Developing an eye for nature, like all skills, takes time.
I knew a gifted entomologist who could spot, from metres away, the tiny egg of a swallowtail butterfly where it nestled on the underside of a leaf.
Learning to see nature in all its complexity and detail opens our eyes to the world around us. An awareness of nature often leads to an interest in its conservation, and now, more than ever, the natural world needs champions.
Paying attention to nature brings rewards, like the iridescent green and red beetle stalking through our garden. Checking in Bugs of British Columbia, a useful guide by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon, I learned it was a golden jewel beetle, one of the “finest wood-borers in B.C.” These beetles love summer heat and live around conifers, matching the conditions in which I found it.
Knowing the habitat and behaviour of a species helps to locate it. Tiny ants thrive on our hot, dry patio, where they meticulously remove sand from one crack and pile it elsewhere. Native bees frequent blue and purple flowers. Buddleia attracts Lorquin’s admiral and western tiger swallowtail butterflies, yet the anise swallowtail favours cow parsnip beside the Boundary Bay dyke.
The dyke is also home to band-winged grasshoppers. They are inconspicuous on the ground, but whir noisily as they fly, flashing colour in their hind wings.
Dragonflies seem to appear all of a sudden in the summer months. Big blue-eyed darners begin patrolling the yard, and eight-spotted skimmers stretch their wings among the lettuces. Damselflies shine like turquoise jewels in freshwater wetlands.
The decline of honey bees and monarch butterflies is making headlines globally. I suspect local insects have also declined in number and diversity.
Despite having grown an organic garden for over two decades with bee and butterfly-friendly plants, the buzz is not what it used to be. We complain of swarms of mosquitoes, ants and yellowjackets interfering with picnics and spiders surprising us in the house, but natural habitats are better for most native insects, which thrive where biodiversity is at its richest.
With loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, and competition from introduced species, rarer species disappear. As insect numbers decline, birds and bats that prey on them are put at risk.
You can see pictures of some local insects on my latest blog post at www.natureguidesbc.wordpress.com
Hopefully, by becoming more interested in and aware of the native bugs around us, we can do more to ensure their survival.