winter together until early spring when the male is driven out. The female then prepares a brood chamber in the ground and lays 50 eggs in it.

The female earwig is very faithful and remains with her eggs, something which is very unusual in the insect world. She defends them valiantly against enemies, and keeps them clean. Without her care and attention they would be attacked by moulds and would soon die.

Even after the eggs have hatched the family remains together, but gradually the young move further and further away from the nest in their search for food: They become sexually mature during the course of the summer.

The common earwig is almost omnivorous, eating dead vegetable matter, live plants and carrion, and also catching small insects and mites. Earwigs may cause damage in gardens and nurseries for they gnaw plants. On the other hand, they destroy many other plant pests, such as aphids.

Many people find earwigs repulsive, and one would need to delve into their subconscious to understand why. They have, of course, always played a part in folklore and in practically all European countries their popular name refers to their predilection for ears. ‘The sweet innocence’, says an earwig mother in one of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories about her son, ‘His greatest ambition is to be able to creep into the ear of a priest. He is so touchingly childish, it gladdens a mother’s heart’. The really gruesome stories tell how earwigs cut their way through the eardrum and lay their eggs in the brain. This is, of course, absolute nonsense, although it is true that an earwig may occasionally creep into an ear, as into any other dark corner.

The terminal forceps are used both for attack and defence, but mostly as a deterrent. Earwigs only nip humans when squeezed, as for example when one rolls over on them in bed. They may leave a tiny bruise, but the skin is not punctured.

The best method of avoiding a plague of earwigs is to deny them suitable living conditions close to the house. Luxuriant plant growth and compost heaps provide excellent quarters for them. The nuisance can be ameliorated by catching them in traps. Simply fill a flowerpot with peat or plant fibre and stand it with the bottom up. The earwigs will creep into the trap which can be emptied every morning.