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Most of us consider insects to be pests. I drift into that mindset when I slap a mosquito. However, I just finished reading a New York Times article by Brooke Jarvis, which made me consider insects in a whole new light.

Ms. Jarvis' column is about the loss of insects and the effect that loss has on the earth's ecosystem. The statistics that follow are from her article.

Most of us live in the present without much thought of the future unless it directly impacts the way we live. That's part of the problem, because if I asked you about the numbers of monarch butterflies currently populating the earth, you'd probably shrug your shoulders--who cares?--but what if I tell you the monarch butterfly population has been reduced by 90 percent in the last 20 years? Almost every study made in developed countries has seen similar drops in the population of bugs, butterflies, and insects.

What has caused this problem? Before you say, "That won't bother me," be ready to say hello to a flowerless world and a silent forest. You must also forget about the availability of many fruits and vegetables, expect to catch smaller fish, and be ready to see the world plunge into an ecological dark age with mass starvation and resource wars where survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs. The future is that grim without insects.

We must realize that by being eaten, insects power the growth of uncountable species including freshwater fish and a majority of birds. Hundreds of earth's creatures rely on them for food, not to mention the creatures that eat those creatures. We worry about saving the grizzly bear, but where is the grizzly without the bees that pollinate the berries the grizzly eats or the flies that sustain baby salmon?

In Europe, numerous studies have recorded a 50 percent to 80 percent drop in bird populations during the last 30 years. Many scientists are calling it the Sixth Extinction, which can only be stopped by reversing the human activities that are causing it.

Just to give you an understanding of how close we are to the extinction of thousands of species, consider that in recorded history, lions were present in France and walruses were at the mouth of the Thames. Around 97 percent of the bluefin tuna have been eliminated from our oceans, and 93 percent of former tiger habitat is tiger-free. The world's largest king penguin colony has decreased by 88 percent in just 35 years.

We can't ignore those statistics and say we care about the earth's ecology, and it sure stands to reason we can't let someone else do the job of helping endangered wildlife recover. It takes a whole different look at the picture when we factor in insects. If we don't help them survive, countless species that depend on insects to sustain life will starve. We have reached the point in earth's history when we must consider the overall plant, animal, and insect situation.

Let me give you two Arkansas examples, and you can multiply them by a million. A number of years ago, when fire ants moved up from Texas into south Arkansas, someone came up with the idea of aerial spraying to kill them. That stopped when it became obvious the spraying was decimating bees, but the damage had already been done.

But we are still spraying yards and everywhere else to kill mosquitoes. The spray also kills millions of other insects. Those dead insects are eaten by birds and other creatures, which ultimately kills them or builds up in their bodies.

Who knows how our consumption of contaminated fish and other meats affects the human body? Many of us grew up when DDT was sprayed for mosquitoes in many of our cities, and kids would run behind the spray trucks, breathing in the fumes. Maybe the huge increase in autism is a red flag telling us that everything is life is connected, and we are poisoning ourselves as we live in the chemical age.

I enjoy the 100 Years Ago feature in the Democrat-Gazette, and noted a few months back that a town in north-central Arkansas had organized a wolf hunt after a couple of wolves were spotted. Two dogs and one wolf were killed. That was probably one of the last remaining wolves in our state, since the red wolf had already been eliminated from south Arkansas. Since 1970 the earth's population of wild animals has taken a nose dive. For every six wild animals that once ate and burrowed and raised young, only one remains.

In order to slow down and someday reverse the loss of insects, we must change the way we manage the earth's ecosystem and enhance their chances of survival. There are many ways we can do this, and our green, fertilized, and toxic (to insects) yards are probably at the top of the list.

Please do something besides read this column and nod. What can you do?

  1. Reduce or eliminate the amount of fertilizer put on your grass.

  2. Don't spray your yard with insecticide to kill mosquitoes because it kills all the insects.

  3. Don't even think of using a bug zapper.

  4. Create a small pond in a corner of your yard and let Mother Nature take over.

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 12/16/2018

Print Headline: A future without insects


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  • Jfish
    December 16, 2018 at 7:38 a.m.

    Good column Richard. However, I would like to see the farmers in NE Arkansas try and use less water on their rice crops and reduce the horrendous mosquito population over there. There are documented studies out of Mississippi State University that show far less water can be used in certain soil types. I have asked the ADG to follow up and write a story on that research but have not seen anything yet. I certainly agree with you on the use of fertilizers. Agriculture is the main contributor to nitrogen and phosphorus in our rivers and streams, however, cities (homeowners) also have a responsibility to reduce the use of fertilizers. You can mulch/compost your leaves and grass clippings and those can be your natural fertilizer as opposed to having a lawn care company spread fertilizer on your yard weekly/monthly.