By Mike Russell (parent at Hawthorne Family Playschool)
Forget the superhuman antics of the summer blockbusters. Insects possess enough supernatural capabilities—when extrapolated to the human scale—to supersede all of the comic book franchise characters’ abilities, and then some. To wit:
- Meadow froghoppers can jump 100 times its height.
- To survive winter’s cold, many insects replace their body water with glycerol, which acts as an “antifreeze.”
- The horned dung beetle can pull 1,141 times its body weight. That’s like a 150 lbs. human pulling more than 170,000 lbs.
Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, insects need our help. And we need them. An estimated 99.5% of pollinating species are invertebrates. In addition to facilitating our agricultural ecosystems, they serve as a foundational layer of the food chain. They are prey for other animals. Looking at the next step in the food cycle, decomposers clean up Nature’s mess.
What can you do to help? Impart some sense of awe for insects in the small children in your life; not with the jaw-dropping facts above, but with the backyard opportunities described below.
These accessible beauties are a perfect way to begin a trip into a state of awe. Consider how the butterfly becomes. As a caterpillar, she encloses herself in a chrysalis, turns to goop, and then somehow rearranges herself into a flying flower. Next, we’ll consider the butterfly’s better-organized cousin, the honey bee.
On a warm summer’s day in most of Portland’s neighborhoods, you can probably count the number of steps on two hands between your front door and your first opportunity to encounter a honey bee. Follow an individual from flower to flower on a patch of clover, and ponder how she manages to keep afloat with such small wings for her body size. And then there’s the whole honey-from-flower-pollen miracle.
If you’re really lucky, you may encounter a swarm—half of a hive newly divided—seeking a new home. Report the swarm to Portland Urban Beekeepers, you might meet a local apiarist who’s come out in response; a learning opportunity you’ll revisit for many summers to come. Last, and lower, but just as diligent; the humble ant.
Ants can carry more than fifty times their own weight, and yet they don’t seem to show the least bit of strain. They just trod on, following a trail of pheromones laid down by their comrades. They clean up dead bugs, fallen food and other detritus. If only they could be trained to tidy up discarded toys…
Get to the thorax of the matter
Each of these insect ambassadors can help you around your garden, and offer an interesting complement to any gardening (LINK TO GARDENING BLOG POST) activities you might undertake with the littles in your home. For more ideas on how to help, and increase interest in, insects follow these links:
- A natural gardening expert builds his case for insects and worms on a local news segment.
- Metro’s suggestions for aiding pollinators
- Cultivating backyard habitat for local species (very much including insects)
- Butterfly Gardening – Using Butterfly Garden Plants
- How to Grow a Bug-Friendly Garden Absolutely Anywhere