Bugs

“We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.” ~Bill Vaughan

It is National Pollinators Week. You can read all about it here.

That is not a small matter. It turns out that about 75% of the world’s flowering plants and about 90 food crops consumed in North America are dependent on pollinators. Fruit, vegetables and seed crops need pollinators. Alfalfa hay seed requires bee pollination. Scientists tell us that a “. . . world without pollinators would be a world without apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, peaches, pumpkins, and many other important food, fiber, and medicinal plants.” (Wait a minute! Chocolate? A world without Chocolate?)

The oldest of the pollinators, scientists think, are beetles. The honeybee is the most important managed pollinator on the continent and it is in decline, in part because of Colony Collapse Disorder. Anything that can carry pollen from the male parts of plants to the female parts can be a pollinator but insects, bats, and birds are chiefly responsible for pollination.

Best known and best studied of the North American avian pollinators is the Hummingbird. Canada has recorded sitings of 9 species, the United States 19 and Mexico 63. Most of the Canadian and United States species immigrated here from Mexico and are seasonal workers who return south each winter along what are known as “nectar corridors.” As far as we know, there is no attempt to build a fence across those corridors. Hummingbirds and many of the tubular, brightly colored, odorless and dilute nectared flowers are thought to have co-evolved with Hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are not the only known avian pollinators. White winged Doves pollinate cactus. Passerines pollinate several varieties of flowers, verdin pollinate Ocotillo, Orioles assist Icterus, swallows, woodpeckers, warblers, wrens, finches, vireos, tanagers and thrashers are known pollinators as well.

You can read about pollinators in a book entitled Status of Pollinators in North America. You can, in fact, read it for free on the web here. Or you can read a brief summary of it here. And there is a “Pollinator Garden Wheel” which you can a photo of here.

To mark National Pollinators Week pollinator-stamp.jpg the Post Office issued this new and beautiful stamp and a bill or bills were introduced in Congress which would allocate more funding for research and to encourage farmers and ranchers to preserve pollinator habitat. (See our “Bird Farming post of June 24th about farmers and wetlands. Our friends in Kansas are going to be rich and we’ll be there guiding birders on tours of their farm which will now also have lots and lots of wondrous flowers along with all those birds.)

National Pollinator Week also gave Edward O. Wilson a chance to deliver a lecture about bugs in Washington. According to an article in the Washington Post he told his listeners that four out of every five living creatures on Earth is a nematode. A gram of soil might also contain 5,000 species of bacteria and untold fungi. He estimates that we have identified no more that 10% of all life forms on earth. If all human beings were eradicated from the earth no more than three species of head lice would accompany us into extinction. All the other bugs and birds and bats, pollinators all, would get along just fine without us. It would not make the slightest difference to the bugs.

On the other hand, if the bugs all became extinct . . . . to add just a little bit to Donne’s classic poem:

Ask not for whom the bell tolls – even if it’s a bug –
It tolls for thee.

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