The Friendly Bug blog
GARDEning with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND the BUGLY!
(SCIENCE-BASED OPINIONS FROM A PUBLIC HORTICULTURE EDUCATOR)
With all kinds of buzz-words, health trends, and contradictory information out there- it is often very difficult to discern between what may or may not be good for you.
It is often the individuals who have a higher education and socioeconomic status, who end up feeding into the fear and fallacies that are associated with food trends. Armed with a combination of moderate knowledge, the social standing to influence those around them, and the misinformation fed to them by marketing campaigns- these individuals have the capacity to impact the stigma surrounding foods: which are quickly being misunderstood and misrepresented through fear-based marketing with no scientific or logical basis.
GMOs are NOT a debate. They are a technological tool. Period.
GMOs are amongst the top of the list for the most-feared concepts on the planet. Who knew 3 simple letters could stir up so much controversy? Unique word play on technical vocabulary can easily trick consumers into associating certain concepts with negative connotations. The misunderstanding of this vocabulary leads to unfounded movements that distract from the potential of technologies that can have long-lasting and dramatic effects on crop yield, marketability, and even long-term health and well-being of humans, livestock, and pets.
So let’s get into the vocabulary:
What are GMOs?
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms who have had a change in their genetic structure or composition in some way. Now this is a fairly large and vague term that can encompass many other concepts (such as: selective breeding, hybridization, natural selection, and genetic engineering). Genes (the framework for all life) are a variable and ever-changing complex. Every living thing has DNA, and all DNA has the capacity to change (through mutation, genetic drift, natural selection, hybridization, and selective breeding- among others). In some of these cases- we see these changes occurring naturally in the wild (due to environmental selection pressures). In other cases, we create these changes by selectively breeding plants or animals for desirable traits. Humans have been selectively breeding plants and animals for tens of thousands of years. We can see evidence of this when we look at our domesticated animals, and especially when we look at our crops. By choosing plants that we prefer, saving their seeds, and continuing to select for the traits that we want- we have been genetically modifying crops since the dawn of agriculture.
For the purposes of this conversation, I will focus on plant breeding (and not on animals). As we have bred, cross-bred, and selected desired characteristics in plants- we have also had advances in technology. We have become better at fine tuning this selective process, in order to have plants with more desirable traits, and less of the ‘other stuff’. We have been able to speed up the process, by back-crossing and cloning. We have been able to understand the physiology of these organisms in a far greater capacity than ever before. We have even developed technological tools to isolate and target specific genes, which minimizes a large amount of the trial and error associated with conventional breeding methods.
As these technological tools have become better and more advanced, we have also developed methods to introduce genes from certain organisms into others, in order to get the benefits associated with those genes. This is done for many purposes. Enabling resistance to diseases and other pathogens, enabling traits to make plants hardier and better able to withstand undesirable climate or resource availability. We have also been able to add compounds that influence sugars, colors, flavors, and even nutritive compounds such as vitamins.
This technological concept of introducing genes into a new plant using various tools is called Genetic Engineering. Many have taken to using this terminology interchangeably, resulting in some haziness in the understanding of the concepts themselves, and many have just been grasped by fear-based marketing strategies, labels, and articles from unscientific sources, leading them to strongly oppose a concept that they may not entirely understand. Others may fall on various points of the spectrum, ranging from a medium to minimal understanding of what the terminology means, and what the process entails. People are often hesitant to embrace change (whether it is a new technological tool or a new flavor of Doritos).
When you say the word ‘GMO’, you get that classic visual of a mad scientist with a syringe in one hand and a tomato in the other. Seeing something like that is enough to push most consumers away from the concept of GMOs/GE crops. (If you are interested in learning more about how crops are Genetically Engineered, you can go to: https://gmoanswers.com/).
Even though production of GE crops is a highly regulated process, with millions of dollars that go into the testing, safety, and suitability of these products- people are often uncomfortable with the prospect of eating something unfamiliar, with the fear that it could cause potential harm to themselves or their family. In other words, when you are introducing genes from a plant that we do not readily eat, into a plant that we have been eating for thousands of years- How can we be sure that these genes are safe for human consumption?
The answer to this is not that simple. There is no way to guarantee the safety of any of this technology, with respect to every single consumer that will ever eat it. The same can be said for a wildtype, or selectively bred ear of corn, or a tomato. The purpose of the intense and thorough testing is to ensure whether or not certain products are any riskier than their conventionally produced counterparts. In most cases, the testing and regulatory requirements that Genetically Engineered crops undergo, are far more complex and rigorous than conventional products. This means that the standards that GE crops need to meet in order to make it to market, are far higher than produce that has not been Genetically Engineered for specific traits. It is equally as risky to eat a wild carrot (if not more-so) than a hypothetical* carrot with certain genes introduced for various purposes.
(To learn more about the regulatory process for GMOs, read: https://gmoanswers.com/ask/how-are-gmo-foods-regulated)
Don’t they cause CANCER!?
With the concept of the exact factors that lead to the development of cancer, not yet fully understood- this is a difficult question to answer. We are learning every day about compounds that have shown to be carcinogenic in lab studies. This not only applies to things you ingest (whether it is a GE product, or organic lettuce from your hippie neighbor), but it also applies to environmental factors (such as sunlight and pollution), substances and objects that you might come across (such chemical residue or lead based paint), or even by being in proximity to anything that emits radiation (which is more things than you could begin to imagine).
These lab studies rely mostly on non-human test subjects to gain an understanding of the potential risks of certain compounds. A famous study used by many anti-GMO advocates is the paper published by Seralini et al. on the development of tumors in lab rats that were fed Roundup tolerant maize. The paper claimed that GMOs resulted in an increased likelihood of cancerous tumors. Aside from the blaring ethical and scientific inconsistencies in this research, the scientific community largely dismisses the claims made in this publication- based on the lack of repeatability of these results. Science needs to be based on data that is consistent, and repeatable. Due to an overwhelming flood of criticism from the scientific community: the journal that published this research retracted it within one year.
Yes, those images of rats were real. But it’s not quite what you think. This strain of lab rats (Sprague-Dawley) is one that is well known in the scientific community, to have a high baseline incidence of cancer. If you look at the data in the paper, you will find unexplainable inconsistencies in the findings. (To learn more about this study and the associated scientific and ethical flaws, visit: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-seralini-gmo-study-retraction-and-response-to-critics/).
Regardless of the fact that this paper (with its shocking images of lab rats with large tumors across their body) is not considered a viable scientific study- the concept and original messaging is continuing to make the rounds in GMO fear campaigns.
What about Allergies?
Another point of misunderstanding as well as fear that is associated with genetic manipulation of crop traits, is the introduction of a gene that may code for a protein which would cause an allergic reaction or heightened immune response in the consumer. With countless numbers of genes that code for countless proteins- there is a possibility of selecting a gene that codes for a known or unknown allergen. This can be a prospect of uneasiness for consumers- especially those who currently do have food or environmental allergies. Researchers that develop Genetically Engineered crops DO take this factor into account, and aim to minimize the possible unintended effects by selecting traits from organisms that do not have any known human allergens within them. You would be just as likely to have an unintended allergic reaction to conventionally bred produce, than you would with GE produce.
Why do we need to do this, when we have perfectly good methods that have successfully produced crops for thousands of years?
This question is comparable to asking questions like: if we have been relying on our immune system for thousands of years, why do we use vaccines or antibiotics. This is a newer scientific technology that has enabled several agricultural advances, in addition to mitigating the destruction of certain agricultural commodities that were at-risk (whether it was from pathogens, climate, etc.). An example of this case: the Rainbow Papaya. A genetically engineered Papaya variety that saved Hawaii’s Papaya industry, due to its resistance to a virus that had caused rapid and wide-spread destruction of Papaya crops throughout the islands. Just like vaccines were developed to minimize your risk of potentially life-threatening human pathogens, Genetic Engineering has allowed us a greater peace of mind when dealing with the pathogens that could impact our food and its availability. This technological tool can be utilized in several ways, and for countless purposes. In the case of the Rainbow Papaya, the mechanism was a similar concept to the Pathogen Derived Resistance that we use in our immunizations. By expressing genes similar to the Papaya Ringspot Virus, these transgenic Papaya’s were resistant to the deleterious effects of the virus, thereby saving the Papaya Industry in Hawaii!
Then you get the individuals who are strong advocates of certain agricultural practices and production methods. Why can’t we just focus our energy and money on Organic production of our food crops?
The answer: because production costs would skyrocket, food availability would plummet, and we would not have nearly enough food to feed our increasing global population, currently exceeding 7 BILLION people- forecasted to reach over 9 BILLION by 2050.
(Disregarding the misconception of ‘ORGANIC’ produce being a safer and healthier production method- which is an entire article in itself) I will primarily focus on crop yield and food requirements for a rapidly growing human population.
There is no ONE perfect solution to feeding the world, and no simple answer that will solve all of our food problems. The combination of agricultural production technologies (including GMO, Organic, Conventional, etc.) don’t stand a chance alone, due to changing climate and huge percentages of food waste being produced annually. We need to solve the food shortage concerns by using a multi-strategy approach that includes sustainable management and reduction of food waste.
(To learn more, read some of these Q and A’s by scientists: https://gmoanswers.com/ask/growing-human-population-how-much-do-gmos-help-us-so-we-can-feed-our-world)
What about product patents and Big Ag companies suing farmers?
Patents have long been a concept in agricultural production, and if you ask any individual who has developed a crop variety, you will learn quite a bit about the amount of time and money that goes into the development, testing, and marketing of a product. Patents on fruit varieties, plant cultivars, etc. have been around since the Plant Patent Act (aiming to protect agricultural intellectual property) in the 1930s. Due to the investment into the development of a product, and the lengthy and costly process associated with it, farmers who develop these varieties- to protect themselves from losing out on their investment if someone else takes that material and decides to market it for themselves.
The principal of GMO crops is similar, whereby, new Genetically Engineered crops that are successful and allowed to reach market are patented by the companies that produced them. The reasoning that much of what we hear about GMO patents is from large-scale seed production and agricultural biotechnology companies, is due to the costs associated with the regulatory processes surrounding GMOs. Oftentimes, these big-wig companies (such as Monsanto) are amongst the few who can afford the huge monetary investment required to create and test a new Genetically Engineered crop.
Personal agricultural production preferences and philosophies aside, these big Ag companies are not in the business of ‘trapping’ farmers and suing them for accidental drift of seed from GMO planted sites. This is a mis-representation.
Kelly Clauss, Global Communications Strategy Lead at Monsanto clarifies the source of the misunderstanding:
“The misperception that Monsanto would sue a farmer if GM seed was accidentally in their field likely began with Percy Schmeiser, who was brought to court in Canada by Monsanto for illegally saving Roundup Ready canola seed. Mr. Schmeiser claims to this day the presence of Monsanto’s technology in his fields was accidental – even though three separate court decisions, including one by the Canadian Supreme court, concluded his claims were false.”
If you are personally not a fan of large-scale operations, that is your choice. And there certainly is room for a variety of production practices and methodologies to coexist.
Brandon Honeycutt, a Nebraska based farmer, states:
“One of the great things about farming is our ability to grow many different crops, while at the same time having the choices to raise them in different fashions, with or without biotech in the crops…”
Although there are always challenges associated with each production method, there is no reason why you should not be able to utilize what works best for you, in your own agricultural endeavors. The more tools that become available to assist farmers in raising efficiency, yield, and marketability (whether it is organic, conventional, or biotechnology-based) the greater the likelihood of their operation’s success.
But aren’t GMO’s bad for the environment?
Another good question. And again, the answer to this is: NOPE.
On the contrary, studies evaluating the changes in farming practices with the adoption of GMO technology has resulted in a significant decrease in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (due to several factors, including the reduced need to operate farm machinery and crop spraying equipment). Since 2006, this technological adaptation has been equivalent to removing the equivalent emissions of over 500,000 cars.
The rigorous evaluation and testing of GMO products (before they are allowed on market) includes ensuring that health and safety guidelines are met. This testing includes a mandatory review by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
GE crops have led to a reduction in pesticide use, and more importantly: a reduction in the use of more potent and harmful chemicals, previously needed to control pest problems.
(To read more about the environmental impacts, visit: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/4/)
OK…but I still have a right to know what is in my food. Why can’t we make companies label GMOs, so people can choose for themselves?
Cathy Enright, Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, states: “when it comes to safeguarding your health and nutrition, we support the mandatory labeling of food, including GMO food, if it raises a safety or health concern, for example, to alert sensitive populations to the potential presence of an allergen. We also support mandatory labeling of GMO food if there is a change to the food’s composition, nutritional profile, taste or smell, or any other characteristic that would make it different from its conventional counterpart.”
According to the FDA, the purpose of labeling foods is to convey information about the safety and nutritional composition of a product. So if these components are consistent between GMOs and other production methods, labeling would be a waste of resources, and a potential strategy for misleading the public.
National Geographic writer Georgina Gustin wrote:
“The FDA considers genetically engineered ingredients to be “substantially equivalent” to those produced by conventional growing methods. This means it has not, and does not, require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to bear a label.
But plenty of companies make “non-GMO” or “GE-free” claims. These terms are not specifically regulated by the FDA. Keep in mind, though, that only a handful of produce items currently in the food supply are genetically engineered—a few types of squash and papaya, among them. (So if you see a “Non-GMO” label on a bunch of broccoli, you’re being misled. There is no GMO broccoli on the market.)”
Currently there are only 10 GMOs on the market: Soybean, Corn (field and sweet), Papaya, Canola, Sugar Beet, Summer Squash, Cotton, Alfalfa, and the recent addition of Apples and Potatoes. That means that anything outside of these products does not have a Genetically Engineered counterpart available to purchase.
Read the rest of the article here: http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/11/an-eaters-guide-to-demystifying-food-labels/
(To read more from Cathy Enright: https://gmoanswers.com/ask/why-are-gmo-companies-against-labeling-gmo-foods-submitted-part-gmo-answers-top-consumer).
If GMOs are so good, then why is there so much controversy surrounding them?
The fact that you are reading this article, and the fact that everywhere you go- you get unsolicited advice regarding what is and is not good for you, is among many reasons why we are still arguing about this today. Although 88% of scientists agree on the safety of Genetically Engineered crops, only 37% of the public share these views. The differences in the acceptance of GMO products between scientists and the general public (a gap of over 50 points) is amongst the widest margins of any controversial or regularly debated topic out there.
Throw in some companies and campaigns with varying motives behind vocalizing their support for one side or the other- you do end up in a confounding situation. When all kinds of information is coming from so many different sources- how on earth are you supposed to discern what is and isn’t accurate?
Regardless of your preferences for food sourcing and agricultural production methods, GMOs are still a tool. GMO technology is not forcing you to choose certain production methodology over others, however- the concept is tossed into several debates that surround social issues such as ‘Big Ag’, ‘Organic production’, and ‘Pesticides/Chemicals’. None of these issues have anything to do with GMOs per se, however, for many, the concept has been difficult to detangle from the rest, only adding to the confusion.
Though there is no surefire way to guarantee anything 100%, the scientific process is the closest thing that we have for getting unbiased and peer reviewed data, with consistency and repeatability.
Lucky for us, there is a scientific consensus on this matter:
Scientists all over the world agree that GMOs are safe, innovative, and have a very high potential (in terms of nutritional properties, environmental impact, waste reduction, and food availability / access).
If you are interested in learning more, I strongly urge you to look into the science behind GMOs yourself! Just be aware of the sources from where you get your information.
I also recommend you watch Food Evolution: https://www.foodevolutionmovie.com/)
The lily leaf beetle (Liliocerus lilii) is an invasive pest of growing concern in North America. This beetle targets “true lilies” (genus: Lilium), however it has also been recorded on some other hosts. The larval form causes significant feeding damage on the leaves of native and exotic lily species and hybrids.
It is currently prevalent in the north eastern U.S. and is continuing to spread towards the Midwest with recent reports of lily leaf beetle detection in south eastern Michigan, central Wisconsin and eastern Iowa.
The primary hosts for lily leaf beetles are plants in the genus Lilium and Fritillaria. They are commonly found on tiger lilies, Easter lilies, Asiatic and oriental lilies, and Fritillaries, making them the most at-risk for significant feeding damage. Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are not affected by this pest.
Contact insecticides can be used to control larval feeding on plant foliage. Products containing Permethrin, Cyhalothrin, Deltamethrin, Pyrethrin and other insecticides labeled for ornamental use have shown the most effective control. Systemic insecticide such as imidacloprid have reportedly provided effective control applied either as a foliage spray or soil drench depending on label instructions. Azadiractin (neem oil) products and insecticidal soaps have also shown some control of lily leaf beetles.
Hand-picking and destroying adult beetles, larvae and eggs is also effective in reducing damage.
As with any insecticide, only use products appropriately labeled for desired use and always read the label.
Please be vigilant of this emerging pest and spread awareness amongst anyone who grows lilies in Michigan. Monitor lilies throughout the growing seasons for signs of larvae, feeding damage or eggs.
A map of lily leaf beetle reports is currently being curated by Naomi Cappuccino of Carleton University in Ontario, Canada. For more information on her ongoing research or to report a detection of lily leaf beetle infestation, visit her Lily Leaf Beetle Tracker website.
See full article here
Although campaigns such as Cheerios’ “Bring Back the Bees” are a good thought, and in particular- a good marketing strategy for the company; the information that they present, and the actual actions that you are asked to take seem to miss the mark.
Firstly, bees don’t need to be “brought back” they are still here. They have been here far longer than humans have, and they will continue to exist long after humans are gone.
Messaging like this can be fairly misleading, as there are several flaws with Honey Nut Cheerios’ strategy.
Here’s what’s wrong with Cheerios’ #BringBacktheBees wildflower campaign:
1. It is important to understand the difference between honey bees, and “other” bees. Honey bees are an extremely small fraction (7 species to be specific) out of approximately 20,000 bee species which are not as well-known to most. In fact, many would even find that the sheer number of “non-honey bee” bees to be shocking! Most of the research that currently exists on bee decline, focuses on honeybees, as this is generally a system that we can track far more consistently and easily, largely due to the fact that these are the most common “managed” bee species in the world. Therefore, we are able to track the number of honey bee colonies (through records from beekeepers and producers) to a fairly accurate degree. Honey bee populations fluctuate (sometimes dramatically) year after year. There variations can be attributed to a variety of factors, especially diseases and parasites including the Varroa mite. Our ability to split hives, increase honey bee production, queen rearing, etc. makes the number of hives from year to year a complicated measure of colony health. When it comes to most of these “other” bee species, we are significantly less likely to see the magnitude of population changes due to environmental stressors (such as habitat loss, lack of nectar and pollen sources, and continued changes in the landscape). These “non honey bee” bees are in far greater need of assistance than their commercial counterparts.
2. Yes, bees are the most important pollinators in the world- and yes, they do pollinate 1/3 of our fruit, vegetable, and commodity crops around the world. Although bees do more than a lion’s share when it comes to pollination, their existence is not solely for the purpose of fertilizing our favorite fruit and vegetable crops! They are merely searching for food in order to survive. The food that they require (being pollen and nectar) happily coincides with one of the most important ecological and economic services to the survival of an exponentially growing human population: that service is POLLINATION! It is a happy side-effect of pollinators just living their lives. Most of the pollination in these large scale fruit and vegetable production operations is accomplished by managed and cultivated bees (including honey bees, orchard bees, leafcutter bees, and some bumble bees). The majority of bee species rely on floral resources in the environment, and do not have any supplements or safeguards (such as sugar solutions, pollen patties, syrups, etc.) when sources become scarce.
3. Yes! Planting wildflowers is certainly a huge leap in the right direction, and I am thrilled that they are interested in pollinators. One thing to consider is that many of the “wildflower” seeds included on the list for the campaign are non-native (potentially invasive in some regions), not hardy (unable to do well in certain environmental and regional conditions) species of plants- in addition to ones that may fit the bill, but may not be the correct genotypes for specific regions. Look at USDA NRCS for more information on species status:
And plant using guides of regional native species such as the ones on USDA’s and Xerces Society’s websites:
Even though a plant may be native to Canada and the United states, it is important to consider that the genotype of seeds that are distributed will not perform the same way in Seattle as they will in Atlanta, or Rochester, or Missoula, or Albuquerque… you get the point. This is why locally sourced nursery stock and seeds are extremely important!
Want to help the bees?
Here’s what you can do to REALLY help bees, and other beneficial insects:
1. DO PLANT WILDFLOWERS
Plant a variety of flowering plants, focusing on locally sourced and native nursery stock and seeds. Make sure that you plant something that will be in bloom throughout the growing season (from April through October- and even longer in certain locations)! Bees need food throughout the year, so plan your gardens accordingly! There are a variety of resources from where you can get information on pollinators, flowers, bloom times, regional planting, and more:
And several more science based resources!
2. DO CREATE HABITAT FOR WILD BEES
Pollinators need more than just food, they need a place to live. This is especially important for wild bees that nest in the ground and in existing cavities. By leaving some bare patches of undisturbed soil (it does not need to be large area, and can be tucked out of the way) you are creating safe ground nesting bee habitat available to those extremely important urban pollinators.
Cavity nesting bees can be just as simple to accommodate, by creating ‘Mason Bee Houses’ made from wood, bamboo reeds, cardboard tubes, and some sort of container in which to house this. Information on building specifications, materials, and maintenance can be found from a variety of sources:
And so many more!
(Just be sure to look for information that comes from credible sources)
3. DO LEARN MORE ABOUT POLLINATOR CONSERVATION
Pollinators are an extremely diverse group, and conservation for pollinators that come in all shapes and sizes is not a ‘one size fits all’ strategy. Honey bees are NOT a good representation of all pollinators, and the rest of the “wild” bees are in far dire need of assistance than honey bees are. Depending on your geographic area, available resources, and landscape composition- there are several things you can do to be a great conservationist and advocate for pollinators. You can learn a lot more about pollinators, conservation efforts, and citizen science projects that you can get involved in.
4. DO MORE.
Planting your wildflowers, and setting up a Mason Bee House is a great start on your way to assisting pollinators. Continue to learn more about pollinators as information becomes available- and in the meantime: spread accurate, credible, and science based information on pollinators to those that ask!
One of the most frequent and frustrating gardening conversations I have on a regular basis surround weeds and weed management. It is a frustrating and tireless concept for many gardeners, who spend several hours and countless dollars on removing weeds from their lawns, gardens, flower beds, pathways, crops, etc. This is also a very frustrating topic for scientists, naturalists, and educators- especially as they communicate the topic to home gardeners and green industry professionals.
The term “weed” similar to the term “pest” indicates the presence of something (in this case, a plant) in a location where it is unwanted. This tends to vary from person to person, and also by location. An important thing to understand, is that this also varies by the animal. Pollinators, especially bees, in urban settings often rely on lawn “weeds” (such as dandelion and clover) as one of the first and most consistent sources of nectar and pollen accessible to them. Highly urbanized areas have replaced green spaces with hardscapes like asphalt, sidewalks, parking lots, and buildings. Lawns, being a staple of most developed areas, act as oases in these otherwise asphalt dominated ‘deserts’.
Studies conducted on the pollinators of lawn weeds have found substantial complexes of bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and more; that consistently visit flowering lawn plants such as clover, dandelion, wild violet, and several others. These flowering plants are often very hardy, and can survive some harsh and temperamental environmental and landscape conditions (which happens to be why they thrive in these ever-changing urban and suburban landscapes). This hardiness is what allows these plants to be so widespread, especially in areas with limited space, reduced resources, and requiring little to no assistance in proliferating (as you probably already knew).
Imagine being a pollinator, in an urban area, hankering for a meal. These green patches (lawns, gardens, etc.) speckled with some promising flowers, are inviting spaces with a potential source of food. The consistent availability of these flowering plants (regardless of the location of the lawn and garden) are what help pollinators bridge gaps between food availability and nesting habitat. These fill in spaces between fragmented natural areas, and increase ‘hospitable’ locations for pollinators requiring two basic things: shelter and food.
Now imagine applying chemicals to your lawns/gardens, in order to remove “weeds” including these sources of “pollinator food”. Not only are you robbing pollinators of a much needed meal, you are also potentially contaminating some of these weeds which may result in detrimental effects on pollinators if they attempt to visit a flowering dandelion, which has been over-sprayed [which means that material has been sprayed on the surface of the plant] with a chemical (whether it is a fertilizer application, or a pesticide). These chemicals have various negative effects on pollinators. In the case of honey bees, and depending on the type of chemical applied, this can have various lethal [resulting in the death of the bee] as well as sub-lethal [resulting in reduced health, vigor, foraging ability, reproduction, etc.] effects that can be difficult to measure, in addition to being devastating to pollinators that rely on workers to bring food sources back to home base. Effects of these chemicals can be even harder to determine in solitary pollinators: including thousands of species of native bees in North America, and thousands of additional species of insect, bird, and mammal pollinators.
So, my request to you is: rethink “weeds”. What does that term mean to you, and what does it mean for the plants in your landscape? Would you be able to tolerate the flowers that spring up in your lawns and gardens- or do you need to have a perfect carpet of turf? Try and get to the bottom of why you dislike the presence of these plants. If you cannot tolerate weeds in your lawn and garden, are you willing to minimize unnecessary chemical applications and manually remove them? Or can you take steps to reduce the impact on pollinators by taking steps to prevent contact between pollinators and chemically treated landscapes? If you want an alternative that is lower maintenance, and pollinator friendly; consider lawn alternatives such as ground covers (micro clover, etc.), container gardens, low maintenance flowers, or even hardscapes [wood and stone components replacing a traditional yard] which will minimize the need for any chemical inputs to control weeds. Consider incorporating mulch and other sustainable pest management strategies within your vegetable gardens. Adopt Integrated Pest Management as your primary plant care regime; looking at a broad, multi-faceted, and environmentally friendly pest management strategies focused on education and prevention of pest problems. Re-imagine (or as I like to say: Bee-Imagine) your landscape from the eyes of pollinators, and rethink what the term “weed” means to you!
If you recall, last week I posted an enticing teaser about upcoming pictures of bugs on poop!
To my surprise, despite the amount of bug-covered turds I have come across in my life, I have personally snapped very few pictures of the awesome sight. Lucky for me though, I have the coolest friends ever, so I had faith that they would have picked up the slack where I missed some incredible photographic opportunities!
Having that in mind, a plea for poop and insect pictures went out to my friends…
And the response was even more exciting than I had imagined, and my e-mail inbox was soon flooded with many iterations of the “bugs on poop” phenomena! The photographers included entomologists, naturalists, biologists, educators, hobbyists, conservationists, and more!
So now that I have some awesome imagery to go along with this article, let’s get started on getting to the bottom of the what, who, and why’s that you all have been dying to know!
Let’s start with what Coprophagia actually is. Coprophagia is a Greek derived word that literally translates to (Copros: feces) (Phagein: to eat). And that’s what it actually is: the consumption of feces. (Aren’t you glad you asked?)
There are many variations of this including; eating the feces of other species (heterospecifics), other individuals (allocoprophagy), or one's own (autocoprophagy).Though many examples of this are found in invertebrates, you can find vertebrates and plants that are also associated with coprophagy. Most of the reasoning around the consumption of feces in invertebrates centers on the acquisition of nutrients or other compounds available through the ingestion of fecal material. The reason for this is partly due to the fact that insects do not have the best digestive systems, and therefore are able to utilize more of the nutrients from pre-digested foods as opposed to consuming it in its primary form. In addition to that, insects also eat poop to gain organisms or other compounds that may not be readily available in their usual diet. And in desperate times, this is used as an emergency source for salts, liquids, proteins, and more.
Now that we know a bit more about this, let’s break it down by group of insects- to help us better visualize the groups of coprophagic insects, and the nature of their relationship to poop.
A moist morsel of bear poop that we were going to use to lure some cool insects on a collecting trip in South Eastern Kentucky. As you can see, a Small Blue butterfly is very anxious to get to this feast. Photo by Abi Saeed.
BUTTERFLIES (and Moths)!
These beautiful insects just can’t get enough of poop! If you come across a large group of them along a trail, you will soon discover their feast is usually comprised of poop (and other wonderful things that you will see below). The same goes for if you happen to find some scat along your way- you will likely find some of these wondrous creatures slurping up the nitrates and amino acids from the liquids surrounding this animal “waste” that they cannot easily get from plant sources. This behavior is generally dubbed “Mud Puddling”.
You can often find male butterflies participating in this ritual, because of the reproductive benefits that they can collect. The nutrients that they obtain from these nuggets of goodness are passed on to females during mating, and they play a role in increasing the survival of her eggs.
Another pile of bear poop found in Algonquin Park, in Canada. On the guest list for this feast: a pile of Tiger Swallowtails! Photo by Kelly Greig.
Aside from solid waste, butterflies can also make use of the nitrates in liquid waste!
That's right! I'm talking about good old urine!
When nutrients are scarce, these resourceful critters are very good at locating any resources that they can use!
This picture was captured in the Peruvian Amazon, and shows two gorgeous MOTHS! That's right, these vibrant day flying critters are moths- a Swallowtail moth (genus: Urania) now isn't that punny? Photo by Marion Le Gall.
You often find these treasure troves of nutrients inhabited by large groups of butterflies. When there is a limited supply of much needed salts, you can often spot these nutrient rich 'pee puddles' by the sight of hundreds of congregating butterflies.
A cool phenomenon observed by entomologist Marion Le Gall in the Eastern part of the Peruvian Amazon, along the Tambopata river. Photo by Marion Le Gall.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a party without some carrion! That’s right! Butterflies will get these salts, nutrients, and amino acids from decaying plants and animals too!
Such gorgeous and majestic creatures, eh!?
So if you want to spice up your butterfly and moth collection, you now know what to do... (Pun Intended, of course!)
It's actually pretty simple!
COPROPHAGIA: THE REASON YOU FIND BUGS ON TURDS
HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED A CLUMP OF INSECTS (ESPECIALLY BUTTERFLIES) FROM AFAR, ONLY TO STUMBLE UPON A MOIST PILE OF EXCREMENT? DO YOU GET UP CLOSE AND MARVEL AT THE VARIETY OF FAUNA THAT IS GATHERED AROUND THE JUICY MORSEL AND WONDER WHY? DO YOU GET EVEN CLOSER, AND WONDER EXACTLY WHO IS ON THE POOP, WHO MADE THE POOP, AND PERHAPS EVEN SNAP A FEW PICTURES TO LOOK INTO IT FURTHER?
THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!
If you are hanging on the edge of your seat, excited for more bugs, more poop, and more puns...
Information will be coming your way shortly!
So stay tuned for all the juicy details!
But in the meantime, smell ya later!
I am an Entomologist, Pollinator Enthusiast, Science Educator, Advanced Master Gardener, and lover of all things “bug” related!
I was born in Pakistan, and was immediately interested in every aspect of the natural world, anywhere from the tiniest ants to the antelopes and beyond. My family moved to Canada when I was 11 years old, and as we explored this new climate and landscape, I just fell deeper and deeper in love with nature. I got my undergraduate degree in Zoology from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada- and during the course of my degree I got a chance to learn about all kinds of amazing things including plants, trees, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, microbes, fungi, and…(wait for it)…
Nearing the end of my Zoology degree, one of the requirements was to take a field research course to expand your knowledge of field collection methods and on-site research. The course I ended up choosing was a Field Entomology course that went to Arizona for a two week period. This course was an absolutely pivotal moment in my career- as I realized how incredible and vast the world of insects truly was. I never looked back since, and I was completely hooked on the notion that I needed to immerse myself in everything to do with insects and arachnids!
With this ambitious goal in mind, I set out to learn more about this amazing group of animals, and found myself in Kentucky doing research on Solitary bees and bacterial endosymbionts. During my Master’s degree at the University of Kentucky I was able to collect insects as part of my research, for my graduate coursework, and for local schools for their science classes. During this time I was also able to learn a lot about beekeeping (and took care of the honey bees at the University of Kentucky). So amongst this array of experience with insects I found myself to be particularly drawn to pollinators- especially bees. 🐝
After graduating with my degree, I was able to work as a Research Technician in a Turf and Landscape Entomology Lab, where I got to work with pollinators on developing the best management practices and gardening practices to minimize impacts on pollinators, and conducting research on the plants that are very attractive to pollinators.
Armed with this pollinator and plant knowledge I got a position as a Horticulture Instructor in an urban area, where I have the incredible opportunity to teach and work with Master Gardener Volunteers, and continue to learn so much from my students, gardeners, colleagues, and community members.
With all this information oozing out of me, and an endless array of information continuing to come at me from all directions, I wanted to come up with an outlet to sort out the right from the wrong, the true from the false, and the good from the bad (all based on my opinions of course).
That is why I created The Friendly Bug Blog, and that is why I am here!
I am hoping that since you have come to this blog, that you are a lifelong learner, an insect and arachnid enthusiast, an avid gardener, or just someone who is curious about these topics! So feel free to take a look, and submit any questions and comments- because I would love to write about information that is important to you!
Good afternoon backyard bug enthusiasts!
This blog will be focused on all things “bug” related including:
The main reason behind this blog was to create a central information source for urban gardeners on their journey with the many critters that spend their gardening days with them. The main focus of this resource will be to equip gardeners and insect enthusiasts with information on how to embrace these critters, eradicate the pesky ones, encourage the awesome ones, or ignore them for the greater good. This will primarily be an education resource catered to urban gardeners and teachers, with information focused on “bug-friendly” gardening practices, pollinator conservation, insect education, and scientifically based tips from an Enthusiastic Entomologist (hey, that’s me!).
Note: I would like to emphasize the fact that this blog will be focused on information that is research based and scientifically proven, and will include my pollinator expertise, environmentally conscious opinions, tips, and tricks!
To top it all off, I will throw in some delicious entomological tales, snippets, and information that I know you would enjoy!
So go ahead…
Explore the Entomological.
Investigate the Insects.
Capture the Critters.
And enjoy your Garden Guests!
🐝 Abi SAEED 🐝
Entomologist, Pollinator Specialist, Public Science Educator, and