When I was 5 I was brought to England to meet some members of my family that I had never met. It was late July and like many 5 year olds, I spent the evenings catching lightning bugs and sticking them in a jar with holes in the lid. Since I thought that children in England would like to catch them too, I decided to secretly take a glass of fireflies with me, but inadvertently left them on the plane. So much for my brilliant plan.
The fireflies were made our state insect in 2018 thanks to a letter campaign from primary school students. Fireflies are a type of winged beetle whose larvae feed on slugs, slugs, and worms. Today, fireflies in Indiana and around the world are threatened by a combination of habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and light pollution, all of which affect their ability to see the faint bioluminescent light of potential partners.
Fireflies breed in rotting wood near lakes, ponds, and wetlands. If a bill is passed by Indiana law this year, not only will wetlands lose protection, but fireflies and many other insects will also lose their protection. Habitat loss is a major reason insect populations are falling around the world.
Years ago, an evening drive across the country left a large number of dead insects on the windshield. It no longer happens, a fact that biologists refer to as the “windshield phenomenon”. According to a recent study published in the journal Biological Conservation, 40% of the world’s insect species are in decline, and many could become extinct in the decades to come. Studies around the world confirm this conclusion.
Should we take care of it? Do these “annoying bugs” have any purpose for humans? Consider the following …
Some of the most endangered insects are the pollinators – bees, butterflies, and moths. Eighty percent of all flowering plants are dependent on animals (mostly insects) for pollination. Without pollination there is no seed. Bees pollinate over 80% of the world’s crop species, but are disappearing due to habitat loss and insecticide use.
Another badly affected group of insects are the decomposers, especially beetles. Decomposers release valuable nutrients to the soil for future plant growth. Without the beetles’ work, nutrient cycles would be interrupted and crop productivity would drop dramatically.
Insects are also an essential part of the food chain for mammals, fish and birds. In fact, 96% of all young birds depend on insects. Insects, which seem to be very common today, can quickly disappear if we are not careful, along with many other dependent species.
What can we do?
• Leave some nature areas in agricultural fields.
• Reduce the use of insecticides on lawns and gardens.
• Plant native trees, plants, and flowers.
• Preserve wetlands and other important natural habitats.
• Be informed.
Insects are not as invincible as we once thought.
Sheryl Myers taught biology and environmental sciences for 34 years and worked as a naturalist for area parks. She is the founding director of the Heart of the River Coalition. On Nature is published in the Herald Bulletin on Tuesdays.