We dined with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, befriended Percival the Plain Little Caterpillar, and watched what happens Because a Little Bug went Ka-CHOO. Charlotte’s Web was spun above us, and A Bug’s Life ensued below; the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout and the old lady swallowed the fly. Jiminy Cricket!
And then the bugs crawled from the pages and into our lives; beetles scooped into leaf-filled jars, daddy longlegs dangled before wide, mystified eyes, cicadas were bravely eaten by rebels on the school bus. And, of course, the lightning bugs—rising from the freshly mowed grasses, gripping atop trembling, late-night fingertips, and living up to their names, transforming moonlit foliage into stormy clouds, brimming with flashes of light.
But somewhere along the way, we just lost touch a bit. Ask anyone who is over a decade post-childhood to take a peak under a log, and I can almost guarantee that those squeals will not be of wonder and delight. Somehow horror—or apprehension at the least—has nosed its way into our bug bond. We’ve been taught to fear the creepy-crawlies, and made enemies of our childhood pals.
Your garden is bugged…
Despite our strayed path, our bug buddies have never left our side; just take a step outside your door, and take a moment to consider… Who is pollinating your flowers, fruits, and vegetables? Who feeds the birds nesting in your tree? Who eats the parasites, snails, slugs, and hornworms? And who decomposes anything that dies, returning it to compost?
Bees and flies, grasshoppers and locusts, wasps, beetles, butterflies, mites, springtails, glowworms, and moths are all hard at work, making your garden the abundant circle of life that it is. Really, your flora grows in the insects’ garden; we’re just watching their blossoms bloom.
On the wings of a bug…
Above you, there are thousands of insects, floating on breezes in the vast blue sky. Flies, aphids, and wasps catch an updraft, and drift up to 4,000 feet in the air. Ladybugs glide through clouds above, and gypsy moths soar at 10,000 feet. 14,000 feet high, there are spiders clutching on to threads of silk as they drift along. Higher still, there are moths and butterflies and fleas. And once, way up above the mountaintops, an entomologist in an airplane caught a single, tiny termite, adrift at 19,000 feet.
Below you, there are extensive insect networks, stretching for miles through the soil. A latticework of tunnels and chambers houses social colonies of thousands of ants and termites. Baby cicadas wait in the subterranean for up to 17 years before exploding into flight. There are beetles hatching just below the surface and springtails chewing 500 meters below.
Bugs at risk…
For every human on the planet, there are 200 million insects. 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 bugs eating, decomposing, pollinating, mating, and dying every day. And still, we are in danger of losing them. In the last five years, 30% of the national bee population has been killed off—if they all go, so will one in three mouthfuls of our food. In what has been dubbed the ‘monarch massacre,’ billions of butterflies have already died. In our waterways, pollution and runoff poison thousands of sensitive water bugs.
Bonding with bugs…
So now more than ever, it’s essential to rekindle this bond. It’s never too late to re-embark into the world of curiosity and discovery, to find ways to see again. And it couldn’t be easier to begin; you can start by just creating spaces for them, nurturing a bug friendly backyard:
- Plant native wildflowers and herbs with nectar
- Use clover as ground cover to provide nectar for bees and other insects
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides
- Set out a dish with pebbles and water for insects to sip
- Don’t clip down perennials, so they can provide shelter through the fall and winter
- Leave some leaf litter for bugs to overwinter
- Create a compost pile as a year-round refuge
Or you can just head outside, start noticing things—you never know what you might see. Grab a camera, a microscope, or a sketchbook; a net, a jar, or a field guide. Peer under and inside things—dead wood, stones, leaf litter, ponds, and streams. Lie belly pressed to ground, hover your nose for a moment just an inch above the soil, and you might just meet your smallest wild neighbor.
One more thing…
For further reading, check out A World of Insects from the Harvard University Press Reader, or For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner.