Eliminate the Need for Pesticides With Insect Hotels
The Beneficial Insect Community
Albert Einstein once said, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
Once again, Einstein was right. About a third of our food supply depends on pollination. Bees are essential for the production of fruits and vegetables, and their loss is negatively impacting our food chain. In addition to pesticides, the harsh winters and droughts from climate change have also played a role in the declining bee-colony population. Gardeners need to remedy this situation by doing whatever is possible to attract bees and help maintain their health and safety.
Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) refers to the rapidly declining bee population, which poses a significant risk not just to the survival of the bees, but to our survival as well. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attributes the decline in large part to the increased use of pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, or neonics, manufactured and promoted by multinational chemical giants. According to the NRDC, 42 percent of U.S. bee colonies collapsed in 2015, a number well above the average 31 percent that have been dying each winter for the past decade. The USDA, however, describes Colony Collapse as a “mystery problem” and contends that there is as yet no proven scientific cause for CCD. Many may disagree about its causes, but all can agree with Einstein that preserving the bee population is essential.
Talking About the Birds and the Bees
Although bees are well known for their role as pollinators, they are not the only pollinators that can be attracted to an insect hotel. Other beneficial insects include beetles, butterflies, green lacewings, leaf miners, white flies, mole crickets, cabbage worms, hummingbirds, and bats.
Some say that more than one hundred million years ago, beetles were the very first pollinators. Beetles pollinate 88 percent of all flowering plants — that’s more than any other animal.
Here’s an interesting factoid about these little birds: hummingbirds pollinate almost exclusively on flowers that hang upside down. By using artificial flowers to feed the birds and then recording them with high-speed footage, researchers discovered that hummingbirds expended 10 percent more energy drinking from upside-down flowers than from right-side-up flowers. They postulated that right-side-up flowers are more exposed to rain, which might dilute their sweet nectar and therefore make them less desirable for hummingbirds.
Although not as efficient pollinators as bees, butterflies are still important for pollinating gardens. Unlike bees, butterflies can see the color red, which directs them toward the brightly hued blooms. To attract the opposite sex, butterflies emit pheromones, which are very similar to the scents of certain flowers to which other butterflies are attracted.
Green lacewings larvae feast on the eggs and immature stages of numerous soft-bodied insect pests, including many species of spider mites, aphids, thrips, whiteflies, and leafhoppers, as well as the eggs and caterpillars of pest moths and mealybugs.
In addition to insect hotels, consider placing a bat house in your garden. Some bats are pollinators, while others are “insectivores” that eat insects. In one night out, a single insect-eating bat can consume 60 medium-sized moths or over 1,000 mosquito-sized insects.
Bats arrive after sunset to assist in pest control by consuming garden pests, while others continue the work of pollination when the bees, butterflies, and other insects have left for the day.
Two species of these nocturnal animals are nectar-feeding, the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat. Bats are very important pollinators in tropical and desert climates. Most flower-visiting bats are found in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
The flowers typically of interest to bats are large ones that open at night, are white or pale colors, and emit a musty or rotten scent.
Bats are important pollinators of desert plants such as cacti and agave — from which we get tequila — but they also pollinate much of the vegetation in the rain forest. Over 500 species of fruits and vegetables rely on bats to pollinate their flowers. Avocados, bananas, carob, cashews, cloves, dates, durian, figs, guavas, mangoes, and peaches owe much of their existence to the pollination they have received from these pollinators of the night.