Kathy Keatley Garvey works at the University of California at Davis department of entomology and nematology as a communications specialist and writes the blog Bug Squad ( http://ucanr.edu/blogs/bugsquad/index.cfm), where she chronicles the drama of the insect world all around us.
Q. What do you most want the public to know about common species such as the monarch butterfly, praying mantis and honeybee?
A. You can go on an insect safari in your own yard if you plant a pollinator garden. You can provide bee condos (wood blocks drilled with the proper-sized holes) for the leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees. Be sure to provide a little barren ground for ground-dwelling bees, such as bumble bees. Another key point: A backyard is a good place to observe and photograph wildlife.
Q. Tell us about the top scientific concerns about some of the species your blog covers.
A. Lately I’ve been concerned about the plight of the monarch butterfly. I’ve seen only two of them in our bee garden this year. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation just announced that the monarch population has declined 90 percent in the United States in less than 20 years, and that we’ve lost 165 million acres of habitat, an area the size of Texas. The butterfly lays its eggs on milkweed, and milkweed is the only larval food.
My main concern, however, is the honeybee. I’m concerned about bee health: the pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition and stress. We can all do simple things like providing food for the bees and avoiding pesticides.
Q. What are some of the key discoveries about insects?
A. I think the most exciting thing about insects is that they totally outnumber us; they are amazing success stories in that they have survived, evolved and adapted for some 3 billion years. Many people think “ick” when they see an insect, but less than 1 percent are pests, such as mosquitoes, lice, bed bugs, termites and cockroaches.
We’re learning new things about insects every day, whether they be pests, pollinators, predators or parasites or something else. For example, they clothe us (silkworms), pollinate our crops (primarily bees), feed us (bee honey), heal our wounds (medical use of maggots) and dye our clothes (cochineal); they clean up after us (dung beetles, blowfly maggots); and they assist with criminal forensic cases (blowfly maggots).