Royal Mail issued a set of six stamps entitled Brilliant Bugs on October 1, to celebrate the enormous diversity of pollinating insects in the UK.

The stamps feature six significant pollinators, exploring a range that includes not only bees and butterflies but other species which are often overlooked.

The planet’s five million insect species contribute to the ecosystem in varied ways, including recycling dead and decaying matter. But they are most important for pollinating food crops and wild plants, by transferring pollen grains as they move from flower to flower in search of nectar.

In Europe, four out of five food crops (for humans and farm animals) rely, at least in part, on insects for their reproducton. Sadly, there is evidence that many insect species are declining, largely due to changes in land use, so conservation is becoming increasingly vital.

The stamps were designed by Royal Mail Group, from illustrations by Richard Lewington, each showing a different insect with one of its favourite food sources.

They were printed in litho by International Security Printers, and are available in vertically se-tenant pairs.

 

1st class COMMON CARDER BEE

Relatively widespread, the common carder bee, Bombus pascuorum, can be seen in many different habitats, including gardens, feeding on flowers such as large blue pea. Worker bees forage for pollen so the queen doesn’t have to leave the nest.

1st class PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLY

The painted lady, Vanessa cardui, can migrate from as far away as Africa or Asia to spend the summer in Britain, and possibly breed here. It does not survive long enough to make the return trip, but its offspring does. Thistles are a common source of nectar for this species.

£1.45 LONGHORN BEETLE

The longhorn beetle, Rutpela maculata, has a lifespan of several years, most of which is spent as a larva feeding on the decaying wood of trees. After pupating, the wasp-mimicking adult lives for only a few weeks in summer, during which time it is a common visitor to hawthorn flowers.

£1.45 ELEPHANT HAWK-MOTH

The large and colourful elephant hawk-moth, Deilephila elpenor, is so-named because it is said to resemble an elephant’s trunk during the caterpillar phase of its lifecycle. A favoured source of nectar for this striking species is honeysuckle.

£1.70 MARMALADE HOVERFLY

In some years, the marmalade hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, migrates to Britain in huge numbers from the near continent, and swarms can be seen on the east coast. It favours flat-topped flowers on which to land and feed on nectar, and is an important pollinator of crops such as oilseed rape.

£1.70 RUBY-TAILED WASP

The iridescent ruby-tailed wasp, Chrysis ignita, is a cuckoo wasp: it lays its eggs in the nests of other species, where its larvae consume the host’s eggs and larvae. Adults feed on the nectar from flowers such as angelica, acting as pollinators although their shiny bodies are less well suited to this than hairy bees.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack, written by the entomologist Professor Helen Roy, features specific details about the insects featured on the stamps, and general information about the decline in pollinating insects and how they can be conserved.

A first day cover and stamp cards are also available.

 

PRICES

Set of 6 stamps   £7.82

Presentation pack   £8.70

Stamp cards   £2.70

First day cover   £10.05

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   1/5

Notwithstanding the importance of pollinators to our food supply, this is essentially a pictorial issue

QUALITY OF DESIGN   4/5

The illustrations are both beautifully detailed and delicately coloured

WOW FACTOR 3/5

These attractive stamps will brighten any cover but might not set many pulses racing