Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Least Among Us

The general public seems to have a distaste for bugs, squashing them when possible, spraying yards and homes on a regular basis, and buying plants specifically touted as “pest-resistant” (note the choice of the word “pest” in that adjective). Bugs are an important part of the ecosystem, however, tirelessly performing an amazing number of services that keep our world hinged together. Even mosquitos become protein-rich food for hummingbirds.

Tiny flower flies gather pollen on Sabatia kennedyana

Some bugs get more respect: label that bug as a “pollinator” and suddenly people are interested. Today is the last day of National Pollinator Week. Pollinators have gotten a lot of attention the last few years as honey bees have suffered large population losses and the captivating monarch butterfly has dwindled in number. Human awareness of these losses has brought much needed focus to issues for these insects.

Yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus) get paid in pollen while they work

Three years ago I wrote about planting native plants for pollinators: Plant One for the Pollinators. It’s still a key concept. Insects need plants just like we need food - plants are their food. They evolved with plants native to the area around them, so if you want to help them, give them native plants.

Yet there is more that we can do for them ... that we should do for them. Just like our support for birds, insects need shelter and a place to raise their young. Here are the remaining two cornerstones of support for insects:

Stop killing them. For two years in a row, pesticide applicators have killed bees in Oregon by spraying pesticides on linden trees while they were blooming (effectively poisoning the bees). These incidents got attention because the dead and dying bees littered the ground. I fully expect that this behavior is executed thousands of times a week in other places and goes unnoticed, if not on bees then on other insects. 

Would you deny these beetles the right to frolic on your Spiraea?

Residential and commercial use of pesticide is at an all-time high. Do we really need to spray our homes on a regular basis? Do people recognize that caterpillars are baby butterflies? Or at the very least they are bird food? Yep, that's one of the ecosystem services they provide.

Stop destroying their habitat. Pollinators and other insects need places to raise their young: leaves, dead trees, semi-open ground, old plant stems … natural places. Paved over areas and tidily mulched beds with imported plants are not natural. Leave some space for them. Roadsides, power-line right of ways, even cemeteries could all become areas to preserve habitat (and still be somewhat tidy with the use of much smaller mow strips and off-season mowing).

Pollinator Week is over but our behavior to support them should not be. Extend your support to all bugs (the only National Insect Week I can find is in the UK). These tiny creatures cannot speak for themselves, but we are big enough to support the smallest among us

Share this Earth by understanding their needs and considering how human behavior affects their ability to live. And the next time you go to squash/swat/spray a bug, think twice.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a powerful appeal, Ellen. I just finished Drifting into Darien by Janisse Ray last night and I'm all fired up, I like how you begin a topic by presenting the problem, but go from that point to offer solutions, or at least ways to mitigate the problem. I don't like environmental writers who only sound the death knell without offering a plan of attack. The solutions have to start with individual homeowners, though I am a strong supporter of municipal action, such as Eugene, OR, banning neonicotinoids on public property. (The most recent incident of bee-killing there occurred on private property, per the article you linked to.)