When did you last see a glow worm? Most likely, quite some time ago. Depending on how young you are, you may have never seen one at all. Those light-emitting insects, Wordsworth’s “earthborn stars”, have been declining in the UK for decades. That means that scientists now see them in fewer places, and even in those pockets where conditions are right for them, there are fewer of them to be found.
But it isn’t just glow worms that are struggling. You’ll have heard reports that insects are declining in many parts of the world, with fewer of them around and some species disappearing altogether. Many people have noted that the number of “splats” you’re likely to see on a car windscreen in summer is now much lower compared with 20 years ago, and this has even been confirmed by a scientific study. As scientists who study insects, we’re right to be worried, but how sure can we be sure of the general picture if we only have information about particular species in particular places?
Fortunately, a new study has offered the clearest indication yet of how insects all over the world are faring. The researchers studied data on the numbers and total weight of insects and arachnids (spiders and mites) sampled in 166 long-term surveys. Each of these lasted more than ten years and recorded insects at 1,676 sites in 41 countries on five continents. The earliest record was from 1925, and the most recent from 2018, although most records were dated from 1986 or later. MORE
Header image: Lampyris noctiluca, or the common glow worm of Europe. Credit: Igor Krasilov/Shutterstock.