Be kind to insects

Our relationship with nature is completely dysfunctionalShaun Tan

I read somewhere that insect ecosystems are threatened with global collapse, and I’ve had more respect for the insects around the house and in the garden since then. I’ve also become aware that the house doesn’t fill with insects anymore if I leave a window open and the light on. Where have they all gone? There are fewer daddy long legs insects in the corners of the ceiling and I don’t vacuum them away any more.

I don’t spray the garden at all and wince when I see insecticide advertised by garden centres. I figure that things balance themselves out and who am I to interfere with what nature can manage for itself? Planting alyssum and marigolds can attract away the insects which cause sooty mould if a dousing with soapy water doesn’t do the trick. Wax-eyes and other little birds make a meal of aphids on the roses and columbine. Ladybirds used to do this job, but who has seen a ladybird lately? Where have they gone? Flown away home?

I’ve seen more bumblebees than honey bees this year – except when the rosemary and cabbage tree were flowering. They aren’t the only pollinators, though. Even flies do that.

Speaking of flies, when I lived in the country with sheep paddocks all around there were always flies in warmer weather. The solution seemed to be to leave doors and windows open so that if they flew in they could fly out again. Windmilling your arms occasionally helped too. Better than unpleasant fly spray.

Water butts attract interesting insects. I sometimes put a little bleach in to discourage them, but they aren’t of such numbers that an outbreak of malaria is imminent.

Spiders’ webs make garden sculptures on dewy mornings. They make their webs on garden sculptures too.

The hens fossick for insects all day long and peck at things I can barely see. There’s clearly a lot going on that we’re unaware of. Sometimes on summer evenings you can come inside from the garden feeling itchy around the ankles from the bites of invisible insects. One night a couple of weeks ago I went out to check the hen run, and spotted an albino slug suspended from a long thread of some kind of web – or slug slime, perhaps. It looks enormous in the photo, but was 5cm long.

If the chooks hear me moving a garden pot or bricks, or lifting the lid of the compost, they rush to see what comes to light. The wood pile, garden shed and pea straw attract their attention. I can barely discern what they are eating. They don’t seem keen on slugs, however, turning their beaks away when one is offered, but I have seen them pecking at snail shells. Maggots from around the chicken-poo bucket are an acceptable snack.

We are told to watch out for wasps and stink bugs. I guess I wouldn’t leave those to sort things out for themselves if they became a nuisance in the garden. White tail spiders are not a favourite, being known for eating our native spiders and for their nasty bite. But the little hopping spiders which occasionally live on my windowsills and on my desk are very cute. Here’s one that hopped out of my printer.

I decided as a child that I would not be afraid of spiders and that I would resist the scream-and-kill response which is the default, it seems, for many human-insect encounters. Insects need our respect now more than ever.

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