Thursday, December 21, 2017

Insects in the News

One of my unfortunate duties as a blogger of truth and science, here and at Sense of Misplaced, is that I must occasionally dispense bad news. There are plenty of awful stories these days, but bear with me and I'll conclude with something uplifting.

The insect story getting the most press right now, by far, is the "Insect Armageddon" opinion piece in the New York Times, and the follow-up article about the German citizen scientists who made the observations. It appears that there has been a precipitous decline in insect abundance in many parts of Europe, up to 75% over the last twenty-five years. Should the numbers hold up to repetition, this is indeed alarming, if not catastrophic. Insects are the foundation of all major biological processes. You can do the math, use your imagination, and draw the obvious conclusions.

There are plenty of places to point blame for the demise of insect populations, and wildlife declines in general, but accusations and rhetoric are not likely to reverse the course of events. We have to act personally, and locally, to go about changing things for the positive. That means resisting the urge to grab the over-the-counter insecticides, planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers in our urban and suburban landscapes, growing our own vegetables without using chemical treatments, putting up "bee condos" for solitary bees....There is no end to what we can do, and it does make a difference. You are setting an example, for one thing.

jAmerican Burying Beetle, ©

Meanwhile, our very own government agencies are against us here in the U.S. Make no mistake about it, the current edition of the federal administration is out to ruin public lands in many ways. I already wrote about U.S. Fish & Wildlife granting permission for the construction of a strip mall known as "Coral Reef Commons" on globally endangered pine rockland habitat near Miami, Florida. The President's directive to shrink Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is further proof of the overriding policy to open public lands to private interests, namely those in the natural resource extraction industries.

It is also quite probable that a lawsuit filed by The Independent Petroleum Association of America, American Stewards of Liberty, and Osage Producers Association will result in the de-listing of the endangered American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americanus. This is in spite of the fact that there is grave concern as to whether the species is truly "recovered." It is found only in a handful of isolated locations whereas its historical range was over most of the eastern U.S. It also remains largely a mystery as to why it disappeared in the first place. Until a better understanding is reached, any action toward removing the species from the endangered list is premature at best, and irresponsible at the least. God forbid any creature, Native American population, or other sacred entity stand in the way of short-term profits for greedy corporations.

Oh, well, two can play the lawsuit game, and recently the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas filed suit against the federal government to block construction of the border wall, which would cut right through that private preserve. Take that! I have visited this area and can attest to the rich diversity of all organisms there, thanks to the caretakers who are so devoted to it. Many, if not most, United States records for mostly Mexican butterfly species are recorded from the National Butterfly Center. It is on every naturalist's bucket list of places to visit. A wall cannot be erected there, or through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge....

Bee-mimicking clearwing moth, Heterosphecia tawonoides, © Marta Skowron Volponi

Ok, I promised some good news, and here it is. It was recently revealed that a spectacular species of clearwing moth was rediscovered after a gap of 130 years in the scientific record. Known previously from only a single specimen housed in a museum in Vienna, Austria, Heterosphecia tawonoides was observed in the Taman Nagara rainforest of Malaysia. It just goes to show how little we know about a planet we are hell bent on destroying in the name of "progress."

Resolve for the new year to get involved, get outdoors, document, record, and report what you find. You never know where your personal discoveries will lead; or whether you are the only thing standing between a lone population of some creature and its potential extirpation. I'm facing that right now myself, but more on that later.


  1. Thanks for the great article.

    In the list of things we can do, we can add supporting organic agriculture by supporting organic farmers and farming practices.

    Buy organic.

    Even if one can't afford to purchase all of one's produce and prepared foods as organic, commit to converting a percentage of what you buy to organic. And thank stores for carrying organic products.

    There are a multitude of environmental impacts to ag. chemicals, learning them and teaching others is so important. There's a lot of universities and institutes (Rodale, Land Institute) researching and teaching about sustainable agricultural practices. I can't help but think that chemical-free agriculture should become the norm for all the right and necessary reasons.


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