Thursday, November 29, 2018

Debbie Downer Talks About Bugs

I just realized it's only 5:47, and I've been up drinking coffee and reading for a good half-hour already. Why am I up so early?!

I finished a devastating article yesterday in the New York Times magazine about the decline of insect life and its ramifications for the planet overall. It was so depressing that I hesitate to even mention it here. But it's well-written and I'm sure it's true, and if we don't talk about these issues, how will we ever change or reverse them?

I posted it to Facebook, and that led to an exchange with my old friend Kevin about how much less wildlife we see now in our hometown in Florida. "Remember when we were young that there were so many meadowlarks, quail, nightingales and red winged blackbirds in Land O' Lakes," he wrote. "I can't remember the last time I saw any of those in the area."

Granted, he visits but no longer lives there, and although I've visited Tampa and some areas nearby, I haven't been back to Land O' Lakes since my Mom sold our family home in 2015. Still, I was there long enough and often enough over the past several decades to see a definite decline. I often think of the quail, how common they were when I was a child and how rare now. I don't think I've seen a quail in the wild in Florida since the mid-'80s.

As for insects -- when I was a kid, each year at a certain time, hundreds of mayflies would land on my bedroom windows, which faced a lake. I think they were mating or molting or maybe even dying at the end of their life cycle. But at some point over the years that stopped happening, and I couldn't even say when. I just know I haven't seen those once-abundant mayflies in a long time, and whenever I asked my mom about them, she hadn't seen them either.

We saw fewer green tree frogs over the years, and fewer snakes. (My mom had a couple of cats, and I'm sure that didn't help.) I often just assumed I wasn't seeing these creatures because I no longer lived there, and wasn't visiting at the right times.

I have lived in cities for the last few decades, so my contact with wildlife has been much more limited. Dave and I always take pleasure in seeing the gnats and other little bugs flying around over our pesticide-free garden here in London on summer evenings, and as you know, I often blog our experiences with foxes, squirrels, ladybirds, butterflies and other critters.

But it turns out there really is a decline among almost every living creature in the natural world. We don't always notice because it's a relatively slow change, and highly variable by geographical location. But nothing on earth is prospering except humans -- and I'd say the clock is ticking even on that.

(Photo: A door in Bermondsey.)


  1. I could moan and weep with sheer despair about what human activities are doing to all other living creatures on this planet. From the destruction of The Amazon Rainforest to overfishing to the cruel slaughter of elephants for their tusks to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides. Even Shakespeare could not have imagined a tragedy of such terrible and widespread proportions.

  2. Soon enough humans will do themselves in, and the planet will be better off for it. We deserve whatever we get.

  3. And here I was, only thinking about our doom because of climate change.
    Scary, though, and sad, to see wildlife diminishing. If you saw the rampant pace of development in our part of Florida, you'd know why.

  4. I startled a covey of quail on my walk the other day and told Glen about it. "That's rare these days," he said.
    My god. What have we done?
    What are we doing?

  5. I saw that though I didn't read the whole article. too depressing. we are definitely in the midst of another worldwide extinction and we are the cause. taking over habitat, killing everything that bothers us, killing just for sport! all the poisons we put on the ground and in the air and water. we are a smug self centered species willfully ignorant of the fact that we are just one link in the chain, not the whole chain.

  6. Sobering thoughts. Some animals benefit from climate change. Can we take heart that the Arctic mosquito is among them? Also, . . . cats! They breed more in warmer climates. However, having more wild cats is also maybe not something to celebrate.

  7. It's a tragic thing we humans are doing this planet. So much has already been destroyed. It's hard to even remember what we no longer see. I do have one memory that has stayed with me from when I was young in New Jersey. In the fall the sky would literally darken with migrating birds. I keep thinking of Gary Snyder's poem "For the Children" written more than 40 years ago.

    The rising hills, the slopes,
    of statistics
    lie before us,
    the steep climb
    of everything, going up,
    up, as we all
    go down.

    In the next century
    or the one beyond that,
    they say,
    are valleys, pastures,
    we can meet there in peace
    if we make it.

    To climb these coming crests
    one word to you, to
    you and your children:

    stay together
    learn the flowers
    go light

  8. Song bird populations in North America have crashed and nobody knows why. Micro life is the base. How much micro life has been lost?

  9. I saw that article too but, didn't read the whole thing. I really do feel like our species is doomed to extinction and by our own hand. The insect story made me think of all the lightening bugs we used to see in the summer in Illinois. There used to be thousands of them. We could sit on our porch in the dark and watch them light up the night. My friend who still lives back there said she rarely sees any at all any longer.

  10. I understand the Everglades are being overrun by pythons.

  11. Emotionally we come to terms with these times...we become philosophical- watching our demise, and the change of our home to be uninhabitable. we rage and rage we should but there will be no changing this process of so called "end times" mid stream. Humans fucked up. So...take a trip, go see stuff, read all of the books, write poetry, make art, help when needed and by all means get a dog... or two and several cats.

  12. I remember driving all day to the south of France when I was a student and stopping every so often to clear the insect roadkill from the windscreen.
    I have been told that the lack of dead insects on windscreens was one reason biologists were alerted to this drastic decline.

  13. I will have to take myself firmly by the collar to manage reading that article. Not today. My heart is already at overload. Maybe tomorrow.

  14. YP: Me too.

    Jennifer: The planet might be better off, unless we take everything else with us!

    Marty: Well, climate change is part of it. The disappearance of insects may be partly attributable to climate change.

    Ms Moon: It gives me such a little burst of hope that you're still seeing quail. I mean, they're still in trouble and there are still far fewer than there used to be, but at least they're still around.

    Ellen: It's amazing how consumed we are with our daily human dramas, and how ignorant we are of the wider world.

    Fresca: It's hard for me to get enthusiastic about mosquitoes, but maybe if mosquitoes extend their range, the birds and bats and other animals that eat them will extend their ranges as well?

    Robin: Beautiful poem! It's interesting that you remember the bird migrations so vividly. I remember as a child studying in school about passenger pigeons, and how they would blot out the sun with their huge flocks. It always seemed like an exaggeration to me -- I couldn't conceive of such abundance. But as you said, how do we miss what we have never known?

    Red: I'm sure it must be due at least partly to a loss of food, considering how many birds eat bugs!

    Sharon: So sad! I remember seeing fireflies as a child, too, and that's another thing I'm not sure we see so often now in the neighborhood where I grew up.

    Catalyst: Yes! They're a huge problem! I think Florida offers a bounty to snake hunters to catch and kill them, but I doubt at this point they can ever be entirely eradicated. Much to the horror of the possums and the raccoons.

    Linda Sue: Yes, there's something to that. We have to live our lives and can't allow ourselves to be paralyzed by grief. But at the same time, it's important to be aware, and God knows if we can do anything to slow the progression of this planetary deterioration, we MUST!

    Colette: Absolutely.

    Sabine: Yes! This realization began in Europe, apparently, for just that reason.

    Jenny-O: As I said on Facebook, it is not for the faint-hearted. But it's important to know. Sorry to be the bearer of grim tidings. :(