“Bee” mindful of the importance of our butterflies and other insects

Katherine Merkel, News and opinion editor

After a long Buffalo winter, spring is finally coming, bringing warmer temperatures and new life to our frigid town. Everyone is ready to welcome the sunshine, the flowers, the birds, and the bunnies that always come with the springtime. However, when it comes to caring for or even knowing about the status of a common member of the wildlife community, people are often unknowing and uneducated. In fact, two of the most vital and indispensable insects on the planet are on the path to extinction, and not many know or even care to promulgate the issue. The populations of bees and butterflies have been steadily decreasing over the past couple of decades, and most of the world is unaware or doesn’t understand the importance of this disturbing trend. While most consider bees to be intrinsically annoying pests who will stop at nothing to sting an unsuspecting victim, or butterflies to simply exist for beauty’s sake, the role that these insects perform in the great show that is life is absolutely indispensable. The rapidly declining population of many different types of insects, especially bees and butterflies, can and will negatively affect the Earth’s environment, along with the people that live in that environment.

The reason why the disappearance of pollinators such as bees and butterflies could potentially be such an issue is that they help to make the world able to support life. It is estimated that honeybees alone are responsible for 80% of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate around 200 million flowers in one day, so if they go extinct, it will be difficult not to notice. Seventy out of the top one hundred human food crops are pollinated by bees, meaning that without pollinators, those seventy crops likely would not be available for human consumption.

The increased use of pesticides as a preventative agent against nuisance and/or destructive insects, mites, and other pests, as used in the worldwide agricultural system have a disconcerting effect on the wild populations of bees, butterflies, and other insects, and this is a major cause of destruction. Farmers typically use pesticides in order to protect their crops from a profusion of different assailants that attack and minimize their yield. It quickly becomes difficult for any money to be made in the agricultural lifestyle without it, and almost all farmers worldwide apply the use of some type of pesticide or herbicide in order to protect their plants. Americans employed about 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides in 2007, and the number has only increased since, looking to the increased crop yields in recent years.  Most pesticides are designed with the health of other animals in mind, such as mammals or birds, but the consequences that they can have for insects are not fully researched nor taken into account when approving different pesticides for safe use on crops. Keeping this in mind, the main agents in the majority of pesticides are chemicals known as neonicotinoids. About 95% of all crops grown in the United States are sprayed with this chemical, including the most prevalent and widely used crop in the world – corn. This particular chemical has a devastating effect on bees that come in contact with or ingest the dangerous substance.

The question then becomes, “what can I do, to make a difference in my community, and in the world for future generations?”. One seemingly small yet significant powerful action that can be taken at the community level is the construction of bee gardens that provide two essential items needed for survival, food, and shelter. Bee gardens are a simple and relatively inexpensive way to solve the issue of bees and butterflies lacking natural vegetation from which to gain nutrition and the pollen that is essential to the creation of honey. By digging a small garden in the backyard of one’s house, and planting flowers and other flora that will provide the necessary nectar and pollen for the native bees and butterflies, a huge impact can be made on the environment and the insects in the ecosystem. Bees like flowers of the rose family, the daisy family, or any herbs with small flowers such as mint, lavender, and rosemary. Other flowers such as clover, crocuses, heather, ceanothus, cotoneaster, and many more can easily provide lasting nutrition and pollen for the insects that need it, thereby increasing the average lifespan by preventing early deaths.