Our destiny depends on the survival of insects

Marcus Byrne is old enough to remember how scores of nocturnal insects used to splatter on his windshield.

Now, decades later, there’s far fewer dead bugs. “And that’s pretty worrying to me,” says the professor of entomology and zoology at Wits University.

It’s been described as a snowstorm of moths and that’s how Byrne remembers it too.

“Driving at night required skill and the tenacity, despite the temptation, to not switch on the windscreen wipers, which would then smear the moth blotches into a greasy mess,” entirely obliterating the view of the road.

In recent years, scientists have coined the term the “windshield effect” to describe insects’ disappearance. 


Byrne says there’s now good scientific evidence to show that insect numbers are in decline. “We also have very powerful anecdotal evidence from citizen scientists – you and me – that insects are in decline.”

For him, the most dramatic anecdotal evidence is the disappearance of the swarms of nocturnal insects that used to be attracted to lights at night – headlights, porch lights or brightly lit petrol station forecasts.

The insects are still there, Byrne says, “but not in the overwhelming numbers that awed or frightened us years ago”, says the scientist, whose work has shown how lost dung beetles navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

It’s like losing the dark skies and our view of the Milky Way. “We won’t miss these things if we never knew them, but another part of our natural heritage has slipped away, barely being noticed.”

There’s a lot more to this story.

To continue reading, subscribe to the Mail & Guardian.

It pains us to say it, but good journalism costs money to produce, and so we have to reserve some of our stories for Mail & Guardian subscribers with paid-for levels of access to the site only. Like this one, for example.

You can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian and get access to all our stories and more at this link. And this weekend, you can sign up for just R2 a month.

If you have a current subscription, please login here.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Ithala fails to act against board chairperson over PPE scandal

Morar asked to settle with the state and pay back the profit he made on an irregular tender

Vodacom swindled out of more than R24m worth of iPhones

A former employee allegedly ran an intricate scam to steal 8700 phones from the cellular giant

More top stories

Jacob Zuma misses court deadline to respond to contempt application

Recalcitrant former president holds virtual meeting with ANC top six

No money to fund first-time university students, Nzimande says

Higher education minister says NSFAS is experiencing a funding shortfall and has requested that universities extend their registration period

Tackling the Western Cape’s housing problem, shack by shack

Youths can learn new skills and earn money at The Shackbuilder training institute, where how to build a shack is on the curriculum

Don’t be deceived: Covid-19 vaccines are not for sale

Police warn against fake Covid-19 vaccines and urge the public to report any criminal activities
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…