Thanks to Randi V. Wilfert Eckel, owner of Toadshade Wildflower Farm,
a New Jersey seed business, for permission to re-publish this article. It first appeared in the current Spring 2020 issue of the state's Skylands Visitor
By Dr. Randi V. Wilfert Eckel
Insects are critical components of any natural area. Gardeners have become increasingly aware that, if we want wildlife in our gardens, we must support all life stages, year 'round. With the fragmented state of our natural areas, wildlife relies on our gardens, yards, fields, hedgerows, and woodlots to survive. When using native plants in a landscape, we are attempting to recreate functioning ecosystems to support the wonderful wildlife that, in fact, needs us to survive.
Insects of all kinds fulfill critical, and under-appreciated, roles in our lives. They are pollinators, herbivores, predators, and parasites. In a balanced ecosystem, there are rarely outbreaks of any particular insect species because, in the humorous words of Victorian mathematician Augustus De Morgan:"Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum."
Near the very bottom of the food chain, insects are the primary consumers of plant matter on the planet. Leaves, bark, seeds, roots, flowers, rotten wood-they eat it all. Most insects die young because they, in turn, are the primary food source for a great deal of the animals on our planet. Many caterpillars never grow up to be butterflies and moths, but rather are fed upon by birds and fed to their young. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home
(among other wonderful books), has found that a single nest of black-capped chickadees needs 390-570 caterpillars a day to keep the young birds fed. Hummingbirds do not raise their young on nothing but nectar. They need protein, which they get from hunting small, soft-bodied creatures such as aphids, gnats, and spiders.Read more