Why do insects matter?
Most people think of insects as pests and set out to neutralize them whenever they encounter them. In truth - insects are vital to our survival and the survival of our planet. Insects play a role in the pollination of most of the crops grown for human consultation, the decomposition of organic materials, and they are the primary food source for many bird, amphibian, fish, reptile, and even mammal species. If insects were to suddenly disappear from our planet, there would be a massive impact on our lives and on the lives of all other living organisms.
But - could the insects disappear?
Our planet is at the start of the sixth mass extinction event — the Anthropocene extinction —named to represent the human ("anthropo-") impact on this era of history. Recent studies have shown that more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third of them are endangered (the IUCN Red List listed the monarch butterfly as endangered just last week). The rate of extinction for insects is far faster (eight times faster) than the rates that are experienced by birds, reptiles, or mammals. Insect population collapses have been reported in several parts of the world and the total mass of insects has been falling by roughly 2.5% per year - this means they could be gone within a century if we don't do anything. The primary factors that have been impacting them the most are habitat loss and pesticide use, however it is expected that climate change and raising temperatures are also going to have a massive impact. Here is a good review of the topic.
What can we do?
All hope is not lost, if we can curb pesticide use, reduce human expansion into new habitats, and take steps to reduce the impacts of climate change, then we might be able to reduce the final impact on the planet's insects. The Xerces Society is a nonprofit that is working to conserve invertebrates and their habitats, so supporting them is also a way to help conservation efforts.
With that in mind - I created the Pennsylvania Pollinators sticker series. This set of stickers features insects that all act as pollinators here in in Pennsylvania and nearby states. I created the stickers to bring attention to the importance of our local pollinators here in Pennsylvania and to generate a revenue, of which 50% will be donated to the Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Program.
Please purchase some of my stickers for you / your friends to help support insect conservation or — if you're not a sticker person-- just go the Xerces Society website to donate directly. You can also visit their site for more information on pollination and insect conservation.
The Sticker Series
See below for information on each species.
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) is a pollinator species that is common across the eastern United States. They are in the Papilionidae family and they feed on the nectar from many different species of flower. Because they feed on a diverse array of flower nectar, they have the opportunity to pollinate many different flower species. They are sexually dimorphic - meaning that the females and males don't look the same - the sticker features a female.
The Narrow-headed Marsh Fly (Helophilus fasciatus) is a type of flower fly (family Syrphidae). Flower flies are pollinators and this species is common across the United States and into parts of Canada. The Narrow-headed Marsh Fly is one of the earliest and the latest syrphids to fly every year, giving them a lot of opportunity to pollinate many flowers . As you might have guessed, this species has coloration that is consistent with bee/wasp mimicry (common among flower flies). Remember - not everything black and yellow is an insect with a stinger.
The Elephant Mosquito (Toxorhynchites rutilus) is the largest mosquito (family Culicidae) species we have in the United States. It is found in most of the eastern United States and into parts of Canada and Mexico. Nobody thinks about mosquitoes when they think about pollinators, but Elephant mosquitos are primarily flower nectar feeders, as are the male mosquitos of most mosquito species, and never bite people. Not only is this species harmless to us they also pollinate the flowers they visit.
The Blue Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria) is a mason bee from the Megachilidae family and it is the only actual bee I've included in this series. The Blue Orchid Bee is a solitary, native bee that makes its nests in reeds and natural holes. Orchard mason bees arrange their nests as a series of partitions, with one egg per partition. The female begins the process by collecting mud and building the back of the first partition. She then makes several trips to nearby flowers. The female will visit an average of 75 flowers per trip, and it takes about 25 trips to create a complete pollen/nectar provision for an individual egg. One female bee will visit nearly 60,000 blossoms in her lifetime.
The common blue mud-dauber wasp (Chalybion californicum) is a wasp from the Sphecidae family and it feeds on nectar and is a pollinator of some common wildflowers. It is present across much of the continental United States. The females can build their own nests / brood cells but are known for stealing the nests of other wasps. The females use water to soften the cells and then they will remove the unwanted egg/larvae and any food that was previously placed into the cell and replace it with a fresh paralyzed spider upon which they then lay their own egg. When the larva hatches it will have an eight-legged meal waiting for it. This species is actually famous for predating on black widow spiders.
The Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) is a milkweed pollinator that is present across much of the continental United States. It is a member of the Cerambycidae family (the longhorn beetles), for which one of the identifying characters is a notch in the eye that is created by the antennae. In the Red Milkweed Beetles this notch actually separates each eye into two, resulting in the insect having four compound eyes, instead of the standard two; it gets its species name, tetrophthalmus (Latin for "four eyes"), from this eye structure. Milkweed is a unique plant in that it doesn't have pollen loosely located on the top of the flower, instead it has small waxy sacs of pollen called pollinia. As the Red Milkweed Beetles eat milkweed nectar the pollinia stick to the legs of the beetle and are deposited on other milkweed plants.
The hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) is a pollinator species from the Sphingidae family that is present across much of the continental United States. The adults are most active during the hottest parts of they day but do remain active beyond that. They collect nectar from a wide variety of flowers using a very long proboscis. The Hummingbird Clearwing Moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds, as they beats their wings quickly and hover when feeding on flowers. They pollinate many cultivated flowers and is the primary pollinator for some orchid species.