Protect the little things

I have a weakness for the little things of this planet, especially insects. In all their variety, ability, and beauty. I especially love spiders. In fact, last Summer my family adopted a gorgeous Catface spider who had spread her web across my son’s window. We caught lunch for her, and no kidding, it was fabulous to watch her zip down from her hidey-hole to wrap up her prey in thick white silk. Her web was thin, nearly invisible, but her wrapping silk was like thin wool. Spiders produce seven types of silk for different jobs. To me, that’s fascinating and miraculous.

My love of insects gives me joy, but it also makes me vulnerable. I guess love always carries the possibility of loss. But people who love critters haven’t had to face the possibility of insects, across the board, being in serious peril before.

Now we do: “The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a ‘catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems…’ More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles.”

Insects are critical to the health of people. They pollinate our food, anchor entire food chains, break down plants and other organic matter, and control pest species that can decimate crops. Insects are such an important part of our planet’s ecosystems that “biologist E.O. Wilson once called [them]: ‘The little things that run the world.’”

Why are insects threatened? There’s multiple factors, including pesticide and herbicide use, habitat loss, intensive agriculture, light pollution (turning insects into easy prey at night), and climate change. Skevington says climate change is “one of the most impactful reason bugs are dying out. He cited recent temperature fluctuations in spring… that some bugs simply can’t endure.

‘Quite often you’ll have really big warm spells so you get a flush of insects coming out, followed by a cold snap,’ he said. Those cold snaps can interrupt a bug’s life cycle and severely impact their populations. Likewise, heat waves effect insect reproduction by severely decreasing male fertility, and the effect can be passed on from one generation to the next!

What can we do to help insects bounce back? A lot! We can stop using chemicals, get rid of the bug zapper (which kills good insects, not mosquitoes), and buy organic food and cotton products if possible (conventional cotton farms use massive amounts of pesticides). In your garden, plant native species and compost them with food scraps (vs. artificial fertilizers). And while out there, think like a bug, and create lovely little homes insects can shelter in, especially over the winter.

We’ll all be better off if insects can thrive again. You don’t have to feed a spider, but you can give one a hidey-hole in your yard!