Nature’s sugar shack

Following on with the theme from my last post, here’s an article I wrote for the latest issue of the wonderful Wildlife Australia magazine.

Scale insects get a hard time. We usually think of them as pests, based on our experience with them in gardens and farms. But if a scale insect is living on a tree in the middle of a forest far from any human community, is it a pest? Or part of a complex web of interactions? Every living thing contributes to ecosystem function somehow and there are lots of interesting interactions that we overlook by focusing on simplistic labels.

Click on the image below to read the article.

© Manu Saunders 2018

Honey by any other name…

Did you know that honey bees aren’t the only insect that can make honey?

Read my article at The Conversation:

Wasps, aphids and ants: the other honey makers

There are seven species of Apis honey bee in the world, all of them native to Asia, Europe and Africa. Apis mellifera, the western honey bee, is the species recognised globally as “the honey bee”. But it’s not the only insect that makes honey…..

© Manu Saunders 2018

Entomologising

I recently discovered this gorgeous book, loaned to me by a colleague (Elizabeth Hale, who blogs over at Antipodean Odyssey).

mad lousia

These days, children’s books and popular media often portray insects as scary creepy-crawlies, and the decline in outdoor play and education means many kids rarely encounter an insect that’s not a household pest.

Back in Victorian times, before screentime entertainment, things were a bit different. Victorian entomologists wrote widely on the wonders of insects, from their roles in Shakespeare’s plays to the ecosystem services they provide. Continue reading

Starting a citizen science project on a shoestring budget: the Australian Wild Pollinator Count

Some years ago, I had a bright idea. I’d just finished my PhD researching communities of wild pollinators and other beneficial insects in Australian orchards. During that time I’d discovered that lots of people (scientists and non-scientists) thought that European honey bees were the main, if not only, pollinator in Australia.

Most people I spoke to about my work were amazed to learn that we had 1800+ species of Australian native bees, let alone the thousands of other insect species that also pollinate flowers.

I approached my friend Karen Retra, a local bee enthusiast, with a simple plan. Why not try and raise awareness of the forgotten pollinators by getting people outside in their backyard to look for insects? With the myriad of free online tools available, I thought it would be pretty easy to run a regular insect count that anyone could get involved in, just like the UK’s famous Big Butterfly Count or the Aussie Bird Count.

So we started the Wild Pollinator Count, an Australian citizen science project focused on pollinator insects. It runs in the second full week of April and November every year. The idea of this was so that regular contributors have the opportunity to notice differences in their local pollinator communities as the seasons change. Contribution is easy: find a flowering plant during the count week, watch some flowers for 10 minutes and record what you see, enter the data via our submission form. Continue reading

Science needs Nature: so why keep them apart?

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Ensia about how popular media tend to separate science and nature stories as if they’re unrelated categories. Most major online news websites have separate pages for ‘Science’ stories (predominantly technology, space and medical research) and ‘Environment’ stories (mostly pieces on nature, wilderness, environmental activism, or cute wildlife, sometimes with a few pieces on climate change thrown in for good measure). Continue reading

‘Tis the season for Christmas blogs: but what about the archives?

The cultural traditions of Christmas, like every aspect of our lives, are embedded in stories of science…botany, ecology, chemistry, entomology etc. If you blog about science and nature, Christmas-themed posts can easily become an annual habit.

Unfortunately, because of our distracted relationship with the internet, many timeless Christmas posts are read once and discarded, just like the wrapping paper and festive napkins at the end of the big day.

So here are a few Christmas posts from the archives that you may have overlooked, or might just enjoy reading again! Continue reading

Insects in decline: why we need more studies like this

Ecological Armageddon is a bit dramatic. But the message from this paper published in PLOS One is important. The study shows an 82% decline in mid-summer flying insect biomass since 1989 over multiple sites in Germany. Mid-summer is usually peak insect activity, so this is weird.

But every ecological study has a context. This context is described in the Methods section – the most important but least-read section of a scientific paper. For this study, most of the media stories glossed over or overextended the context. Continue reading