Dr. DAVID WAGNER on The Ever Indispensable Insect /114

Image by Barta IV

Image by Barta IV

Entomologists estimate that there are millions of insect species that remain “unknown” to the scientific world. While official categorization or recognition doesn’t matter much in the way of determining existence or ratifying inherent value, the fact that so little is known about insects highlights the seriousness of potential insect decline, especially given that out of the million or so known species on Earth, insects make up approximately 80 percent of that number. The “insect apocalypse” that is currently unfolding is simultaneously slow and rapid, depending on the time scale one abides. While this decline is recorded at about one to two percent per year, it adds up to a total loss of ten percent biomass over a decade. Should this decline continue or hasten, an ecological collapse will surely ensue. While some argue that not enough is known about this ongoing phenomenon, we do know that insects are declining almost twice as fast as vertebrates, and to not act until we are one hundred percent sure, is both reckless and ignorant. In this week’s episode, Dr. David Wagner reminds us of the fascinating world of insects, the tremendous roles they play, and the possible peril should the insect apocalypse come to fruition.

Dr. David Wagner is an entomologist and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. His research interests are in the biology and evolution of moths and insect conservation. He has published several books on caterpillars – his 2005 guide with Princeton University Press, Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History is in its ninth printing.

In this episode, Ayana and Dr. Wagner discuss insects as biological controls, insect decline in relation to political and economic destabilization, how cultural understandings of insects influence the field of entomology, and the main drivers behind insect decline. It is certainly true that while some people can’t live with insects, we know we can’t live without them…

♫ Music by Santiparro


+ Habitat conservation can happen in your own backyard. You can create habitats for insects by avoiding neat, tidy, and manicured spaces. Instead, considering growing out the grass, leaving areas with natural ground cover, or making deadwood piles. Additionally, plant native species that naturally have easily accessible pollen and nectar, instead of double-flowered plants. Learn what plants are loved by insects, for example, cow parsley attracts many flying insects, milkweed attracts butterflies, and jasmine and honeysuckle are food for moths. Consider planting flowers, trees, and shrubs with overlapping bloom times to support pollinators during the Spring through Fall. For a comprehensive list of plants that are attractive to native pollinators, categorized by your region, you can visit https://www.wildflower.org/collections/

+ If you don’t have a garden or yard of your own, you can still create mini-habitats with window flower boxes, potted plants, rooftop gardens, and vertical gardens.

+ Reports on insect loss continuously cite our agricultural food system as a main contributing factor in insect decline. The scale at which pesticides and fertilizers are used on monocultures is not conducive to sustaining ecological diversity and wellbeing. Recent publications have suggested that global and comprehensive reduction in pesticide use could prevent the extinction “of over forty percent of the world’s insect population.” If you have the means to make choices regarding your diet, directly consider your eating habits and where your food is coming from. Is your dollar supporting agricultural giants who push the use of pesticides? Another way to resist pesticide use is to understand how your community is using pesticides. Consider speaking with your local officials about eliminating their use. For a list of cities in the United States that have passed different municipal ordinances or city resolutions regarding the banning of Glyphosate, for example, you can visit https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/toxic-tort-law/monsanto-roundup-lawsuit/where-is-glyphosate-banned/

+ As always, think about your insect kin when you consume. Support local farmers who are growing food that is free from synthetic pesticides, avoid processed foods that contain GMO ingredients, and considering purchasing organic cotton when possible as conventional cotton cultivation is responsible for an enormous consumption of pesticides. Always ask yourself if the item you are buying is worth the costs paid by our more than human kin.

+ Remember that your individual actions have tremendous impacts on insect communities, for example, the lights we leave on outside at night attract insects that would otherwise not show up, positioning them as easy prey. Additionally, light pollution at an urban scale interferes with nocturnal insects orientation.

Honor the night!


About Our Podcast…

At For The Wild, we discuss the critical ideas of our time and parlay them into action for the defense and regeneration of natural communities. Key topics include the rediscovery of wild nature, ecological renewal and resistance, and healing from the trauma of individualistic society. We will travel deep into ancient forests, align with the struggles and ways of Earth-based people, and rekindle the mysteries of intuition. We will join today’s brightest visionaries in this momentous work of reimagining a world where humanity can find its way back into the web of life.

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