The Bugs And The Bees

Apparently, the global political chaos we are experiencing is only one of humanity’s problems–and perhaps not the most threatening.

The Washington Post isn’t the only media outlet reporting on what is being called an “insect apocalypse.”

Scientific American has an equally alarming–if somewhat more measured– report.

Around the globe, scientists are getting hints that all is not well in the world of insects. Increasingly, reports are trickling in of unsettling changes in populations of not only butterflies and bees, but of far less charismatic bugs and beetles as well. Most recently, a research team from the U.S. and Mexico reported a startling decline between 1976 and 2013 in the weight of insects and other arthropods collected at select sites in Puerto Rico.

Some have called the apparent trend an insect Armageddon. Although the picture is not in crisp enough focus yet to say if that’s hyperbolic, enough is clear to compel many to call for full-scale efforts to learn more and act as appropriate.

Insects have always outnumbered other life forms–by far. According to scientists, nearly a million species have been described to date. (That compares with 5,416 mammals.) Entomologists suspect there could be two to 30 times as many actually out there.

Or were. And a steep decline would have significant consequences for humans.

Insects pollinate a spectrum of plants, including many of those that humans rely on for food. They also are key players in other important jobs including breaking dead things down into the building blocks for new life, controlling weeds and providing raw materials for medicines. And they provide sustenance for a spectrum of other animals—in fact, the Puerto Rico study showed a decline in density of insect-eating frogs, birds and lizards that paralleled the insect nosedive.

All told, insects provide at least US$57 billion in services to the U.S. economy each year.

How steep is the decline? The Post reports

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

The article quoted two scientists who had worked in the Puerto Rico rainforest forty years ago, about what they found when they recently returned.

What the scientists did not see on their return troubled them. “Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” Lister said. Fewer birds flitted overhead. The butterflies, once abundant, had all but vanished.

Other research has confirmed the loss of insects–and the dramatic reductions of insect-eating frogs and birds.

Lister and Garcia attribute this crash to climate. In the same 40-year period as the arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures in the tropics stick to a narrow band. The invertebrates that live there, likewise, are adapted to these temperatures and fare poorly outside them; bugs cannot regulate their internal heat.

Pesticides and habitat loss are also culprits.

Most of us of a “certain age” can remember catching fireflies–lightning bugs–as children. We recall having to clean smashed bugs off windshields, and seeing swarms of insects around streetlights. I haven’t seen a firefly in years–and my windshield stays pristine even on long drives. Last summer, I didn’t have a single mosquito bite, although for years I was sure mosquitos found something about me irresistible.

Nice as it is not to spend summers scratching, the implications for the ecosystem are frightening.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that this really isn’t a good time to be governed by aggressively ignorant people.


  1. Climate Change may well be contributing to the decline of insects in our world, but from my vantage point it is the farming practices and development of once pristine farm land that are the culprits around here.
    The I-65 stretch between 465 and the north boundary of Boone County has seen thousands of acres paved over and built upon with warehouses. That land, the richest soil in the world, has been lost and with it all that lived upon it or under it. While down in Lawrence County, Illinois any piece of ground that is tillable has been sprayed from tractors or planes killing off every living thing in reach. That once rich soil is used as a medium and nothing more. It is dead! Just add man made chemicals and seed and Bingo… corn!
    If it were not for Mexico and South America we would all be going hungry this morning.

  2. And the few people left will write before they croak: Monsanto had the most efficient bug killing chemicals in history — until everything died.

  3. Engineers, accountants and attorneys do not understand or choose to ignore the intricacies of the ecosystem. It’s time for scientists to take charge.

  4. My house is surrounded by farm ground. I have witnessed a decrease in insects and insect eating birds over the years, but it has dramatically decreased in the past three years.

    I do not know what additional or new pesticide the farmer started using three years ago, but the change was frightening to see almost a complete lack of insects from one year to the next. I have several perennial flower beds that used to attract bees. I rarely see bees now and this has, of course, affected those plants. This has caused me to worry about what is going on all around me and elsewhere in the world due to insecticides/pesticides.

    My yard used to be full of wild clover. That has been replaced by weeds because over the years the bee population was not here to pollinate the clover. Grasshoppers used to be everywhere when I was growing up (in the same house that I still live in). For many years I rarely see a grasshopper and when I do they are a very very small gray imitation of what used to be large green insects.

    Anyway, since I am surrounded by farm ground I may actually be more aware than those of you who live in cities of the extreme reduction of the population of almost all insects that used to be very common. A variety of song birds that used to be common when I was growing up also disappeared many years ago.

  5. “If it were not for Mexico and South America we would all be going hungry this morning.”

    And Theresa; consider the effects of Trump shutting down the border where so much of our produce comes from; will it rot in the fields. Climate Change with the Global Warming pollution and insecticides we are surrounded by hasn’t killed us off…yet. It must kill the environment to thereby kill off humanity. Farmers being paid NOT to produce our produce is also having an effect on the insect world in this country; the growing decline of the bee population is well documented. Are there such reports on insect life in Mexico and South America where much of our produce is grown?

    There are few, if any, gardens in residential areas. I tried small gardens for a few years but the soil, even mixing in bags of garden soil and using plant food produced few, undersize veggies. Where are all of the fruit trees in people’s yards whose blossoms attracted bees and butterflies? Also fewer flowers blooming in flowerbeds, I haven’t seen any butterflies in my neighborhood for 3-4 years. For 2-3 years there was a problem with stink bugs; outside and inside homes; this year fewer stink bugs but masses of black bugs with narrow red stripes outside last fall and I am finding them inside my home now.

    But the cockroaches keep on creepin’ on. What is their secret? “Pesticides and habitat loss are also culprits.” We must admit to our part in the decline of vital insects just as we must admit our part in polluting the environment.

  6. I think you may all have eyesight problems. There were lots of bugs, bees, mosquitos and butterflies at my house last summer. At my farm in northern Indiana they were even more abundant.
    Maybe they just like living near conservatives and positive people. ?

  7. Sorry Becky; but it was the manure that attracted them, the odor drew them to the flourishing plant life in more rural areas. 🙂

  8. Heed Nancy’s observations. We have become a society of instantism…. entertainment, travel, communication, most healthcare. Nature still moves at a much slower pace. There will be no quick fixes when those who deny the science and Nancy’s experience realize they were wrong.

  9. Erin Brockovich has for years sounded the alarm on pollution and its toxic effects on life. Farther back in time Rachael Carson warned in her book Silent Spring about the effects of man made chemicals on the environment.

    The Brockovich’s do not have the big bucks to pay off our elected and appointed leadership, the chemical companies do.

  10. Becky – very funny!

    I live in northern Indiana farm country. No way do I believe your post. Totally full of BS. But, what else could we expect from a Conservative? You Conservatives prove to us on a daily basis that being truthful and honest is against your twisted belief system.

  11. Oh Nancy, go plant a butterfly bush and try and be happy. According to AOC we’ve only got 12 years left anyway. ?????

  12. Becky – read my comment at 7:30 to know the real truth about northern Indiana farm country. You seem to be living in some sort of imagined bubble. I still do not believe anything you wrote and do not believe that you actually live in farm country surrounded by actual farm ground.

    Unlike Conservatives, I am willing to face the Truth and make whatever sacrifices I need to make to do my part to help reverse the damage that we all have done to this planet. Looking the other way and “being happy” is just plain insanity.

  13. I, too, have noticed that I have only occasional bug splats on my windshield and frequently receive pleas for contributions from groups who want to “save the bees.” Truth be told, this is one of the sub-crises (insect death) we are experiencing within a general environmental decline, and Monsanto is just one of the villains. Take coal burning plants, for instance. If science doesn’t start running the show in place of campaign contribution-loving politicians we may, like the frog in warm water turned hot, find we’re too late to make changes vital to survival.

    Having politicians like Trump around who call the environmental crisis a hoax doesn’t help,
    either, but since Republicans have politicized everything lately, it may well be that even our environmental crisis (among others) can only be solved at the polls, so let’s do our duty in the interests of survival – and have the frog jump out of the warming water.

  14. Profits at any cost have to be a major contributor. We really have NO idea how many pesticides or how much of them we’ve used in the last 50-100 years that do NOT break down, chemically. These things keep on killing.

    Yes, cost accountants and marketeers are major culprits to the decline of life on Earth. If you read some of the granularity in the Boeing 737 MAX situation, you’ll see how these single-minded greed merchants violated some of the basic principles of aviation design in order to make up for bad business decisions regarding their competition. It’s sickening. People like our new friend Becky just accelerate the problems we create for ourselves.

    Not to worry about the insects. Once humans have become extinct by their own hands, they will evolve and once again dominate the Earth.

  15. Becky reminds me of the conservative Congressman who ran into the House Chamber a winter ago to proclaim that Global Warming was a hoax because it was snowing outside.

  16. Nancy, I lived the first 25 yrs on a farm. My father was a farmer. I now own a 100 acre farm and my mother still has 300 acres. My mother was “organic” way before it ever became popular.. What you don’t get is, I don’t CARE whether you believe me or not. Actually I would expect you not to, since my story does not FIT your narrative.

  17. Gerald Stinson used only 14 lines to express his opinion about what’s bugging him. Well done. But he used only 7 words to identify an even more important thought. “Having politicians like Trump around doesn’t help.” Congratulations.

  18. To my warring co-contributors > Anecdotal arguments pro or con prove nothing. We must rely upon science and statistical measurement for the answers.

  19. Gerald; I doubt anyone has ever done a science or statistical measurement on this but, my ex-husband Earl Kennedy and I tilled 2 large double-bagged bags of elephant manure into our garden plot one fall. My son worked with Big John Strong’s Circus and I hauled the bags home in my car trunk in the rain with my son and his friend begging me, “drive faster, drive faster”. The smell had abated over the winter. The following three years we had unbelievable amounts of unbelievable size veggies which I picked in the morning and again in the evening. We also had the hottest peppers ever grown in the state of Indiana.

  20. Life, over millions of years, takes advantage of every opportunity in the environment to pursue sustainability through evolution and natural selection. Humans over hundreds of years do the same thing through culture and civilization. We have built a world that suits only us in the blink of an eye in geologic time.

    One example of adaption through the civilization process is the employment of 300,000,000 year old waste from life called fossil fuel. We tapped a limited energy nirvana for us. Unfortunately, too late in the game, we realized that an unforeseen consequence of that energy is that it’s waste, dumped for only a hundred years into our once seemingly limitless sky, is changing the environment that all life and our civilization and our culture is adapted to.

    Physics can guess at some of the consequences of fossil fuels raising the energy level in all of earth’s surface systems by slowing earth’s ability to cool itself into space.

    Biology is not as good at predicting the adaptation of all forms of life to a new world. Humanity will survive because we build micro environment like clothes and buildings to suit us. Life that cannot separate from the environment will find that their adaption is not as capable as it once was and it will take millions of years of evolution and natural selection to catch up with the changes we made in a couple of hundred years. Over that time our incursion into the climate business will ebb and flow at a rate that is way beyond that of evolution and natural selection and new life will never be able to keep up and so the consequences to the other life that humans absolutely depend on, and to our civilization and culture as well, will be challenged.

    Some of us have learned the science necessary to understand all of this in detail but most of us have concentrated on other things instead. This has occurred at a time when culturally we have lost the handle on listening to each other.

    Will we be the makers of our own demise because we did not keep up with understanding the ability of, say potentially 10,000,000,000 of us, to have a bigger impact on the planet than the intricate and delicate balance of life can accommodate?

  21. I’m glad everyone here has stopped flying,using automobiles and have totally stopped purchasing processed food products. The aforementioned have caused major problems with regard to the environment. To do otherwise is absolute hypocrisy.

  22. Pete rightfully points out the impact of human overpopulation. The earth can only support so many humans. Add to that the wholesale use of toxins to improve food production whose side effects are assumed to be only as immediate and negative as the manufacturer states they are. We have allowed for-profit interests to take complete control of our government and our future.

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