I'm so glad that more and more kids are having environmental education experiences and grasping ecological concepts like habitat loss, food chains, pollination, reproduction, and especially adaptation. You have to wonder how the people making decisions at herbicide companies think. Don't they know that organisms can adapt and develop resistance to herbicides, making them stronger and even harder to eradicate than before? Don't they know that they are destroying the habitat for the Monarch butterfly's reproductive process by killing milkweed along with other unwanted "weeds" ? Milkweed is the only plant upon which Monarch butterflies lay their eggs.
Over the past 15 years industrial agriculture has ramped up its use of the herbicide glyphosate on and around GMO crops engineered to be resistant to this milkweed killer. As a result, the migrating population of Monarch butterflies has dropped by more than 90 %. While the milkweed has died off, the "weeds" the farmers are trying to kill have grown stronger and more resistant to glyphosate. Now the chemical companies are selling farmers an even more powerful herbicide to combat the "super weeds". And, because the milkweed is not herbicide resistant it will no doubt start dying at an even faster rate. Trouble for the monarch butterflies!
And trouble for people too. Butterflies, like bees, are pollinators. We need them around to spread pollen around and fertilize many different plants. If we make it impossible for monarch butterflies to reproduce by taking away their milkweed, we lose them as pollinators of other plants that we need. All things are connected in the web of life. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
Let's hear it for environmental educators who teach students about the web of life. Let's hear it for the teachers that take their students to EE programs or teach ecological concepts themselves at school. We need a future generation of decision makers that understand ecology and the interconnectedness of all living things. And so do those delicately and spectacularly decorated black, white and orange monarch butterflies.
Remember that glorious place in the movie Ants? I wonder what a real insectopia would be like? As spring approaches we start to think about our pollinators in the insect world. How are the bees and butterflies doing?
The answer is not so well. And neither are the beekeepers. A Wall Street Journal article I read the other day says that because of the massive die-offs of honey-bees, beekeepers are being forced out of their profession, and may be an endangered species themselves. For nearly a decade beekeepers have been losing 30% of their bees each winter. Some lost 40 and 50 percent last winter. The annual cost of maintaining a healthy hive has quadrupled in the last 15 years, and the beekeepers can't afford to do business any longer.
Meanwhile, honey bees now pollinate more than $50 billion of crops each year, including apples, almonds and cherries. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the American diet! Without beekeepers to care for the numbers of pollinators, U.S. crop production could slow down and we'll all have to pay a lot more for our food or rely on imported items. That's a look at the economics of honey bees.
So what is killing the honeybees? Scientists blame a combination of parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition as the causes of death. Many believe the number one culprit is Clothianidin, a pesticide. Beekeepers who have tried to ward off pests and disease in their hives are losing the battle to pesticides.
Can we imagine a pesticide free world? Organic farmers are showing us how it works. Now, that's an insectopia. Stay tuned for another blog on another pollinator at risk, the Monarch butterfly. Until then I leave you with a verse from "Grace for Pollinators" by Nancy Schimmel.
For this our food, we thank the bees that pollinate the flowers.
We thank the moths that do the same, in the evening hours.
We thank the birds and butterflies in every habitat.
And when we eat bananas, we sing to thank the bat.