Hong Kong might be synonymous with skyscrapers, yet it has a huge amount of green space and an amazing array of wildlife. Here, we continue our nature series with a look at some facts, trivia and tips about the spiders and insects of Hong Kong.
#1 Too many critters to count
If they had thumbs, insects would likely give Hong Kong the thumbs-up. They love this place! In fact, there are around 7,000 insect species found here, including more than 200 different butterflies, 100 dragonflies, 2,300 moths, 70 mosquitoes, 120 grasshoppers, 120 long-horned beetles, 170 ants (13 new ant species were added last year alone!) and many others.
#2 Look what’s fluttered by…
Hong Kong is rife with certain insect species, and one of those is the butterfly – the number of species here sits at approximately 240, well over half the count for all of Europe. Of these, almost 50 can be found in the urban parks of Hong Kong. These are known variously as Skippers, Swallowtails, Whites and Yellows, Blues, Nymphs and Browns.
Other great places to view butterflies include Plover Cove Country Park, Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, Sai Kung East Country Park and the Peak. The best conditions for seeing butterflies in the wild are mild days between April and June, and between October and November.
Hong Kong has over 100 species of dragonflies too, including the common Asian pintail.
#3 A trekker’s torment
Technically, spiders aren’t insects, but we couldn’t keep them off our list of creepy-crawlies. If you’ve ever walked in the great outdoors of Hong Kong, you’ll know this sizeable beast well enough. The golden orb weaver has a leg span of up to 20cm. (Go on, use your hands to make a rough estimate of 20cm right now. Not exactly small, right?) That’s only the female, by the way. The male golden orb is a teeny-tiny thing in comparison to the female, a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism.
While this is actually among the world’s biggest spiders, the good news is that it’s generally reluctant to bite, and not poisonous when it does. (Might sting a bit, though.)
Arachnophobes will also be sorry to hear that Hong Kong is home to the huntsman spider – yep, those big, webless ones that can be found sprinting along the inside walls of houses. More good news: these are harmless too!
#4 Sting things
Not to stir up a hornet’s nest, but Hong Kong is one of several spots in Asia that is home to the world’s largest hornet. The Vespa mandarinia, or Asian giant hornet, measures almost 5cm in length, with a wingspan of 7.4cm. It also has a 6mm stinger that can inject a heap of potent venom (and multiple times, because it doesn’t have a barb that pulls the stinger away from its body like a bee).
Thankfully for us, that venom usually goes into its prey – honeybees, in particular – rather than humans, though there are deaths on record, including from a large swarm in China’s Shaanxi Province in 2013.
Hong Kong has at least eight species of hornet, but we’re happy to report that Vespa mandarinia is very rare.
#5 Lots and lots of legs
While the “centi” prefix in the word centipede means 100, Hong Kong’s largest centipede, the Scolopendra, only has 42 legs. That’s still 40 or so more than we want crawling over us…
Actually, having read about the giant centipede, as Scolopendra is known, we don’t want it anywhere near us at all. This 15cm nasty is not only a fast runner, but its venom really packs a punch. Aside from easily overpowering cockroaches, lizards and other prey, it’ll even have a crack at something bigger like a mouse.
It’s not uncommon for humans to be bitten by a giant centipede in Hong Kong, usually on the feet or legs, and mostly inside rural village homes. Fortunately, while there can be some minor medical complications, the result is rarely life-threatening.
#6 Buzz off!
Mosquitoes are a prevalent insect in Hong Kong – particularly in the hotter, wetter months. And this means that mosquito-borne diseases are also present. Thankfully, though, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the principal “vector” for spreading dengue fever, isn’t found here. So, dengue cases tend to be low compared to Southeast Asian countries – plus, most cases are imported from elsewhere. For example, 2018 was a bad year for dengue in Hong Kong, with 163 cases reported. But 134 of those were classified as imported (mostly from Thailand, mainland China and the Philippines).
Having said that, mosquitoes spread more than just dengue, so do take precautions not to be bitten. Use insect repellent with DEET, wear long-sleeved tops and trousers, and be particularly vigilant when doing activities in the outdoors.
#7 Wretched ’roaches
One of the less popular insects of Hong Kong is the cockroach. These little scuttlers love the HK humidity, and May to August is their time to thrive. There are more than 30 species of cockroach here (sorry to inform you!), but the one you’re likely to see most is the Periplaneta americana, or American cockroach. It tends to prefer foraging outside, but will come into buildings for sustenance when required. If you see large numbers of smaller cockroaches in one place, it’s more likely you’re dealing with the German cockroach (Blattella germanica). They tend to love hiding behind appliances and in wall cavities, for example.
Either way, if you have a ’roach problem you can’t contain, think about calling a pest-control company. Cockroaches can be detrimental to human health due to all the germs and allergens they host.
#8 Endangered alert
We’ve mentioned plenty of Hong Kong insects on this page, but only one is a protected species: the Birdwing Butterfly (or Troides Helena). This very rare butterfly (there are two types: the Common Birdwing and the Golden Birdwing) is protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance.
Why? Because its distinct and beautiful black and yellow wings make this butterfly a magnet for traders. Over-catching has led to a decline in its population.
#9 Letting nature lie
Fascinated by all the above? You might be tempted to relive your childhood bug-catching days by capturing a specimen or two for further examination. Our suggestion? Don’t! There are plenty of good reasons for this, most of them outlined by the Hong Kong Entomological Society’s Code of Collecting Insects.
#10 Head to a museum for more
While nothing beats a first-hand encounter out in the wild, you can see plenty of insects of Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Science Museum. Make a beeline for the Biodiversity Gallery on the ground floor. It has different sections to explore including “Butterfly Wings”, “Giant Insects” and “Design Your Butterfly and Let It Fly”.
The museum is at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Shat Sui East, Kowloon. Call 2732 3232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read on for more features about living in Hong Kong.