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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Molnar: A Good Winter For Bugs

Kent McFarland
"Almost half our bumble bees species have either vanished or are in serious decline."

You may remember how on road trips the windshield used to become so plastered with bug bodies that it was hard to see through it - or how hundreds of fireflies seemed to be blinking from every patch of grass on warm summer evenings.

But you may not have noticed that these days windshields stay clean and the grass at night is mostly dark – for the simple reason that insect populations worldwide are way, way down. And no matter how much we’d like to see ticks, flies and mosquitoes disappear, the drastic decline of insects around the world is cause for serious concern.

The alarm is just being sounded, and we don’t yet know the numbers, but we do know that insects are the pollinators and recyclers and the base of food webs.

We’re very much aware of the colony collapse that’s decimating bees. In China, they’re already forced to pollinate apple trees by hand. And even here in bucolic Vermont, according to a recent study by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the University of Vermont, almost half our bumble bees species have either vanished or are in serious decline.

A world without insects would be a world without wildflowers since there would be no pollinators.

A world without insects would be mostly silent without the birds that would vanish without insects and seeds to eat.

And a world without insects would be thick with carcasses, leaves and dung piled up because there would be no insects to recycle these into soil.

Simply put, we desperately need insects for our very survival.

Loss of habitat, herbicides and pesticides are some of the reasons for the disappearance of our insects. But so is climate change - because a warming climate, which could presumably help insects better survive winter, actually does the opposite. Freeze-thaw cycles are more frequent during warming winters, and these kill more insects than a consistently cold winter with a heavy blanket of protective snow.

So I’m among those hoping this will not only be a cold and very snowy winter, but that it will be the first of many - because what’s good for our insects – it turns out - is good for all of us.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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