Plants and our planet need insects.
We will really need our native pollinator insects to sustain our food crops when the population of European honeybees in Australia starts to collapse. This will happen when the Varroa mite reaches Australia and isn't detected by bio-security.
UPDATE: It's here. NSW Dept of Primary Industries is managing the emergency response.
Our Landcare group's project is to to research this subject, and to start collecting seed and propagating long-flowering groups of habitat plants that will feed and provide habitat for our local native insect populations.
We held a workshop in November 2021 on Attracting Native Butterflies and Bees to your garden. Here we learned that native bees need different nesting conditions and materials. If they breed in the ground they need an area of bare earth free that's from vegetation and mulch to build their nests. Leaf-cutter bees line their nests with rolled up segments of leaf that they cut out from plants. Some native bee species' nests can have disease develop, and they need new nests each year.
Reed bees and some other species nest in plant materials like dead blackberry, tree fern or bamboo canes. Others bore holes into wood.
None of our local native bees form colonies or make honey. The native bees that do this are found much further north. Our local solitary bees may make their nests together in the same area. Most species will produce two generations in the warmer months and die off in winter.
Butterflies differ from bees because they live their lives as different life forms at different stages. By the time we see a butterfly, it has been an egg, a caterpillar and a pupa that then hatches into an adult. The sole aim of the adult insect is to mate and lay eggs. They need nectar to sustain them on their quest, and flattish flowers seem to fit the bill. Rocks in the landscape give them warm places to rest, play and mate.
Some of our native butterflies will feed in the garden, but in order for their caterpillars to survive they need particular species of plants to be present. The caterpillars of the beautiful big Imperial White butterflies that can be seen in Morwell National Park in Spring only feed on Mistletoe leaves. If you are lucky enough to have Mistletoe in or around your farm or garden, you may see them too. Australian Yellow Admiral caterpillars feed on Stinging Nettles, and Common Browns on Native Grasses like Poa.
We were reminded at our workshop to just not use any pesticides in our gardens. For natural predators to manage the balance in a garden they need a certain amount of food. So there will be some insects. If you want to see butterflies, there need to be caterpillars. Cabbage Whites are an introduced pest butterfly. If you can develop a hobitat garden that looks after insectivorous birds, the Wrens, Fantails, Thornbills, Swallows and Yellow Faced Honeyeaters will eat them. One of the native bee species apparently eats aphids. Frogs and birds eat mosquitos. What's not to like about a bio-diverse garden?
How to guides at Birds Australia: https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/
To give this project a wider context. Insects worldwide appear to be under threat. There hasn't been enough science done in the past locally to quantify this apparent decline, but it is being observed, particularly in Europe and America. The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides is emerging as a probable cause of colony collapse in honey bees, and is likely to be affecting many other species of insects.
At a local and domestic scale, we can actively seek alternatives to using these chemicals. We can also can grow and protect plants that provide food and reproductive resources for our native insects in order to give them the best chance of survival.
Even if the Varroa mite doesn't get here, if we hope to retain a useful pollinator population of European honey bees and/or native bees; farmers, orchardists, horticulturalists and home gardeners need to re-examine their use of pesticides, especially the neonicotinoids. These may be marked as safe for individual humans to use, but future humans may regret the loss of bio-diversity that they appear to be causing.
For those with concerns about the pesticides that they are using, there is a list of brand names of neonicotinoids here:
There is more information (2017) on particular uses from the Australian Government here - but there seems to be an inclination to follow protocols developed in the USA rather than adopting the more cautious approach of the European Union.
More interesting pollinator factoids:
Locally, Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) is flowers in summer and the insects are go nuts! You can see fine leaved bushes with masses of creamy white flowers along many of our local roads, particularly Yinnar Road between the township and the Hazelwood Cemetery. This is the plant that provides habitat for the Eltham Copper Butterfly caterpillars. The butterfly's truly astonishing symbiotic relationship with ants and Sweet Bursaria plants is explained at this link.
we understand that there is a closely related species of Copper Butterfly that occurs locally.
Local Eucalypts flower at different times through the year and are pollinated by insects such as native bees, butterflies and moths as well as flying foxes and birds. Old growth trees and leaf litter are crucial to sustaining our local fauna. Please protect and preserve them.
For all things Australian Native Bee, the Aussie Bee website has ID guides, How-to guides and more.
The Wheen Bee Foundation also has honeybee resources:
There are some terrific insect photos on the Wild Pollinator Count results page for the Spring 2021 count. Unfortunately there are no scheduled counts for 2022 as the researchers are taking time out to analyse the data already collected.
WATCH THIS SPACE / WATCH THIS TUTORIAL
The annual Wild Pollinator Count will be back in 2023. Good Pics here at the previous blog site https://us11.campaign-archive.com/?e=3f7a503630&u=dccd92ddc6a82bac2d32f2d66&id=d9ba1b15cc
There is a "how to ID insects guide" in this free 40 minute tutorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeqvaGFCezI
Then, you can do a simple test on choosing which group of insects a picture belongs to, and become an accredited wild pollinator counter for the next counts.