Sunday, September 4, 2016
HumBug: Missing Giants
By Anthony Westkamper
on Sun, Sep 4, 2016 at 3:00 PM
I did this because there is an ongoing and disturbing current in the online entomological chatter
. Apparently insect populations the world over are falling, and it's not just the bad ones humankind has been battling for as long as there has been a humankind, or the big names like honeybees and monarch butterflies. There seems to be an overall decline in the numbers and diversity in the arthropod world.
So I decided to check things out in my own backyard. Yes, despite my best efforts I have yet to attract anything like the numbers I used to see 50+ years ago. And no, this is not a clean well documented scientific experiment because I did not foresee the need to take data on it when I was a kid. It is at best anecdotal evidence but it is enough to give me pause.
The afternoon after writing the above, I returned from town only to find a large winged insect on my window frame. At first I thought it might be a cicada but on closer inspection it was shaped all wrong. I took several photos before it just fluttered off and was gone. It turns out to be a giant lacewing (family polystoechotidae). Listed as “rare” in the second edition of American Insects, A Handbook of the Insects of North America North of Mexico
. So after setting up a trap in my backyard and staying up past midnight several nights in a row, I find a rare “giant insect” attracted to the wrong side of my house in the daytime. Sometimes I think Mother Nature pokes fun at me.
The last couple of nights I've been running an experiment to answer a question. When I was a kid, I could leave the porch light on almost any night and there'd be a bunch of insects around it in an hour or so. Lately, I've been noticing that there don't seem to be nearly as many, and several of the really big ones I used to see are missing. The Ceanothus moth, giant waterbug and giant cranefly, to name three. I decided to set up my own little light trap. Resurrecting some old Coleman lanterns and a white sheet, I cobbled it together. While none of the big three made an appearance, the lights did attract a few moderate sized moths, a termite and an ichneumon.