"We won't exterminate all insects. -- Vertebrates would die out first"
May 11, 2017 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. "If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen," says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. "I'm a very data-driven person," says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. "But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don't see that mess anymore."
Where have all the insects gone?
posted by MartinWisse (46 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well fuck.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:39 AM on May 11 [10 favorites]


This is what a mass extinction looks like. And this is only the beginning.
posted by happyroach at 9:43 AM on May 11 [11 favorites]


Holy shit.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:45 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]


And this happened while we still had an environmental protection agency.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:45 AM on May 11 [12 favorites]


No use being at the top of the food chain if all the other links get cut open by the bolt cutters of human-induced climate change.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:47 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


Long time passing?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:49 AM on May 11 [7 favorites]


It's the very notion of there being a 'top' that's a big part of the problem.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 9:50 AM on May 11 [18 favorites]


Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity

Don't worry, I'm sure it's all for the best.
posted by thelonius at 9:56 AM on May 11 [9 favorites]




Shit, I casually wondered about this the other day, with no other prompting to speak off, because I notice a difference from my youth to now.

I'm 31.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:59 AM on May 11 [8 favorites]


Siegfried Cymorek, for instance, who was active in the society from the 1950s through the 1980s, never completed high school. He was drafted into the army as a teenager, and after the war he worked in the wood-protection division at a local chemical plant. But because of his extensive knowledge of wood-boring beetles, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1979.
posted by infini at 10:03 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]


Also, Round Up.
posted by infini at 10:04 AM on May 11 [7 favorites]


In my neighborhood in DC, every year, right around now, the little plastic and cardboard signs start to appear in front yards indicating that they've been soaked with pesticides to drive off our annual plague of mosquitoes. Some now have misting systems which spray the yard continually all summer long.

Those companies are now beating the Zika drum, and I'm guessing that there will be even more treated this year. They typically use bifenthrin, permethrin and piperonyl - they're killing pretty much every insect in these yards, not just mosquitoes, for months at a time. It's insane.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:13 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


I fill my patio with plants that attract pollinators and I let plants go to seed. My beets, parsley, and cilantro from last year are blooming plus the perennials. I'm trying to do my part to provide for insects and birds. I see hover flies, wasps, bees of all kinds, moths, hummingbirds and butterflies. I feel like I'm rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but I'm trying to be a good steward for the earth, if only in a small way.
posted by shoesietart at 10:17 AM on May 11 [48 favorites]


The van my parents owned in the '80s usually looked like the aftermath of a horror movie following any long-ish drive. These days it's pretty unusual for me to have to wipe the remains of anything larger than the midges currently enveloping southwestern Ontario off my car.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:22 AM on May 11


Changes in land use surrounding the reserves are probably playing a role. "We've lost huge amounts of habitat, which has certainly contributed to all these declines," Goulson says. "If we turn all the seminatural habitats to wheat and cornfields, then there will be virtually no life in those fields." As fields expand and hedgerows disappear, the isolated islands of habitat left can support fewer species. Increased fertilizer on remaining grazing lands favors grasses over the diverse wildflowers that many insects prefer.
That bit sure resonates. Every single time I go back home to eastern Nebraska, I'm struck by how many of the ditches, shelter belts, orchards, unoccupied farm places, and fencelines have been torn out and planted over. Small streams are disappearing into tile lines and with the water goes the remaining narrow strip of bank / wetland / vegetation. In another handful of years, the only trees left in the countryside will be the token handful remaining around the ever-dwindling set of farmhouses. The same for any strip of vegetation that isn't corn or soybeans.

Modern farming practice is utterly, pathologically obsessed with converting every available inch of ground to monocrop, and the change has been pretty drastic just since I was a teenager. I'm 36.
posted by brennen at 10:24 AM on May 11 [26 favorites]


Still plenty of aphids around though. :/
posted by newdaddy at 10:29 AM on May 11


When I was a kid I spent my summers in the country in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I remember at night seeing screen doors covered with moths, all sizes and varieties of moths. That doesn't happen anymore. It hasn't happened for years.

I miss them. It's so sad, this impoverished world we're leaving our children.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:34 AM on May 11 [16 favorites]


And neonicotinoid pesticides should be banned, damnit.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:36 AM on May 11 [13 favorites]


With great power comes great responsibility.
posted by amtho at 10:39 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs.

Obviously, it's all bad, but I'm really sad about the lightning bugs. Watching the lightning bugs and the bats (which I guess are probably also suffering if insects are) was such a highlight of my childhood.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:52 AM on May 11 [19 favorites]


We participated in a lightning bug count a few years ago, and had to drive quite a bit to find enough to count. It is so exciting to find them these days, so unusual, that we call the kids to rush outside when we spot one.

Recently we've had...I'm not sure what they're called, but the little bronze-colored beetles that mate during the summer, but a teensy resurgence of them on our screens at night, and it has been a big event! A decade ago, they would've covered every window that light escaped through, but we were down to maybe a dozen this summer. Similarly, finding a toad or frog is unusual. A frog got in the house the other night and we practically threw it a party.

We have a person with bees a few blocks down, and I think we get all their bees in our yard, because there are so few flowers in the neighborhood. Endless carefully-mown grass, as far as the eye can see, until you reach our untended yard, currently covered in buttercups.

It's better not to think of the more terrifying implications of so many missing bugs...I think I would rather be melancholy about missing them, than nervously awaiting an ecological collapse, since there's so little we can do to help.
posted by mittens at 11:09 AM on May 11 [10 favorites]


I could drive 500 miles and the only bug I hit is in my direct line of sight on my windshield.
posted by shockingbluamp at 11:36 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


No one can prove that the pesticides are to blame for the decline, however. "There is no data on insecticide levels, especially in nature reserves," Sorg says. The group has tried to find out what kinds of pesticides are used in fields near the reserves, but that has proved difficult, he says. "We simply don't know what the drivers are" in the Krefeld data.

For fucks sake. The last chemical company rep will go down in history as saying "But the science just isn't there! We don't really know what's causing the decline!"

We're at the point it doesn't freaking matter what the cause is. Like an elimination diet, we need to cut out or minimize as many of the possible causes of mass die-offs as we can, and keep our fingers crossed we aren't all doomed.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 11:42 AM on May 11 [20 favorites]


I remember a conversation with friends in the 2015--16 winter, about the impression that winters are becoming less silent, compared to anecdotal impressions from childhood. As the climate shifts, so do the birds. More birds are staying or otherwise remain active during the winter.

We had the feeling that this was deeply fucked up. This is literally bad omen, bad auspice -- the pattern of birds.

I also recall as a kid when we had the awesome summer mid-day rains. Where I lived, they came in July, when the days were dominated by the cloudless blue and the full power of the sun. Around noon-time the clouds would gather and showers would come. It would rain for about half to one hour. In my memory they never failed.

Strangely we don't have that any more. Because of fucking soot in the air, as it was later found out. Now studies say that it is the soot that stabilizes daytime weather and suppresses rainfall. But by night, the moist trapped in the day is discharged in a disastrous manner. Especially in the mountains, where the flood destroys homes.

We as a species are fucked. We've transgressed natural justice and the Erinyes are going to destroy us. Not by a swift execution but by a cruel, prolonged, maddening torture of a thousand cuts.
posted by runcifex at 11:48 AM on May 11 [15 favorites]


Could it just be that cars are more aerodynamic?
posted by whuppy at 11:59 AM on May 11


Could it just be that cars are more aerodynamic?

Literally the second paragraph of the article.
posted by Etrigan at 12:09 PM on May 11 [23 favorites]


The profusion of moths on every window and door and hovering around every street light in the summertime is definitely something I used to notice but don't any more.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:26 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]


A week and a half ago we made a 300 mile round trip. This is all in rural North Dakota in a less than aerodynamic 2005 Mercury Grand Marquis or as I call it, the Mercury Land Yacht. So there it is, a month before prime insect season and we're picking up plenty of insect carnage.

The small towns out here can't afford insect control and right now we're under a tidal wave of ticks. I'd say insects are pushing back here on the prairie.
posted by Ber at 12:37 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


I have so many moths attracted to my porch light that I try to avoid turning it on. If the porch light is on, the house fills with moths any time I open the door.

I also get eaten alive by mosquitoes anytime I go outside in the evening.

Some kind of wasps are nesting in the corners of my brand new windows.

We have clouds of bats outside feeding on the clouds of bugs. And toads in our window wells.

So, no, I have not noticed this.

Except in winter. Winter knocks down the bugs. Except this winter, we had "brown marmorated stink bugs" inside the house all winter. They are some kind of invasive species. So I do notice that. The stink bugs seem to have tapered off, though, as the normal bugs returned.
posted by elizilla at 12:41 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


"A frog got in the house the other night and we practically threw it a party."

After a scary article this made me smile, so thank you for that.

"We have a person with bees a few blocks down, and I think we get all their bees in our yard, because there are so few flowers in the neighborhood. Endless carefully-mown grass, as far as the eye can see, until you reach our untended yard, currently covered in buttercups."

My yard isn't as pretty as yours (at least not right now), but it's about half grass and half garden dirt with bushes, and I've seen a similar effect with insects and animals. In the last ten years I've seen more wasps, ants, rabbits and other critters than ever before, because most of the gardens on the surrounding lands are gone. There's just grass, concrete and giant garages around me now.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:31 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


I guess that's something I have to look forward to, then.

My partner and I are getting a permaculture garden installed in our home in Maine. Lots of flowering and fruit-bearing plants on an island that's about 1/3 forest and 2/3 mowed-grass lawns. And I have insectophobia.

It's the right thing to do on many levels, but I have to say I'm not looking forward to being a buggy oasis in a buggy desert.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:38 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


Seconding runcifex above, here in southern NZ I've noticed a lot more overwintering of a range of insects - yes we're been having dramatically warmer winters, but we've still had frosts, and even single frost events would normally wipe out cold-sensitive invertebrates. So are there direct elevated CO2 effects enabling bugs to overwinter?

On another note clients are increasingly asking me to design bird and insect-friendly landscapes which is a great opportunity of getting ecological understanding out there - but I fear we won't make it in time
posted by unearthed at 1:54 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


And neonicotinoid pesticides should be banned, damnit.
I certainly agree, but I'm not convinced that's anywhere near a sufficient solution. Correct me if I'm wrong but: the first neonicotinoid pesticide was commercially introduced in 1985? And most of the decline occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s?
posted by roystgnr at 2:04 PM on May 11


Endless carefully-mown grass, as far as the eye can see, until you reach our untended yard, currently covered in buttercups.

I've had this musing thought for the last few years, given the advent of Roomba floor-vacuuming robots and swimming-pool cleaners other little autonomous bots—I wonder if you could make a robot that would crawl around a field of grass and weave the grass into a level-height and aesthetically-pleasing pattern.

And if you were able to do that, would such a lawn satisfy the people who currently want their lawns to look like astroturf? I'm sure it would still have an ecological impact versus a completely natural and unmolested field of grass, but at least it wouldn't be a monoculture.

Plus I think it would be cool if there were Etsy-like websites of ecologist-artists designing and licensing living-grass-weaving patterns you could buy and plug into your garden-bot.
posted by XMLicious at 2:08 PM on May 11 [12 favorites]


And most of the decline occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s?

DDT was in use into the early 70s and Sevindust was introduced in 1958. I'll take my answer off the air.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:11 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


My property in Texas was a "buggy oasis in a buggy desert," and it gave me the greatest joy, and broke my heart to leave. I planted native plants as well as vegetables and trees and worked so hard to restore the soil biology in my baren, suburban lawn. Yes, I had wasps and ants, but they never bothered me or tried to come inside the house. I also had BEES of many types, jumping spiders and beetles and fireflies (oh the beautiful fireflies) and so many butterflies my husband said it looked like a forest set on the muppet show with so many little creatures fluttering about. I had a workman come to the house and get tears in his eyes. "Its a paradise here," he told me.

We could still help this poor planet, even now, even with climate change, we could still help, if we all tried...
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:31 PM on May 11 [14 favorites]


I fell in love Gerald Durrell's writing after we studied My Family and Other Animals in Form 3. I urge you to read it, WalkerWestridge, if you haven't. It was your comment that reminded me.
posted by infini at 2:37 PM on May 11 [5 favorites]


I have a tree in my backyard that grows these sort of fuzzy blue blooms every May/June, and it's awesome and a little terrifying because I swear it becomes about 40% bee and pollinator by weight. Makes it a challenge to mow nearby because the bees decide they don't want me near their giant snack tree.

Other hopeful news:

‘Butterfly Whisperer’ Leads Rare Species’ Comeback In San Francisco
posted by Existential Dread at 4:13 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


In the laboratory, the pest slug Deroceras reticulatum was unaffected by thiamethoxam, but transmitted the toxin to predaceous beetles (Chlaenius tricolor), impairing or killing >60%.
In the field, thiamethoxam-based seed treatments depressed activity–density of arthropod predators, thereby relaxing predation of slugs and reducing soya bean densities by 19% and yield by 5%.
Neonicotinoid residue analyses revealed that insecticide concentrations declined through the food chain, but levels in field-collected slugs (up to 500 ng g−1) were still high enough to harm insect predators.
Douglas et al., Journal of Applied Entomology
posted by clew at 6:50 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


I've attempted to search for meaningful, peer-reviewed articles re herbicide (especially Roundup/glyphosate) effects and the only thing that explains so little into is that corporations are acting in their own interests. It does appear that glyphosate has broad negative effects on the entire fungal range - I've been trying to avoid its use in planting maintenance as it supresses/kill soil fungi which in turn slows plant growth. It also messes us up an article from Entropy -'Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases†'-
posted by unearthed at 9:19 PM on May 11


The article actually does mention that insect mass may be relatively stable in some locations but a concern here is that the composition of the mass is increasingly taken up by certain insect species, aphids in their example iirc.
posted by Peter B-S at 3:17 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for ChuraChura to chime in - she's just left for West Africa - as to whether this might be more of an industrialized nation problem.
posted by infini at 7:41 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


"Obviously, it's all bad, but I'm really sad about the lightning bugs. Watching the lightning bugs and the bats (which I guess are probably also suffering if insects are) was such a highlight of my childhood."

It's one of the weirdest things about being west of the Rockies. No lightning bugs.

One of the best Fourth of July memories I have is being off on a friend-of-a-friend's acres at the edge of exurban Ypsilanti, far enough out that they could launch P-class rockets without getting the cops called. Each time they sent a rocket up, if you looked to the field behind us, billions of fireflies would gently lift up from the waist-high grass and hover.

"We're at the point it doesn't freaking matter what the cause is. Like an elimination diet, we need to cut out or minimize as many of the possible causes of mass die-offs as we can, and keep our fingers crossed we aren't all doomed."

Just gonna push back against this a little: There are huge costs to any action on this, including doing nothing, and having a view of what the trade-offs are is important enough that the idea to just start cutting anything that might be a cause should be viewed with some skepticism. There are some really big, obvious environmental changes (human carbon impact on global climate) that we know enough about to have a pretty clear view of what needs to happen to address it and we're still stumbling.

"I've attempted to search for meaningful, peer-reviewed articles re herbicide (especially Roundup/glyphosate) effects and the only thing that explains so little into is that corporations are acting in their own interests. "

Really? I haven't looked in a couple of years, but it seemed like there were a ton of them, because neonicotinoids are one of the most studied compounds for agriculture. Unless you mean a lack of definitive research on their impact on non-pest insects, e.g. bees, but part of that is likely because collecting data on these types of things is really, really goddamned difficult, with a ton of confounders. Hell, even human longterm population research regarding health and environmental effects is really, really goddamned difficult, and people both can talk to you and leave a pretty substantial trail of artifacts. That's before even getting into stuff like that here in America, getting the GOP to fund basic science is like pulling teeth, so I'd imagine things like broad insect surveys inside wildlife refuges would get dismissed out of hand.
posted by klangklangston at 4:13 PM on May 12


.
posted by LeftMyHeartInSanFrancisco at 11:13 PM on May 12


My family members who live in suburbia are all about that "spray the whole yard so we can enjoy it" neo culture. I don't get it. It leaves this blackish schmutz on all the tree leaves, and their yards are eerily silent. I mean, they're killing everything, don't they notice? No butterflies, no nothing. Gross!

Nothing I say has any impact, because mosquitoes cause diseases don't you know. I live in northern Minnesota where mosquitoes are real, yo. I would never spray my yard. If I'm worried about mosquitoes, I poison my own skin, not the world.
posted by RedEmma at 6:10 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


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