“Insects, worms and other small animals that carry out vital functions for life on earth have declined by 45 per cent on average over 35 years, threatening human health, water quality and food supplies…”
-Steve Connor, “Vital invertebrates decline by 45 per cent, study finds,” independent.co.uk, July 2014.
Insect populations are steadily declining worldwide. Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist from Standford University developed a global index for invertebrate abundance that showed a 45% decline in the last four decades (3). Invertebrates are animals that don’t have backbones (5). These creatures make up about 95% of all known animals; without them, would result in a lot of major problems, for example, limiting food supplies, ecosystems services like pollination—which affects agriculture, etc. (5)(3).
In Germany every spring since 1989, entomologists put up tents in the meadows and woodlands of the Orbroicher Burch nature reserve and 87 other areas to trap insects so scientists can calculate how many insects live in the area over a full summer period (3). In the time span from May to October the numbers steadily decreased from 1.6 kilograms per trap to just 300 grams in 2014 (3)! Even though insects are small and do not seem important to us as humans and can be seen as a nuisance, they effect a huge part of our ecosystem.
The decline of the insect population has many factors like pesticides, neonictotinoids, and “biological deserts”. A major factor is pesticides, especially when overused. An even more harsh pesticide group is neonicotinoids (3). Neonicotinoids are a new class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine, which affects receptors in the nerve synapse (6). Neonicotinoids are very toxic to invertebrates and other insects (6). With low exposure to this pesticide, it does not normally kill insects directly but like bees, it affects their ability to forage for nectar, learn and remember where flowers are located, and possibly impair their ability to find their way home to the nest or hive (6). Neonicotinoids are not an issue in every country, Australia uses them as their bees do just fine, while Europe had to ban them because of how low their bee and other insect populations became.
Another factor is the creation of “biological deserts”. These deserts devoid hedges and ponds where insects could reproduce and without reproduction the insect population could not increase (3). Urbanization and habitat destruction go hand-in-hand with factors of the declination of insect populations too (3). We, as humans need to eliminate these factors so insect populations increase because they affect our world as a whole.
Without insects, it does not only affect us, from having the ability to consume, but it also affects other animals like bats, bird, and amphibians, which rely on insects as part of their meal (3). Insects are a part of the food chain; as primary consumers. Secondary consumers, like bats, bird, and amphibians, eat primary consumers and secondary consumers are consumed by higher up consumers in the food chain. Without the primary consumers, the whole food chain would be destroyed and eventually most species populations would decline. Another effect of the insect population declining is pollination.
Honey bees are vital to this process which plays a role in flowering plant reproduction and in the production of most fruits and vegetables (1). Bees intentionally collect pollen, while butterflies move pollen incidentally because the pollen sticks on their body while they are collecting nectar from flowers (1). About 636 million dollars’ worth of pollination is provided by pollination insects. Pollination affects all populations of humans and animals (2). Bees are a huge species within the insect population, a decline in bees result from diseases and colony collapses (3).
Colony collapses mainly occur from neonicotinoids. Europe and the U.S. documented declines in wild and managed bee populations and 30 to 40% are due to this (3). A few solutions to these issues have been tested but most minimally help the insect population.
What People Are Doing
Many scientists from various countries are attempting to find the main factor of the declination of the insect’s population. The Butterfly Conservation Europe and Wolfgang Wagele from the Zoological Research Museum are two of them. The Butterfly Conservation Europe, increased monitoring efforts, they have people who are trained to go out in the outdoors to collect data on what insects they see, specifically butterflies (3). Wolfgang Wagele, director of the Zoological Research Museum in Bonn, wants to implement an automated identification technique, either through artificial intelligence image analysis, genetic fingerprinting, or by matching acoustic recording with data collections (3). For example, when grasshoppers would make their characteristic sounds near a station, the species will be identified and the number of insects will be recorded (3). Another example of a different method described is when aerial insects would land in a trap; its genome will be compared to a data base (3). Lastly, larger insects like butterflies, could be seen using photographic image analysis to come up with a precise identification (3). These have been tested, but it seems as expected that each area of the world has a decrease in insect population due to different factors, which would result in different solutions. One solution all countries could possibly use: insect motels.
Insect motels are motels for insects to live in. In cold climates, an insect motel is a place where they can hibernate and in the summer it is a nesting place (4). In warmer climates, the motel is used for nesting and for a dry place to live during the wet season (4). As stated previously, in most areas insect habitats are being destroyed, insect motels would solve that problem because it would be a home for some of them. Change starts with one person, and can end with one million or more.
**At the end of the process book are some links and helpful information if you want to create your own insect motel.
This decline personally relates to me because I have noticed this change. Annually when I go Up North near Iron River, Wisconsin, I usually I see a lot of different kinds of bugs and as the years go on, there isn’t much of a variety or many insects at all. My favorite are the dragonflies because of their unique colors and how they reflect off of the lake and sun. With me noticing this change, this project has shown me that it there is a reason why I am seeing this change and what the causes of this declination could be. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and change needs to occur.
My Insect Motel
The Insect Motel project is a life-changing project not only for the bugs but for us as students and society. As mentioned previously, the insect population is declining quite fast and as students, we are trying to stop the trend and make a difference by trying to restore habitats for insects so their population can increase.
For my motel, I chose to create a leaf-shape because I find leaves appealing, unique, and nature-oriented. We were provided wood from a local Wisconsin state park, which is how I created the leaf-shape. My backing is made out of scrap wood and the front door is made of ply wood. My door also includes chicken wire, I chose chicken wire because the shape of the holes looks like the leaf shape I created and for the materials I filled it with, did not need hard wire (which have smaller squares). It is held by an eye-lid clip for a lock and a twig. The twig was my dad’s idea, it adds an earthy touch to the piece and really brings the motel as a whole together.
Each of the compartments have a variety of different materials that can be a habitat for a variety of insects, which was an important factor for my motel. In the pictures below, I list which materials specifically were selected. I did not have a particular thought-process for which materials I chose.
I did want to specifically have a few compartments of pinecones because they are habitats for lady bugs and I remember growing up as a child and always trying to get them on my finger or a leaf. I drilled holes in little pieces of logs so there is a place for insects to hibernate. Anywhere in my motel there is a place for hiding and hibernating, the only place I could see that being an issue would be the compartment of just twigs. The twigs are a place for insects who need to cling onto something. My motel has many different features to it that will be a habitat for any insect that chooses to live there.
I would like my motel to be at eye-level, either on a pole of some sort or a tree. I do not want it on a building. I noticed some parks and lakes have an information sign with the trails, information on the DNR, and rule and regulations, I think if my motel were by one of those that would bring attention to it because people who have been going there or new visitors would be curious on what it is.
For my motel the DNR will have to definitely take a nature walk to gather my materials. My compartments have a wide-range of variety and I would like to keep the materials the same. I find the materials within my motel as well as the colors, bring the piece together and create a good balance. The only materials I believe that will need to be replaced would be the cattails, greenery of the pine cones, and the leaves.
For this project we were asked to create insect motels to be put into Wisconsin Parks. These insect motels will provide a habitat for insects within the parks. These are a little way for us to help out the declination of the insect population. The insect motels were built out of wood from a local park’s trees. Our designs should be aesthetically pleasing and thoughtful in how it will be displayed. In addition, we needed to create a digital process book for the public to be able to look at how we created our projects.
For my insect motel, I wanted it to be very nature oriented and unique so I went with a leaf shape for my design. Leaves are unique and so are all of the insects that live in the wilderness. Inside my leaf, I have 7 compartments that acquire a habitat for various insects. I wanted my design to be able to serve a wide-range of insects because a lot of them have specific purposes and are very important to our ecosystem.
Through this process I learned a lot. Time management was definitely a lesson learned. We were only given 2 weeks to do this, which challenged a lot of us, and caused a lot of stress because we were beginners to the wood shop and didn’t know where to start. Another lesson learned was problem solving and the use of different techniques. My design had a lot of angles and trying to get the perfect angles was a challenge. I do not regret my design at all because it was unique and it challenged myself as an artist. I learned how to use the tools in the wood shop and what they can all do. Most importantly, I learned a lot about insects and their importance, this project was definitely eye-opening as far as the realization that their population is declining and this is a way we can help. I feel fortunate to be able to have my design in one of the Wisconsin parks.