“The good news is that each of us can help bring insects back.”
Where’d all the glittery or camo, silent or thrumming, clover-buzzing, night-lighting, bird-nourishing, water-striding, lace-winged, back-porch-light-covering bugs go?
Insects make up three-quarters of the world’s animal species. Humans haven’t even identified all of the million-plus creative ingenious insect sorts who’ve worked through the eons to feed and mend, clean and cook and sew this rare, singing, flowering jewel of a biosphere together.
Biologist E.O. Wilson described these valuable insect workers as the “little things that run the world.”
He added, “If human beings disappeared tomorrow, the world would go on with little change. But if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could last more than a few months.”
Losing our wings
Yet poof! Within your own brief lifespan today, 4 million years of thriving, adapting, ingenious, life-bringing native insect species are suddenly plummeting toward extinction.
This daunting shocker should be making global headlines daily so that we can shake the cobwebs out of our heads and reverse the plotline, now, for those to come. It starts with your own forehead slap:
“Wait! Four million years of invaluable work and growth! And my brief generation could end it all, today, out of pettiness, bad info and apathy?”
Then we might unglue our attention from all the flatscreen stickytraps full of alluring big-ego dramas, get out for some air, and think. How has the actual world changed since your own childhood days?
“We’ve dubbed it ‘the windshield phenomenon,” said Scott Black of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
A few mere decades ago, in rural parts of the U.S., even small towns and suburbs, “a short drive down any road” would “yield hundreds of dead bugs splattered across the front of your car,” he said.
Today, he said, you can drive across an entire state “and your car will be practically spotless when you get to the other side.”
Too few studies exist, but here’s a random butterfly-net swoop of findings:
- Monarch populations have dropped 90% from our continent.
- Since the year 2000, the state of Ohio has lost 33% of all its butterflies.
- University of Vermont has found that half the state’s native bumblebee species have now gone extinct — or are too rare to find.
Similar studies from everywhere, around the world, indicate profound recent losses in wild bees and other native insects of every sort — and their starving predators, and on up the food-chain.
Stream of life
Within four brief years — 2015 to 2019 — a valuable native aquatic insect, the burrowing mayfly, has declined by a heart-sinking 84%. That was the recent finding of researchers at Virginia Tech and University of Notre Dame.
These entomologists point out the ripple effects of losing such a vital food source for native birds, bats and freshwater fish — all species likewise experiencing severe declines.
Any look downflow of this trend can show where it leads. To stop it, while we still can, requires looking upstream … and upwind … and up into the human thought-stream where it all starts.
Debugging the brain
Insects haven’t suddenly, after millions of years, chosen to slack off and quit pollinating, migrating, hibernating, decomposing dead stuff, cleaning waterways and doing other vital jobs that keep their kind, their ecosystems — and all of us — alive and well.
Bugs “out there” are disappearing because of bugs in the human operating system. “Pay attention” and “give a darn” are human hard drives particularly compromised at this time by plagues of bad ideas, viral indifference and swarms of heavily promoted, lawmaker-bribing, money-intoxicated, science-attacking, agro-chem giants.
Waterways today are poisonous to mayflies and other wildlife largely because they carry agriculture and lawn runoff full of neonicotinoids.
This most-prevalent of pesticides, sold under various benign “healthy lawn and garden” labels, coating most treated garden and agricultural seeds, and saturating many “help-the-bees” innocent-looking commercial-nursery plants, kill off firefly larvae, caterpillars, butterflies and bees. So “naturally” they can kill young mayflies in the water, or keep them from reproducing.
Loss of habitat also destroys insects and the web of life they sew together.
Rainforest loss takes a toll, but so does the American lawn. Our weird obsession with monoculture flatness, devoid of life, has decimated insect habitat, wildlife, shade, watersheds and human resilience.
“The American dream with the lawn, that’s not what was here before we built all our houses,” Leslie Peck said.
She’s director of the Arboretum at Tanglewood Park in North Carolina, a vertical world of diverse native plant/tree and insect species where visitors can breathe, think bigger thoughts and imagine a world beyond Flatland.
The lawn, she says, “is not where the insects are living.” Not native ones, anyhow, though invasive insects dominate them.
Prefer a better world than that?
Ways to restore insect-diverse, life-conducive habitats, next column.