Bugs, birds, and the butterflies

By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist



In last week’s column I wrote about the absence of monarch butterflies from the butterfly bush in my yard, plus the fact that I have seen none anywhere. I asked for a response from anyone else who has noted such.

“In response to the monarch question, I have seen none this year. Last year maybe two,” wrote James Rogers in an email.

In past years, flocks of monarchs have been documented migrating as far south at the mountainous slopes of central Mexico. As do migrating birds, the butterflies usually return in the spring to the same general area they left in the autumn.

It’s not just butterflies that are declining in numbers, but the same seems true of insects of all sorts. Insects are the most common lifeform on earth, with more than 1.5 million different species identified.

Their numbers are on the decline worldwide. Based on research compiled from 16 studies, insect populations declined by 45% in the last four decades.

“I have noticed this for the last 4-5 years,” Rogers wrote. “We drive (hot summer months) from the Ashland area regularly to visit grand kids in Louisville and there is definitely a reduction in bug splats on our car.”

He pointed out a scientific study from Sweden that studied bug splats on cars over a set period and place. The study took place over 4 years.

“The results were astounding, if not downright scary. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but they were very low and falling,” Rogers said.


And what about the honeybee population? Beekeepers haven’t complained about the production of honey from their hives, but I know from my observation that honeybee numbers are also declining.

A couple of summers ago I had to be careful with the lawnmower not to run over them as they gathered nectar from backyard clover patches. This summer so far I have seen nary a one in those areas.

And what about lightning bugs. I used to see them flashing almost continuously on hot summer nights. This summer I’ve seen just one or two in the tree branches.


Rogers noted the decline in June bugs.

“I have seen only two June bugs this year,” he said. “And both were so lethargic they just sat on my driveway, not moving but alive.”

“We had fun with them when my kids were young by tying a thread around one of their legs and giving them about 10’ of line and “fly” them around the back yard.

“I looked forward to doing the same with my grandkids, but it won’t happen.”

Rogers said the studies he saw pointed to rising temperatures due to climate change (global warming) but couldn’t prove that.

“Only that the insect populations all over the world are way down.”

The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


And now if we didn’t have enough worries about the bugs falling off the world, the birds too are in trouble.

An Associated Press story appearing in newspapers Thursday reported a mysterious ailment has sickened and killed thousands of songbirds in mid-Atlantic states, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The majority of birds ailing have been fledgling blue jays, robins, starlings, grackles, as well as other songbirds.

Birds affected by the disease have swollen eyes or crusty discharge around the eyes. The birds appear to suffer off balance movements that might indicate neurological damage.

First reports of the illness were noticed by wildlife officials in late April and May. They were not sure of the cause.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey were not sure of the cause but said it did not appear to be the result of viruses that normally afflict wild birds.

They recommended that people temporarily take down bird feeders. They should disinfect bird baths with a solution of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water.

People should avoid handling sick birds and keep pets away from them.

Officials said they still don’t know if the illness is caused by a virus, bacteria, of perhaps a toxic chemical in pesticides.


By G. Sam Piatt

Contributing Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.