Sunday, December 27, 2020

Year-end Wrap-up

Year-end Wrap-up

This calendar year has been challenging, to put it politely, for everyone. Many people have lost family members, friends, pets, or multiples of each. Not every tragedy was directly related to the global novel coronavirus pandemic, but everything was complicated by that pall. Businesses failed or took heavy losses. In-person socializing has been nearly non-existent, at least for those who behave in the responsible ways that epidemiologists advise. You have my empathy, and sincere condolences where that applies. What good news is there?

Much of our "bugwatching" was done close to home in 2020, like this angle-winged katydid, Microcentrum sp. in our backyard.

My wife has remained miraculously healthy because her coworkers have been disciplined in their social interactions outside of the workplace. We celebrated another friend’s victory over COVID-19 after she had been on a ventilator. In record time she was out birding again, between physical therapy appointments and at-home exercise regimens.

We managed to get outdoors, though not as frequently as we had hoped. Colorado has a new state park, Fisher's Peak State Park! We got to make one last invertebrate survey there before it opened. We also participated in a responsibly executed, socially-distanced bioblitz in one of the local open spaces not open to the public. We were even finally able to blacklight at Jimmy Camp Creek Park without rain.

A nice mydas fly, Neomydas sp., from the bioblitz at Jimmy Camp Creek Park, Colorado Springs, Colorado, July 18, 2020.

Our one long-distance trip was to visit my wife’s parents in northeast Kansas in mid-summer. We found lots of insects and birds at various points along the Missouri River. Missouri in particular has many parks and conservation areas to explore.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly, Progomphus obscurus, in downtown Leavenworth, Kansas, July 25, 2020.

Now for a truly joyous announcement: The major reason this blog has been dormant is not one but two book contracts I needed to fulfill. Both manuscripts are now completed, but I am at liberty to speak only of Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect, published by Princeton University Press. It is available for pre-order in the U.S. and Canada only (see link in sidebar), and will be widely available in late February. The book currently has no publisher abroad, so if you are a “foreign” publisher, or can suggest one, please let me know.

I encourage readers to please order and purchase my books through their local, independent bookseller if at all possible. Thank you. The other book will likely come out next fall, but naturally I will post updates here as I am permitted to by the publishing house. Meanwhile, I have at least two other ideas in mind that I need to peddle to prospective buyers.

Steel Blue Cricket Killer wasp, Chlorion aerarium, from Leavenworth, Kansas, July 21, 2020.

In other news, with my major online client in limbo, I will need to seek new revenue streams in 2021. Please feel free to refer any potential contractors to me. All my speaking engagements for 2020 were cancelled for obvious reasons, and I do not see anything changing for in-person events until at least 2022.

Western Green Hairstreak, Callophrys affinis, from what is now Fisher's Peak State Park, Colorado, June 28, 2020.

Thank you for your patience while this blog was in diapause. Because of the wasp book, you will likely see numerous future posts about Hymenoptera, or perhaps an entire new website devoted just to the book. We shall see. I also want to add a new tab to this website, featuring links to where you can find more of my writing online.

Remember that your own personal setbacks and successes are not trivial. You deserve empathy for your grief, and congratulations for your achievements. Surround yourself with people who understand that. Please continue to persevere, practice self-care, and help others when you are able.

Red-shanked Grasshopper, Xanthippus corallipes, ready to jump into 2021 (from Colorado Springs, Colorado, on May 30, 2020).

Thursday, July 9, 2020


Having just completed one book manuscript, with another one due at the end of this year, I don’t have time for the angst and depression that grips me currently. The global pandemic has impacted all of us in a myriad of ways, only to be compounded by personal challenges that each of us face. What does this have to do with entomology? Nothing. Everything.

Yeah, I'm in there somewhere....

While I am not cavalier in my approach to covid-19, the virus has not, by itself, caused me panic nor worry. It is not the reason I stay indoors. More on that later. I am in a very privileged place compared to many people and can weather at least a degree of economic upheaval. I am relatively healthy physically, though that does not necessarily mean I would have a mild case if I contracted the virus. Many patients that “recover” still have chronic, debilitating illnesses that may last the rest of their lives. The press has not emphasized this.

What is most stressful is the selfish reaction of so many to a catastrophe that impacts everyone regardless of race, sex, economic status, religion, or politics. The best analogy I can make for my own experience is the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I feel like I walk today among pod people who have no understanding of science, no empathy for anyone else, and who devote all their energy to shaming those who do possess those qualities. I have decreasing patience daily.

Also in the current social pot is simmering racism, and the complementary intolerance of that continued bigotry. The cauldron reached the boiling point in May with the murder of George Floyd by police officers. Much like our collective reactions to coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter protests have revealed a schizophrenic socio-political divide where monuments to confederate figures are held more sacred than the lives of contemporary humans suffering from systemic, institutionalized oppression, if not outright violence.

Let me make this clear, at the least: white privilege deserves to be challenged, to be eroded, to be leveled. As events unfold, I ask myself consistently whether this is a sacrifice I am willing to make. So far, the answer has been an unequivocal “yes.” I can live without the statues, even if they are works of art. I would rather have a celebration of indigenous peoples than recognize Columbus Day. I love football, but the Redskins must change their name. I am willing to be educated about the racist flaws of all historical “heroes.”

Until last month, I would make a daily walk through my neighborhood. Some days I would go to the top of the hill, a vast former landfill that had metamorphosed into a degraded semblance of shortgrass prairie, and look for insects, birds, and other wildlife. I lost the fight to preserve it, and now bulldozers have rendered it a denuded plot for a housing development. I have not been on a walk since I first encountered the machines. It is too painful.

I am left without a refuge now, and given that my spouse can no longer carpool to work, I also have no way to escape to another nature spot. Even if I did, I would encounter far more people than I did up the hill. It matters less and less to me as I feel resigned to the continued burning of the world. I just don’t want to watch it any more. My daily walk is now limited to getting the mail.

Were it not for my wife, and my current obligations to publishers, I’m not sure I’d be making the feeble efforts at survival and routine that I somehow manage. My short-term memory is fading, to the point that today I could not recall, in the space of even twenty seconds, whether I had taken my allergy medication. Why can’t that phenomenon apply to memories and situations I want to forget? Why must any of us be tortured that way?

Friends recommend taking a break from social media as one way to limit negative input, but then you also limit positive stimuli. Ignoring reality is not a healthy way to navigate your life, either, but the human race in general has never been even adequate at coping skills. My message to myself is to accept that you are going to have slumps in productivity, fall into bad habits, and otherwise be a wreck periodically. It won’t last forever.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Case of Predator Mimicry in the Bee Fly Genus Epacmus? (Diptera: Bombyliidae)

In the course of photographing insects in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, at a nearby vacant expanse of prairie, soon to be a new housing development, I stumbled upon something interesting. Not until I got home and reviewed my images did I recognize something startling on an otherwise ordinary little bee fly in the genus Epacmus (assuming my identification is correct). Whether this has been documented before I do not know, but the phenomenon is well known in other insects.

Epacmus sp. bee fly. Nothing to see here....yet

Predator mimicry, or elusive mimicry, or aggressive mimicry, is when a prey species mimics one of its predators. This is probably a more widespread strategy than we currently recognize because we are not at the same scale as the predator and prey, and cannot easily interpret what constitutes such mimicry. We do not even enjoy the same perspective, so rarely experience the full effect.

It was not formally recognized, or at least not published, until 2006, that metalmark moths in the genus Brenthia have underside wing patterns that greatly resemble the face and legs of an oncoming jumping spider. They eye arrangement, chelicerae (jaws), and front two pairs of legs are all illustrated on the wings of the moth, when properly displayed by the insect. The moth would make an easy meal for the spider, but not if it presents the illusion that it is a spider. Evolutionary genius.

Spider mimicry is also exploited by other insects, including some fruit flies (family Tephritidae) and planthoppers (Fulguroidea). The bold patterns on the wings of some fruit flies greatly resemble the leg posture of some spiders. Some of the flies enhance the graphic imagery by moving their wings deliberately in a manner utterly convincing of a spider’s movements.

Whoah! Spider eyes and "mustache"

This brings me to the little bee fly I noticed on flowers in that prairie habitat. Viewed from above, Epacmus is an attractive, tapered, fuzzy insect about 7-10 millimeters in length, with delicate wings and something of a smiley-face pattern where the abdomen meets the thorax. Cute. Look at one directly from behind and you get an entirely different picture. Suddenly, you see the big black eyes of a jumping spider. Four black, polished, hemispherical bumps on the rear of the thorax are a perfect match for the eyes of a small salticid (jumping spider). This is reminiscent of raised features on the thorax of the Brazilian fruit fly Ceratitis alba (See Hill, David E., et al. 2019).

Habronattus sp. jumping spider stalking a Andrena sp. mining bee

Ok, so how often might the fly encounter a jumping spider? More frequently than you might imagine, even on flowers. Another photo I took of a mining bee revealed a jumping spider right on her tail. I hadn’t noticed the spider until I looked at the image later, at home. Habronattus jumping spiders are abundant in this prairie habitat, and hunt exactly where you expect to see bee flies: on the ground, vegetation close to the ground, and on flowers. The spiders are small and cryptic, easily overlooked.

Male Epacmus bee fly

What else are we missing in our observations of insects and their spider predators? Keep observing and you, too, may make a startling addition to our collective scientific knowledge.

Note: At least one world authority on bee flies (Bombyliidae) asserts that Epacmus may not be a valid genus, but a subset of the genus Aphoebantus instead.

Female Epacmus bee fly

Sources:Rota, Jadranka, and David L. Wagner. 2006. “Predator Mimicry: Metalmark Moths Mimic Their Jumping Spider Predators,” PlosOne.
Mather, Monica H. and Bernard D. Roitberg. 1987. “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing: Tephritid Flies Mimic Spider Predators,” Science 236: 308-310.
Hill, David E., A.P.C. Abhijith, and Joao P. Burini. 2019. “Do jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae) draw their own portraits?,”Peckhamia 179.1
Melander, Axel Leonard. 1950. “Aphoebantus and its Relatives Epacmus and Eucessia,” Annals Ent. Soc. Amer. 43(1): 1-45.
Hull, Frank M. 1973. Bee Flies of the World. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. 687 pp.
Cole, Frank R. 1969. The Flies of Western North America. Berkeley: University of California Press. 693 pp.

Spider or fly?

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Problem With "Murder"....Anything

It is a source of personal frustration that this blog must constantly address sensationalized mainstream press accounts of various insects and arachnids billed as the next great menace. That is putting things politely, actually. Humans excel at one terrible thing: creating enemies where none exist, or none would exist, were it not for people themselves.

Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia
© Allan Smith-Pardo, USDA APHIS PPQ

It is also deeply troubling that a story about “murder hornets” is achieving more prominence than a story about the murder of a black male by a Caucasian father and son. Both hornets, and people of various demographics, are victims of unrelenting violence that they do not deserve. This is not a political issue; it is a humanity issue of staggering proportions and devastating consequences.

The fact that I can speak more intelligently about social wasps than people of color is disgraceful. I have a better education in entomology than in human cultural and ethnic diversity. Where did I fail? How did I allow myself to become an unwitting accomplice to institutionalized racism? How can I continue to advocate for “bugs” while my fellow human beings are fearing for their lives?

I know where to get factual information about insects. It comes from scholars I trust, from scientific literature that is thankfully now more accessible to the public than ever (are you reading this, journalists?), and from my own educational experiences, in class and in the field. I make an effort to learn, to understand, to act in accordance with what I know to be true. Science is by no means static; it also adapts to new discoveries. That is how we are going to get treatments and, hopefully, a vaccine for COVID-19.

The Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is a large social wasp native to Asia, but adaptable to similar climates elsewhere if given the chance. That is what happened in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, when a nest was discovered and destroyed in September of 2019. A single deceased specimen was found in Blaine, Washington, USA, near the Canadian border, in December, 2019. Genetic analysis showed it was from a different origin than the colony from Nanaimo. End of story, to date.

Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia
© Washington State Department of Agriculture

Yes, Asian Giant Hornets can decimate hives of honey bees to procure food for their larvae in the form of bee larvae and pupae. The adult wasps will also eat honey to fuel their flight muscles. The marauding wasps can be kept from entering hives with the installation of queen excluder devices.

The root of the hornet problem, and indeed all invasive species issues lies with human enterprise, but that is not sexy enough for media corporations competing for clicks and re-tweets. Responsible journalism would highlight lax inspections of shipping containers at international ports. Honest and brave writers would dare to suggest that our global economy threatens to undermine some industries (apiculture in this case) and destroy native ecosystems through accidental and intentional importation of exotic species.

Likewise, our problems with race relations and other social and economic conditions exist in places we don’t want to look: inside our white privileged selves, our monochromatic neighborhoods, our segregated private schools….We must come to terms with that for the collective peace and advancement of our society.

Hornets are armed with heavy-duty jaws and, if female, a sting. They operate on instincts that, while surprisingly plastic, can be brutal in their execution. Human beings can be armed with any number of worse weapons, some capable of annihilating entire cities and more, but graced with minds that can overcome instinct. We can adapt much more easily than insects, or any other animal species, to crises and challenges simply by changing our minds.

We must admit to, and own, our biases, faults, mistaken notions in the face of facts, and work to change them. That is the only honorable and just course for our lives, alone and together. Seize the opportunity to reject conspiracy, irresponsibility, and lack of empathy. Be a hornet of a different stripe, a warrior of compassion.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

What the Insects Have Taught Me

A scientific education teaches you not to be anthropomorphic: Do not assign human emotions and sentiments and purposefulness to non-human animals. Be dispassionate in your observations, take phenomena at face value. This is a tactic for eliminating bias, and is useful in proper documentation, but it can rob you of a more fulfilling experience of the natural world. Thankfully, there is room for both a distant and intimate approach, perhaps no better exemplified than by the work of The Bug Chicks. I can certainly appreciate the lessons the world of insects, spiders, and other arthropods have already taught me.

A female dance fly, Rhamphomyia longicauda, from Wisconsin

Beauty has infinite definitions. An organism that is “ugly” to one person is a magnificent example of adaptation to another human. Whether you believe in evolution or creationism, you should have reverence and respect for all of nature. Sure, there are animals I do not particularly like, but I recognize the importance of their roles. Most of my biases have been created by the media anyway, which is not the animal’s fault.

A female Eastern Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus, guarding her eggs in Kansas

Indeed, diversity is the very essence of life, the soul of the planet. It is the very foundation of ecosystems and biospheres. If you begin to undermine that, believe that our species can successfully “manage” nature without all the requisite parts, then you are on a slippery slope guaranteed to end in cataclysmic tragedy at some tipping point you did not see coming.

We are more rigid in our human ideologies than invertebrates are inflexible in their instincts.

Metamorphosis can be a metaphor, but a lot can go wrong. It can take longer than expected. It may require a period of diapause, emphasis on “pause.” Our personal evolution comes only through learning, expansion of our comfort zones, shedding of destructive habits, agreeing to the assumption of risk, and recognizing our personal responsibilities. Unlike insects, which undergo a segregated set of life stages, we frequently revert to old behaviors that we should have outgrown, or we fail to advance at all. We have to forgive ourselves, and each other, in those events. There is no arrival, no final destination that defines individual human success.

A tattered male Four-spotted Skimmer, Libellula quadrimaculata, in Wisconsin

Handicaps are not the same as limitations. A grasshopper’s missing leg barely slows it down. Tattered wings do not ground a butterfly. Resilience, persistence, and an indefatigable relentlessness is the character of most insects. We can learn a great deal from such examples, use them as inspiration for our own recovery from physical or emotional trauma.

Perhaps the most revealing and disappointing conclusion I have reached is this: We are more rigid in our human ideologies than invertebrates are inflexible in their instincts. There is no such thing as a dumb insect. Their ability to solve novel problems and bend their innate programming never ceases to amaze me. They make up for any perceived intellectual deficits through sharper use of their senses and reflexes. Meanwhile, we cling to outdated, self-limiting, negative, hateful, and oppressive social constructs that prevent positive growth in our societies and civilizations. In many ways, we are more “primitive” than those animals without backbones.

The small can triumph over the bully.

We have only to change our minds to accommodate challenges and overcome obstacles. Other animals cannot adapt as quickly because they are designed for specific niches and habitats, confined to certain foods, and/or otherwise limited by their physical bodies. Yes, evolution happens, but at a slower rate than our brains (should) work. This is why protecting biodiversity is so critical. Rapid change is something Homo sapiens can adapt to, but not every other species.

Deer fly, Chrysops sp. biting me in Wisconsin

We are exceptional at creating non-existent enemies we call “pests.” With the possible exception of lice and bed bugs, there is no such thing as a pest. It is a term we assign to any other species we perceive as a competitor for “our” resources. We must start recognizing resources as entities that are shared with other species, and alter our approach to their extraction, growth, use, and/or disposal. Nature always pairs scale with complexity. Vast habitats are complex. Monocultural agriculture is not. Tree farms are not the same as forests.

The most heartening lesson insects can teach us is that the small can triumph over the bully. You need only look at all of our failed efforts to eradicate mosquitoes, locusts, and other insects for inspiration in your own fight for justice, equality, and human rights. Our so-called minority populations, the underprivileged, the underserved, underemployed, and undervalued sectors of humanity will get their due. The sooner that happens, the better for all of us. The economy is just another ecosystem, built on diversity, that functions only when currency flows like energy to all its living parts.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Coronavirus, Entomology, and This Blog

May this latest post find you healthy, still sane, and abiding by the directives of your local, state, provincial, and national governments and health care professionals (not necessarily in that order). We are collectively stressed more than usual, and for some of you, normal stress was already almost intolerable. We were eager to greet spring by rushing outdoors, and are now told we should stay inside as much as possible. The coronavirus (covid-19, SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has impacted everyone, including entomologists, and sponsors of this blog. Never fear, we will persevere, and recover.

Ouch! Another reason to stay indoors!

The closure of all non-essential businesses and agency offices has had a profound impact on the field of entomology. Notably, nearly every university and museum entomology department is unoccupied or nearly so. There is little or no maintenance of our valuable insect and arachnid collections. Agricultural offices, pest control operators, and related agencies and enterprises are operating with skeleton crews, if not closed indefinitely. Little, if any, field work is being done. The advancement of our scientific knowledge in these disciplines is at a standstill, or proceeding at a snail’s pace compared to normal standards.

One of the more troubling scenarios is whether medical entomology will be a casualty, if only by attrition, or by the recruitment of medical entomologists into the current epidemiological crisis response. Already I am seeing posts on social media of ticks and mosquitoes that citizens are encountering as they go outside for exercise and fresh air. Should the bite of a fly or tick result in illness, who is going to treat those victims? Will those people be seen at all, and if so, how, in the interest of complying with social distancing, and the increasing pressure to devote all hospital and medical facilities to containing and treating covid-19 cases? If any of my readers know the answers, and I am all ears.

Meanwhile, many small businesses are suffering incalculable economic damage that will only get worse the longer we fail to comply with proven methods of “flattening the curve” of virus cases. We all personally know employees and proprietors who are facing agonizing layoffs, or the prospects of having to make those tough decisions. This includes the two major sponsors of this blog.

I made the decision earlier in the year to suspend payment for advertising here, from Tender Corporation (After Bite®), and BioQuip Products and BioQuip Bugs (see right sidebar for links). It had nothing to do with the impending pandemic at the time. I am in a fortunately solvent financial situation for the time being, and I also knew I would be posting here more infrequently. It is not fair to demand revenue for a product or service that is decreasing in frequency (but, hopefully, not quality).

Please consider purchasing goods from my sponsors if possible. Tender Corporation manufactures all manner of outdoor medical products that remain useful even during the pandemic, when we may be confined to our own property, but still confronted by biting insects and arachnids. BioQuip is the premiere outlet for high quality entomology equipment, from nets to pinning supplies, plus products related to botany and other scientific disciplines. They provide merchandise for every level, from hobbyist to professional. They offer one of the most complete listings of books and educational materials found anywhere. Can’t go collecting because you are restricted to your home? No problem. BioQuip Bugs sells many specimens from all over the globe, responsibly sourced.

Besides browsing the blog, including the clickable tabs at the top of the page about how to build an insect collection and how to take amazing images of insects with your phone, there are other ways to further your interest in entomology. Investigate online classes. Join social media groups centered around an interest in insects or arachnids. Look in on iNaturalist, Project Noah, and Bugguide. Go on an indoor bug hunt. Make drawings, paintings, or sculptures of your favorite insect. Read books and articles about bugs. Watch documentaries about insects, like Microcosmos. There are endless possibilities in the digital age, which may be the saving grace of the timing of this unfortunate and mournful epidemic. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane, and know that you have my empathy and appreciation.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Pesticide Preemption: Another Tool for Industry to Protect Itself

Fortunately, entomology and politics don’t collide often, but when they do it is my duty to inform my followers of the potential impacts. While attending the Landscaping With Colorado Native Plants Conference in Denver last Saturday, I learned of something that sounded vaguely familiar, but never knew the name for it. It is called preemptive legislation, and it is a political tactic designed to thwart everything from local bans on plastic bags to, it turns out, local regulation of pesticide applications. It is likely that this will be coming to your state, too, if it is not already enacted. This is, in my opinion, part of a larger agenda.

© USDA Forest Service Region 8,

A little background is in order. The licensing and labeling of pesticides in use in the U.S.A. is the domain of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as prescribed by the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) passed in 1910. In 1972, Congress turned it into a full-blown regulatory statute, while leaving at least some enforcement powers at the state level. Enter Wisconsin Public Intervenor, et al. v. Mortier, et al. in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1991. Mortier had applied to their local municipality for permission to spray on private land. Permission was denied, the court case ensued, and judgment concluded that FIFRA does not expressly prohibit local government from instituting its own, complementary regulatory policy concerning pesticide use.

Since that decision, most states have elected to enact preemptive legislation to deny local jurisdictions the ability to draw up their own policies. Right now, forty-four (44) states have such rules, including my current state of residence, Colorado. Not surprisingly, the National Pest Management Association, and other industry organizations, are just fine with this. One of our state senators is looking to change that.

What is wrong with states having sole discretionary authority in pesticide choices and applications? Perhaps nothing, but increasing concerns over environmental toxins, and frustrations over lack of local control in general, are driving a movement to repeal or at least amend such powers of state authority. The public is finding agricultural and landscaping practices to be contributing to perceived declines in pollinator diversity and abundance, and compromising biodiversity in general.

© Eugene E. Nelson,

Oddly, scientific skepticism and believers in science arrive at roughly the same conclusion on this issue: we no longer have trust in the idea that chemicals, or any product or service, are the sole avenues for solving every problem we create. Chemical applications are easy, no question, and this goes for fertilizers, too. These “cosmetic applications” are necessary to sustain lawns, and exotic trees, shrubs, and flowers that do not naturally occur in every climate, nor prosper in every kind of soil. Here in the arid west, they also require too much water.

Beyond the inertia of industries that are thriving under the status quo of their methodology, reaping profits all along the way, there are property values and liability to consider, at least in cities and suburbs. Shifting to new standards of appropriate “wildness,” with at least a minimum threshold for native plants in landscaping and a reduced lawnscape, will be challenging. Our assessment of acceptable risk will have to change in accordance with our desire to relieve pressure on native ecosystems from inappropriate developments.

© Eugene E. Nelson,

Right now, Colorado Springs is in the process of soliciting public input to revise its chapter seven codes, which means updating its zoning ordinances. This includes landscaping standards. I would strongly advise participating in any similar engagement opportunity in your own municipality, as this is where you can make the strongest impact rather than reacting to individual developments as they present themselves. In another week the urban forestry plan will be unveiled at yet another public meeting, and inviting comment from attendees. It helps that I am in the loop a bit, to learn of these events and initiatives. Honestly, I am not certain how I got so fortunate, though I habitually put my e-mail address on anything related to local government.

You most certainly bring a unique perspective to your HOA, city, township, county, or other governing body. Raise your voice. Pester the nursery to start stocking native plants. Be an example to your neighbors. Conservation quite literally begins at home.

Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute.
National Pest Management Association
Centner, T.J. & Heric, D.C. 2019 "Anti-community state pesticide preemption laws prevent local governments from protecting people from harm," International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 1-9. doi: 10.1080/14735903.2019.1568814

Friday, February 7, 2020

Avoiding Despair in the Age of the “Insect Apocalypse”

My social media feed (well, Facebook is admittedly the only one I devote any time to) is full of dire warnings of disappearing bees, fireflies blinking to extinction, and how light pollution and pesticides are dooming everything, and all manner of other negativity. The most empathetic of humans are the ones most devastated by this media bias, and if there is one thing we cannot afford it is the extinction of hope. Here are some things to consider.

Fiery Skipper on mint in a Kansas garden

1. Do not underestimate the ability of natural systems to rebound from even catastrophic events. Nothing is permanent, our present civilization likely included, but as long as there are reservoirs of habitat, recolonization of even the most compromised of locations is possible, provided the refuges are of good size themselves, and reasonably close in proximity to the damaged areas.

This same principle of recovery exists at every level in nature. I like to remind homeowners and gardeners that trees can survive nearly complete defoliation by insects in a given year, provided the plant is healthy in most other respects. Native plants tend to be vastly better at taking a licking and bouncing back than some exotic cultivar.

2. Assert your rights. You have a right to a planet with its full complement of species. Claiming you speak for other species, or suggesting rights of nature, or espousing the need to preserve nature for future generations, are all weak arguments. You are not Dr. Doolittle, and other species don’t care whether we appreciate them or not. Rights of nature is a noble goal, but is a rarely successful strategy, and only when it is initiated and driven by indigenous peoples. Arguing for conservation and preservation for future generations is a loving sentiment, but it undermines the urgency of action we must have. It also ignores the work of previous generations. Things could already be worse were it not for the likes of John Muir, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Theodore Roosevelt….

It is much more difficult to argue against the idea that other human beings have a right to bird, fish, hunt, and otherwise recreate in a manner that stems from an appreciation of, if not reverence for, wildlife. Use that to your advantage when making your case at the next public hearing, or HOA meeting.

3. Don’t play favorites. We do not get to choose which species to share our property with. Milkweed beetles, bugs, aphids, and moth caterpillars have as much of a right to “your” milkweed plants as Monarch butterflies do. Indeed, you are doing something wrong if your insect diversity is low. Revel in the variety of species. Study them. Share what you learn with others.

4. Lead by example. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. Turn your lawn into a meadow or prairie, or at least let the clover, dandelions, and plantain grow. Practice “weed tolerance” for all but the state-listed noxious species. Install “bee condos” as supplemental housing for native, solitary bees and wasps. Leave a heaping brush pile as cover for birds and small mammals. Let things be a little messy. Tell the neighbors you are not a lazy homeowner, but that you are promoting biodiversity. Offer to explain what that means and why you derive joy from it.

Write that letter to the editor. Participate in a public process to draft new codes for property owners (residential, commercial, government) that reflect a commitment to enhance or restore native plant communities and their attendant animal residents. Initiate the process if necessary, through petitioning or pestering your government representatives at whatever level is appropriate.

5. Forge new alliances. Join astronomers in promoting dark sky initiatives to reduce the impact of light pollution on nocturnal animal species. Seek out Native American groups to begin rights of nature campaigns, or address other common environmental issues. Use your white privilege not to lead people of color, but to empower them to take leadership roles for themselves. Heck, start by recognizing you have white privilege and accepting that it may be necessary to solve environmental racism first, before going on to the next issue.

6. Remember the “history” part of “natural history.” Remind yourself and others that we need to pay the same respect to our natural heritage that we pay to our human history. We have “living history” at parks and monuments, yet we do not have a mandate to preserve a historical spectrum of ecosystems within local, state, provincial, regional, and national parks. Why not? Let us relax our notion of “wilderness” to extend beyond roadless areas to urban parks, restored brownfields, manmade wetlands, and other non-traditional definitions. Somewhere between bringing back mastodons and declaring a parking lot an ecosystem, there is room for an expanded definition of wilderness.

No one is going to do all of the above, let alone very well. Pick a place to start. Forgive yourself the failures, most of which will only be what you personally perceive as failures. Add to this list in your comments. Share your own experiences and hopes and how you plan to achieve them. Respond to every demoralizing story with the determination of a rose bush under an aphid attack.

Firefly, Pyractomena sp., Wisconsin

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bug Eric 2020 Outlook

This blog has slowed down considerably as I turn my attention to Sense of Misplaced blog to address larger social, environmental, and justice issues. However, I am still actively engaging in entomology activities. That will be more evident this calendar year.

Black Swallowtail butterfly from the 2019 City Nature Challenge in Colorado Springs
Speaking Engagements

I may be coming to a location near you this spring, summer, or fall. I have been invited to give a keynote address for The Biggest Week in American Birding the evening of Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center in Oregon, Ohio (near Toledo), courtesy of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. The topic will be “Birding and Bugwatching in the Age of Animal Decline.”

I will be participating in a panel discussion on the “insect apocalypse” at the North American Prairie Conference in Des Moines, Iowa the evening of Monday, July 20, 2020. More details will be forthcoming.

Last but not least, I will be a keynote speaker for the autumn Roan Mountain Naturalists’ Rally at Roan Mountain State Park, Tennessee, the evening of Saturday, September 12, 2020. I will also be leading a field trip in the park that afternoon before the presentation.

Colorado Springs Bioblitz Events

Colorado Springs will be participating in the City Nature Challenge for the second consecutive year, April 24-27, recording image and/or audio observations in iNaturalist. April 28-May 3, experts will be identifying the images and recordings submitted.

This summer the City of Colorado Springs has seen fit to schedule two more bioblitzes. The first is a public event at Stratton Open Space, June 19-22. Many organizations will have informational tables at the “base camp,” and science teams ranging from entomology to mycology to botany will be on hand recording observations that will be entered into iNaturalist.

The second bioblitz will be for science teams only, at Jimmy Camp Creek Park, July 18-19.

Book Projects

The most exciting news is that I am now under contract to complete two books this year, for publishers who must remain anonymous and on subjects that I cannot reveal. Watch this space for updates as I am permitted to share them.

New Blog Feature

Soon I will be adding another tab at the top of this blog’s home page that will link to more of my insect-related writings online. Please comment if you find any of the links anywhere on my blog are broken. I continue to moderate comments on my posts at least once per week.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement. Have a great 2020 and make sure you get outdoors as often as you can.