Why the decline of flying bugs, pollinators is regarding

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Why the decline of flying insects, pollinators is concerning

While we complain about wasps every year, we should really be concerned about the overall decline in flying insects, including pollinators

I got caught doing the beehive dance again.

It happened after a wasp flew into my bike helmet while riding down Sidney’s Lochside Trail last Sunday. At first I hoped it was just a hit and run job, in one slot and out the other, and that I could keep pedaling.

But then I felt the wasp’s little legs move against my scalp as it recovered from the blow. He might have been stunned, but he was still in the fight, Rocky Balbeea forced himself off the canvas, ready to play another round with Apollo Creed. Float like a butterfly, sting like a…

So I did what any sane person would do: threw my bike into the brambles, ripped off my helmet, and started running in tight little circles while banging my head.

Then a young woman turned the corner.

I’m never sure what to do in situations like this, when you’re isolated with a stranger — say, in an elevator — and don’t want to make her uncomfortable.

Should you pretend she’s invisible? make eye contact? Do you smile winningly? No, not the latter. I’m probably past the stage of appearing dangerous, although a solid argument could be made for creepy.

point of contention, in this case. There was no escaping the woman’s first impression, an impression that became as strong as Jimmy Hoffa’s when her path was blocked by a mad man who was frantically dancing and punching himself in the ass.

I could see her fingers reach for her pepper spray, then the mental slap (Irony!) when she realized she’d left it at home.

Fortunately, I was able to regain my senses. “I’m Les Leyne! I’m Les Leyne!” I called after her as she sped away.

Longtime readers may recall that this was not my first such incident. Many years ago I had another helmeted encounter (and a bee slap dance) while riding along the galloping goose to work, although I was actually stung on that occasion.

The sting hurt, but that wasn’t my main concern. When was the last time I was stung, I wondered. What if I was allergic?

What if I went into anaphylactic shock, stumbled into the path of a van and was crushed like a bug (more irony!) and left the world, or at least my insurance agent, to wonder why I would do such a thing? That thought choked me – or was it the anaphylaxis?

Determined to outdo the toxin, I rode furiously into the office I shared with Jody Paterson. “My tongue is swollen and my throat is constricted,” I told her as I stumbled inside. “I’m probably dying.”

“You’re not dying,” she said. “You are thirsty.”

Which brings us to the point of today’s column: the wasps are doing badly this year.

Actually, we say that every August. Wasps are like the snow that never falls on Victoria except for every single winter. They show up like clockwork at the end of summer (or the in-laws) and we groan at how unexpectedly awful they are. (Basically, Wasps are like the Leafs during the playoffs.)

What we don’t fault are other flying, stinging insects, because there aren’t any. This is one of Victoria’s understated selling points: Thanks to the offshore breezes, we don’t have the clouds of mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and blackflies that you find in parts of Canada that God doesn’t love so much.

Except that even that is unsettling. These days there aren’t as many flying insects where you’d expect them to be. When was the last time you had to peek through a really bug-splattered windshield?

The number of flying insects has decreased dramatically in many places. A British researcher described Britain’s two-decade decline as “appalling”.

Scientists catching flying bugs in German nature reserves have seen a 75 percent drop over a quarter century (maybe they shouldn’t have caught them then).

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is excited about the loss of pollinators, saying invasive plants, urban sprawl and overuse of pesticides have conspired against the mason bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, flower beetles and other creatures we watch for rely on as food to grow larger.

Honey producers on Vancouver Island worry about habitat disappearance as communities grow.

So, yes, the wasps are bad this year – but not as bad as the loss of the flying insects, which we don’t see at all.

jknox@timescolonist.com