What’s out there? What’s buzzing around? Who’s keeping the flowering world alive and us as well?
In the pollinator world, honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies are the bug-world big stars.
But much more of this life-enhancing work may be done by insects we pay scant notice to — sweat bees, beetles, flies.
Now, in two Redding meadows, there will be a pollinator census this summer — maybe the first of its kind in the state.
One will be at the home of Victor DeMasi and Roanna Metowski, where they’ve spent 43 years cultivating a pesticide-free butterfly meadow there. The other is at the 100-acre Highstead Arboretum, which is dedicated to ecology studies.
What DeMasi, Redding biologist Sammy Riccio and Geordie Elkins, operations director at Highstead, will do this summer is try to collect as many pollinating insects as they can in the two meadows, using traps, nets and Bugzookas — bug catchers that suck insects up.
At the end of the summer, they’ll start on the hard work — studying and classifying what they’ve found. Then, they’ll donate the collection to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.
“I’m really excited about this,” said Louise Washer, president of the Norwalk River Watershed Association.
The watershed association, which is sponsoring the census, is also the prime mover in the Pollination Pathway program, which strives to create a flow of native flowers and shrubs across the landscape to attract and foster pollinating insects.
Washer said there are now 90 towns involved in Pollinator Pathway.
“It’s taken off like wildfire,” she said of the three-year old program.
But one thing the program has lacked is data — knowing what pollinating insects are out in the fields and, in turn, how better to protect them.
“We don’t know the population of pollinators in a place we’ve protected,” she said.
What the pollinator census will do is provide a base line. When it’s completed, it will give entomologists and gardeners alike a better idea of what’s out in the world.
Neither spot is a typical raggedy field. Elkins said the Highstead staff has done a lot of work over the years to improve the meadow, which sits between its barn and pond.
“We’ve done a lot of editing and enhancement there,” he said.
And DeMasi and Metowski — life-long lepidopterists and environmental advocates — are fighting an unending battle against non-native invasive species at their field.
Riccio, who has worked with DeMasi at the Peabody Museum, will collect at both spots and lead the work of identifying the species found.
“I’ll be at Highstead — I live right across the street,” she said.
The work will help groups like the Norwalk River Watershed Association get a better handle on what pollinators are around.
It will also add to the general knowledge of the state’s natural world.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Kimberly Stoner, entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven who has advised Pollinator Pathways. “The first thing you have to do is study and see what’s out there.”
Stoner said various groups in the state have sponsored BioBlitz events — attempts to count as many species of bug, bird, plant, amphibian and reptile in one location over two days.
“An awful lot depends on the conditions of those two days,” she said.
The pollinator census count — done over the entire summer — will be more thorough.
There’s a lot to find. Stoner said there are about 350 species of wild bees in the state — sweat bee, mason bees, digger bees. Some are social insects, some solitary souls. Some nest above ground, some underneath it.
There’s beetles and moths and butterflies. Hummingbirds do some pollination work as well.
In fact, there’s a lot of work to find around the world. Insects, which far outnumber other creatures in the number of species and sheer biomass, aren’t even close to being fully counted.
In the United States there are about 91,000 species of insects that have been scientifically identified. There may be 73,000 or more still to go.
Worldwide, there are about 900,000 insect species identified. There could be as many as 30 million. For every pound of human flesh walking around, there are 300 pounds of bugs.
But there’s also studies showing, world-wide, insect life is in serious decline.
So in the Redding meadows, the pollinator count may add a few small answers to a huge list of questions.
“I take my hat off to them,” Stoner said.