The Summer of Fireflies

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Forgive the filthy glass door. I can’t bear down hard enough to wash it yet (after my surgery). Besides the fireflies sure don’t seem to mind. This is one of their favorite daytime resting places.

This summer they are so abundant, however, that they seem to have a lot of favorite resting places, so long as there’s shade.

One morning, I actually drove with one on my driver’s door window all the way to work! Luckily, I don’t have a long drive, it’s local roads, and I sure drove as near to the lower end of the speed limit as I could (you realize that many folks take speed limits and stop signs–and even traffic lights–as mere suggestions here. Or they’re for “other” people. )

Anyway, no fireflies were harmed. And I am getting quite a show in my yard this year!

Disorder

Since my Friday post was about the possible insect apocalypse, I thought I might post about this disruption that happened to some of my bumblebees on July 4th.

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I had been out in the yard doing something and I noticed my edging disturbed. Since it was the middle of the day, that alone was peculiar enough. So I took a closer look.

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This doesn’t look like much (the pink is rose petals from a shrub rose nearby). But of course I didn’t want to get too close to a bunch of very disturbed bumblebees that had been–what?

Normally the only animal that will go near a stinging insects nest is a skunk. I have had skunks dig whole underground hornets colonies out for me. Gotta love a creature that will do that!

So that’s what I am presuming did this. But boy, the remaining bees were mad as hornets. So I watched–and photoed–from a distance.

Nothing worse than getting on the wrong side of angry bees!

Should We Worry About An Insect Apocalypse?

While we’re talking about controversy, let’s discuss, some of the “wild and crazy” headlines about insects–yes, you read that right, bugs!–that have been making the rounds of news–both regular and social media.

There was the climate change fueled nest of hornets in Alabama that was as large as a car (here’s the link to that story in case you happened to miss it).

I sound a little skeptical but the story is actually a little horrifying. The Alabama state entomologist talks about these large colonies of hornets actually causing deaths because hornets can inflict multiple stings.

At the same time, other articles are talking about terrifying declines in insect populations and what that might mean for life on earth. We’ve all read the stories and seen the slogans about how at least 1/3 of our food is pollinated by bees for example. Apparently more than just our pollinators are in trouble but “bugs” are not a topic that is a warm and friendly dinner-table type conversation.

I have read some articles comparing the insect decline to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Here is a link to one of those articles.

But of course there are other articles targeting the methodology of this type of research. The Atlantic, in particular, has a very well-done article about how we should definitely pay attention to what’s happening but we shouldn’t begin to completely “freak out.”

So between the fact that some folks think that all our bugs are dying off and others have to deal with hornets nests the size of small cars, it’s hard to know what to think. I do think that perhaps we ought to be more careful with our pesticides–but that’s as much for our health as it is for our invertibrate friends!

Monarch Musings, Part 2

Okay, if we’ve gotten through the tropical versus native asclepias issue without killing one another, here’s another issue that seems to be dividing folks: the home rearing or raising indoors or monarch chrysalises for later outdoor release.

At first glance, you think, how could anything about this be controversial? And indeed, one of Connecticut’s oldest and most respected organic nurseries not only does this but encourages others to do this.

But very recently–in the last week or so–it has come to light that monarchs that are hand-raised or home raised have difficulty migrating. There was a long article in the Atlantic that discussed various problems with the home raised butterfiles.

Here’s an article from late last year that both thoughtfully summarized the debate, the issues (including the tropical versus native milkweed issue from last Friday’s post) and even has some comments attached that shows how heated the discussion can get.

I don’t raise monarchs indoors. I have had them in my outdoor garden where I grow my native milkweed, asclepias incarnata (which goes by the lovely common name swamp milkweed. Is it a wonder more folks don’t grow this stuff?) I’ve watched the caterpillars crawl around on it–I even did a post last summer on it where I compared watching them to a form of “garden bathing” (like “forest bathing.”)

But I do have friends who raise monarchs. They love the hobby–and yes, they have lost some to disease. It’s been heartbreaking for them. Amazing how fast you get attached to little crawling caterpillars, I guess, particularly ones that you have watched hatch.

What’s the takeaway? I am not sure. I wish I thought we were helping nature. Perhaps someday we’ll learn how to get better at it. Until then, does that mean we shouldn’t try?

Monarch Musings, Part 1

When we talk about “pollinators” or “wildlife,” honeybees and monarch butterflies are two species that people seem to have heard the most about. Even people who don’t garden know that both species are in trouble and that efforts are being made to help each.

In the last couple of months, however, a couple of interesting things about the monarch and the ways people try to help them have come out. Today and Monday I will look at each one–trying not to get controversial about it–so that people can be informed.

Today I want to look at ascelepias–milkweed. We know that monarch butterflies need to lay their eggs on the milkweed plant and their caterpillars need to eat milkweed in order to live.

So in order to help the monarchs, gardeners have been encouraged to plant milkweed, and here’s where the problem begins.

As you might already know, there are many different varieties of milkweed. They are all asclepias, but depending on the variety, they can be “native” or “tropical.” And that’s where the problem began.

In some parts of the country, the tropical variety, asclepias curassavica, is more “common,”–or at least more readily available–than native varieties so gardeners planted those. (It didn’t help that a. curassavica is really pretty.)

Unfortunately caterpillars that feed on tropical milkweed are also eating fungal spores. They pass these on to migratory butterflies on their way up from Mexico and the population is weakened in the process.

It’s a lot more complicated than I have made it seem here. To read an in-depth study by the Xerxes Society, go here.

The takeaway from this: when it comes to asclepias, native really is best.