The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World is full of fascinating facts, depressing predictions, and inspiring suggestions for actions individuals can take to help. It was the subject of the White Salmon Community Library’s recent Nature Lovers’ Book Group, which meets monthly online.
What would the world be like without insects? We’d lose a third of the global food crop. Most fruits and vegetables would go, and coffee and chocolate would become rare and expensive. We would be left with a boring diet of wind pollinated grains: Corn, wheat, rye, rice plus meat.
Besides food losses, we would lose about half of the 10,000 bird species like swallows and humming-birds that eat insects. The weirdest and most macabre result of a world without insects would be “an array of dead bodies-birds, squirrels, hedgehogs, humans... began to build up across valleys, hills parks ... compounded by a tsunami of feces (especially neonicotinoids) and other poisons, habitat loss, climate change.”
With climate change there is sometimes a catastrophic mismatch in timing between the blooming of the flowers and the emergence of the insects that typically pollinate them. The insects pollinate the plants and aid their reproduction; the plants reward the insects with nectar or pollen.
Over the centuries, the timing of this mutual aide has been coordinated. With global warming, the flowers may come into bloom before the insects have hatched, and have closed up shop before their insect customers/benefactors can arrive.
Have you noticed less bugs on your windshield than a few decades ago? Especially those of us in our “golden years,” may be able to remember when every gas station stop required thorough windshield scrubbing. This is an unscientific but accessible yardstick of insect decline.
The last two chapters offer some ideas about what individuals can do to help pollinators and bugs in general. Planting flowers and decreasing the amount of lawn area in our yards can help. Native plants are best.
The conservation districts in each county offer native plants, shrubs, and trees. The imported plants lavender, anise hyssop, and catmint, (Nepeta x faassenii) are beloved by bees and butterflies and flower all summer. Monarch butterflies need milkweed.
From a bug’s point of view, lawns are bad as deserts. Not using weed killers is helpful, and allowing some other things to grow in our lawns like yarrow, clover and violets change them to beneficial place. Trying other methods beside bug zappers to deter unwanted insects is a great idea. (The zappers kill many bugs besides just mosquitos.) Providing a water source, and a bit of bare ground also help our pollinators. When a number of neighbors make the changes, the effects are multiplied. Recently Monarch butterfly number trended up, and so many people planting milkweed might be one factor that helped.