Study Shows How Many Bugs Are Migrating Over England (It's A LOT)

If you have ever taken a random insect to the face and wondered just how many of the little buggers are in the sky a new study sought to answer that question. The study was published in the journal "Science" and found that there are over three trillion migrating insects flying over south-central England each year. One of the scientists on the study figures that number would expand significantly if you conducted similar research elsewhere.

"If you were to repeat this study almost anywhere else, I guarantee that you would exceed those numbers," says Jason Chapman, an entomologist at the University of Exeter. Chapman says the reason is because England is relatively cold and damp. I'd wager I had that many mosquitoes in my backyard in Texas last summer.

Studies of migrating insects are rare in the scientific world, the only major insect study had to do with the monarch butterfly. "The insects have really not been studied in the way that they should have been," Chapman says.

Some of the migrating bugs play hugely important roles for plants in their paths, such as the marmalade hoverfly. "It's only about a centimeter long, it's orange with black stripes, but it's a hugely abundant migrant, and it actually does some very important jobs," Chapman says. He notes that this bug in particular spends winters in the Mediterranean and comes to England in the spring where it eats harmful aphids and pollinates crops and wildflowers.

The scientists use nets to count smaller insects that are suspended from large helium balloons in the sky. For larger insects, the scientists counted them using narrow beams of radar pointed straight up. The team found the huge number of migrating bugs and than most migrations happen during the day at high altitudes.

"Those insects are the genuine long-range migrants," Chapman says. "They will be traveling at great speeds, and traveling for hundreds of kilometers in a single flight."