By Ranger Steve Mueller
Skip has a love for life and spends time nourishing wild creatures in his care with the help of his son and wife. His son was in a serious auto accident 15 years ago and Shawn has required daily living assistance since. Shawn lost the ability to speak and has a number of physical challenges. To help Shawn’s physical rehabilitation, they raise cecropia, polyphemus, and luna moth caterpillars in their backyard.
Collecting fresh leaves for caterpillars is never ending until the moths make cocoons. They raise hundreds of larvae that require fresh food daily. Leaves must not be wilted and of the appropriate kind. Shawn, in his early 30’s, helps collect plants and maintains good livestock cage hygiene.
Many friends across the country raise insects to help replace what appears to be dwindling life on Earth as human population expands. It has been a mystery why giant silk moth populations have declined but some answers are becoming apparent. A small wasp was imported to help control exotic gypsy moth outbreaks and the wasp turned to killing native moths. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) sprays have been used with to kill gypsy moths but the bacterium also kills most butterfly and moth caterpillars.
Last summer, Skip’s moth livestock died suddenly. He asked what might have killed them. I suggested a virus, fungus, or bacteria might be responsible. They cleaned all their cages with bleach and replaced most so this year’s crop would be protected. All was going well when I left on vacation. When I got home, their livestock had died and turned to black mush. This time they discovered the cause.
Their neighbor sprayed his yard with insecticide so plants would not have leaf damage. The spray was not necessary to keep the plants healthy but it helped their appearance. Plant-eating insects are a nuisance but like mosquitoes for us, they do not normally cause health concerns. The neighbor does not want the expense or effort of tenting the plants for spraying so the agent drifts to Skip’s yard. It is a classic example of different goals by neighbors. Skips wants healthy plants, abundant insects, birds, and the sounds of life. The neighbor desires visual beauty and a bug free yard.
I noticed the CS Post had my niche article encouraging life in the yard and on the next page an article for how to have “More beauty and less beasts in your yard.” At least that article suggested protecting beneficial species in addition to offering fertilizer suggestions that provide conditions for plant health to protect itself from pests.
The decision to love and encourage life on one’s property is a personal decision that might help maintain biodiversity on Earth. Some view it as religious creation stewardship. Most of us want to enjoy time outside without being eaten by deer flies, mosquitoes, or being stung by wasps nesting near the back door. I destroyed a wasp nest near the door and mow an area around the house to effectively keep mosquitoes at a distance. I use pesticides and herbicides minimally. My goal is to be minimally destructive to life, sharing my yard and avoid negatively impacting human neighbors or the creatures that share their yards.
For Skip and his neighbor, it is unfortunate. The neighbor enjoys the freedom to use pesticides on his property without concern regarding chemical drift to neighbors’ yards. As a result, Skip lost his livestock, lost projects for his son, as well as a multitude of wild insects. Hummingbirds ceased coming and other birds left due to reduced food abundance. Butterflies are not visiting flowers. The neighbor’s yard is picture perfect but lacks a love for life. A personal nature niche in life can be social or anti-social in regards to love for our neighbors and wildlife. In an earlier Nature Niche I noted 51 species of butterflies live in my yard. How many live in yours? Encourage sharing your yard with wildlife.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.