For the Love of Insects

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Most of us can agree that butterflies are lovely and peaceful to watch on a warm summer day as they flit from one flower to the next. Many of them have colors that would excite any artist’s palette. Butterflies, specifically Monarchs, have even recently invaded the news as progenitors to the dangers of climate change. Pretty things dying in great numbers help grab attention. They are however just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. 

When was the last time you sat in a garden and saw more than Monarchs? Sure, they’re easy to spot with their dramatic color and designs but there are many more flutterbys (as a niece used to call them) than Monarchs. Some are quite understated, others have such subtle differences you need to count the dots to know which one you have photographed.

I admit to being one of those people who mostly saw Monarchs and Swallowtails. In fact, this is the first year that I can remember seeing such diversity in my garden. I saw more than I could photograph—the little ones can be so fast and some of them much prefer the safety of a closed-wing resting position to one that advertises where it has landed. I’m already looking forward to next season when I can more patiently wait for better identification photos of my fritillaries and Cloudless Sulphurs—I won’t forget the moths! But that’s a whole other story.

Did you know that caterpillars overwinter in dead leaves? This is one of the best reasons not to remove or burn leaves once they’ve fallen. When I do anything with my leaves —which is rare these days—I tend to gently rake them to the beds next to where they’ve fallen. I’ve also become more particular in which “weed” trees I remove. You can bet I’ll leave more of my hackberry volunteers now that I’ve identified Emperors in my garden.

There are over 20,000 different types of bees worldwide, with up to 4,000 living in the US. As with butterflies, most of us think of only one or two types—honey bees and bumble bees. If pressed, you might come up with borer bees, sweat bees, or digress into hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets with a loathsome grimace on your face.

Bees are just as fascinating as butterflies in their diversity—some live in the ground and others are solitary rather than working as a collective. I’ll warn you, this rabbit hole might be even larger than following butterflies… though catching photos of them can be nearly as elusive.

I have learned that some of the larger bumble bees even seem friendly. A friend swears that one of her garden bumbles greeted her each morning on her rounds. I don’t doubt it as some of those I’ve spent time around certainly seem to recognize me and my camera. I won’t swear they don’t pose…

I have become much more tolerant of wasps and their predatory relatives since I’ve been researching them. While I grow tobacco to entice the hornworms away from my tomatoes, I have to admit to a small amount of fascinated satisfaction when finding mostly dead worms thanks to the braconid wasp eggs being hosted (see photo below). Life is a circle.

I still pick some of the peskier insects off my plants, mostly because they can decimate plants that I’m waiting to harvest. However, I may be reaching an impasse with the cabbage lovers because I noticed that while the worms leave me little kale in the summer, the chilly weather is their enemy and my kale is still good to go with temperatures into the 20s.

Many of us understand that birds eat a lot of insects. But due to marketing and mythology, how many of us know that hummingbirds eat far more insects than nectar? If you want to support hummingbirds, along with other birds, don’t use pesticides in your garden. Let most of the insects flourish and your birds will love you for it. Over the past several years, I have definitely been seeing the wisdom of Doug Tallamy play out in our garden.

Even though we’ve been taught to be afraid of them, there are many insects that prey on harmful insects. There are also completely harmless insects (like crane flies) who have a reputation of munching down others (like mosquitoes) but are not at all predatory. I have learned so much about the insects who share space with me indoors and out. I would beseech you to do the same.

We need to cherish more of our insect family members… not just the pretty ones. Take some time to watch and learn about more of the tiny critters in your garden and the world around you. Stop killing insects indiscriminately—the life you ultimately save just might be your own.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings, and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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