It’s In Your Nature: Our allies
Humans are blessed with wonderful brains (most use them wisely) and because of that we have been able to develop drought or insect resistant plants and/or new varieties that have shorter growing seasons, etc. Genetically, we’ve improved our efficiency in growing food and feeding a growing population. Of course, not all our developments have helped our earth either.
We still, with all our abilities and intelligence, must rely on our nature partners to ensure that pollination occurs. This pollination process is usually accomplished by honeybees, mason bees, bumble bees, and even carpenter bees. Bee pollinators are essential for about 70% of the food we eat. Toss in the bee’s other products and we really know their value.
Most of the flowers that beautify our patio pots or flower beds are pollinated by bees, hummingbirds, or nocturnal insects such as moths. However, as noted in one of my summer columns last year, bees are in a delicate situation regarding human interferences. We don’t want to disrupt that.
The pollinators may be the first organisms we think of as our allies. But let’s not forget the others. Ladybird beetles (lady bugs), some native to North America and some introduced, have voracious appetites. They help control aphid infestations.
Both the adults and their larva feast on these pests. There are more than 450 species of lady bird beetles in North America. If the beetles can’t find enough aphids, they then eat scale insects or insect eggs. Overuse/misuse of pesticides/herbicides can reduce the beetle’s and bee’s populations. They need to be considered when we use pest controls
Other key allies are the bat species. They serve as the night shift team to do their best at eating flying insects. However, and this is quite saddening, our local bat population has been decimated by white-nose syndrome. Our cave hibernating bats like little brown bats, Indiana bats, and tricolored bats are aroused during their hibernation because this fungus irritates their facial and wing tissue. They only have a little stored fat to make it through the winter. Awakened from their slumber because of the irritation, they’ll use up the fat reserves and head out of their caves to die in the cold.
White-nose syndrome has now spread to about half of our country and more than 95% of the cave hibernators are gone. To make matters worse, they only have one young each year and “building back” their population will be painfully slow. It is possible some bat species may become extinct. How often in the past 10 years have you seen bats at dusk? I know in my lifetime the populations will not have recovered, even if they can overcome white-nose syndrome.
We do have the “day shift” insect eaters to help. Flycatchers and swallows assist in flying insect control during the day. Their numbers have been dropping too and can’t fill the niche left open by the declining bat populations.
Although some people shy away from them, the unappreciated dragonflies catch a surprisingly large number of mosquitoes and flying insect pests. The adults, usually seen near water, make many “patrols” around ponds or your backyards snatching insects from midair. They are also part of our allied nature force and lucky for us.
This column just touches the surface of how many organisms are truly our allies. Remember their importance.
Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: True/False. Mexican bean beetles are actually a type of lady bird beetle?
Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Snapping turtle eggs being laid now will not hatch for about 70 days. These tiny “snappers” will begin hibernation only 5 or 6 weeks after that.
Email Barry Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org