Some uninformed people think that all insects are bad and need to be controlled. On the contrary, insects and other pollinators are an extremely important part of our planet’s ecosystem. The vast majority of insects are beneficial. Insects form the foundation of the food web, and with out them we’d be in big trouble.
Honey bees in particular have dominated the headlines for several years now, due to unsustainable losses. Beekeepers reported losing 44% of their colonies from April 2015 to April 2016. Both winter and summer loss rates increased. Some winter losses are expected, but the current rates are unsustainable and summer losses are unusual as bees should be thriving during summer months. This is cause for serious concern.
But honey bees are not the only ones in trouble. Monarch butterflies have seen huge declines in recent years, as have fireflies, and the rusty patched bumble bee (bombus affinis) was just proposed to be listed for endangered species status. In fact, insect species are declining worldwide. Researchers attribute this to a variety of factors – climate change, modern agricultural practices, habitat loss and pesticide use. Some of these factors are not easily addressed, while others are very much within our control.
There are factors that we as individuals can tackle. What we do in our own back yards (and front yards!) can make a difference.
Here are some suggestions we can all implement ourselves to assist our valuable insect populations.
Ditch the pesticides!
Seriously. This is one of the things we have total control over. Pesticides are toxic to our insect friends and totally unnecessary for cosmetic purposes. If you have an issue with ticks, fleas, mosquitoes etc. that needs control, there are many safer options that you can use. If a product is needed, choose the least toxic option and follow label directions exactly. See our pests and lawn pages for more info on safer products.
Plant bee and butterfly friendly plants
When planning your garden, choose varieties of plants that are native to your area. These will help support pollinators with nectar and habitat, they will require less water and be more resistant to pests and disease than imported ornamental plants. Be sure to provide a variety of flowers to attract more types of beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. Milkweed is an important plant for any pollinator garden. Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family) is needed for monarchs to breed. They lay eggs on the leaves and the hatching caterpillars eat them until they are ready to begin metamorphosis. Other flowers are needed for adults to find nectar. Incorporating some native varieties of milkweed, which are lovely flowers in their own right, will bring beautiful butterflies and more to your yard. The more variety you have, the more species that will visit your yard!
Leave The Leaves
Insects need leaf litter for egg laying and hibernating. A leaf free yard is not going to provide habitat to beneficial insects. This is not to say all leaves must be left, in fact removing leaves from paved areas and along streets and gutters is very important. Decomposing leaves can add phosphorous to bodies of water creating algal blooms which harm aquatic life. Allowing leaves to decompose mulched on a lawn , or in a flower bed or other out of the way places in your yard will not have this problem – but the leaves you leave behind will provide places for insects like fireflies (who also appreciate a log or two left to decompose) butterflies and moths as well as returning organic matter to the soil as they break down. Simplify your Fall leaf cleanup routine, and you can enjoy a more diverse beneficial insect population visiting your garden.
Rake, Sweep and Mow, But Never Blow!
In addition to being horribly noisy, leaf blowers, especially gas powered, kick up dust, allergens, feces and other pollutants. This particulate matter can trigger asthma attacks and become lodged in the lungs where it can cause disease, including cancer. Leaf blowers high winds damage topsoil and disturb insect habitat. Pollinators are just one of many good reasons to just say no when it comes to these pollution machines. A pollinator friendly yard and leaf blowers don’t mix.
Give your insects a place to stay. Insect houses can be purchased, or you can make your own. There is no end to the design choices and the more variation in materials, the more tiny guests you are likely to have. Insect houses make a pretty addition to any yard or pollinator garden. Read more on pollinators and insect houses at Native Bees of New England.
Give Them A Drink
Kind of a no-brainer, yet frequently overlooked is providing a water source for insects. It’s as simple as putting out a shallow dish with some glass gems, large gravel, or rocks inside. Some people have even used sea glass. This will keep bees and other insects from drowning while looking good too. Just remember to freshen or fill on a regular basis.
We hope these tips will get you started in helping out our important insect friends.