What a marvellous example of God’s creative imagination is the Monarch butterfly! So beautiful with its brilliant design of orange and black and white, it fills us with awe for its Creator. Only one of so many species in the insect world, the Monarch is an iconic representative of both the immense strength and at the same time the terrible frailty of all of our planet’s ecosystems. The Monarch can fly between northern Ontario and Mexico and yet has wings so delicate that the slightest brush against them renders it helpless. It can pollinate many different plants, but since its larva relies on a single plant (native milkweed) to survive, it lives on a knife edge.
The same is true for all our insects. There has recently been a big reduction in the numbers of insects AND of insect species. Many of us can remember that until the last few years we had to scrub our car windshields free of insects as we drove along. Not so anymore. What does that tell us? Fewer bugs are a good thing, you say. However, there are many more beneficial species than harmful ones, and our lives would be much less pleasant without them. Among the many roles the play:
- Pollinating crops and other plants
- Providing food for birds, fish, amphibians and mammals (bats, bears)
- Keeping harmful insects in check (dragonflies eat mosquito larvae, ladybugs eat aphids)
- Decomposing dead matter and maintaining soil fertility (sow bugs, dung beetles, termites, carpenter ants)
- Aid in making medicines and pharmaceuticals
- Producing silk, textiles, honey, etc.
The insect benefits to people can be easily remembered as the “5Ps”: 1) Pollinators, 2) Prey, 3) Physical decomposers; they 4) help Progress in science and technology; and they 5) provide Pleasure.
What can we do to maintain our insect populations?
- Get to know them. Study an insect guide. Sit by a stream and watch water beetles. Learn about beekeeping.
- Avoid using pesticides.
- Plant a variety of native shrubs and perennials so that there are blossoms all season.
- Leave your garden messy in the spring until the temperatures are consistently above 10oC. Many beneficial insects overwinter in leaf litter. Leave hollow stalks as bee hotels through the winter.
- Leave stumps, logs, old trees and dead leaves alone as they are home to many insects.
- Leave a little patch of bare soil for ground nesting bees. Mark it so that you and your pets do not disturb them!
- Convert lawns into diverse natural habitats.
- Grow native plants.
- Provide a shallow dish of fresh water for butterflies.
- Change our agriculture to provide food and habitat for animals and insects.
- Eliminate the huge swathes of monoculture crops that are deserts to migrating insects, birds and animals.
- Give conservation organizations your support and/or volunteer time.
5 ways you can protect insects if you live in a city:
The insect effect:
Insect conservation protects biodiversity: