Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner – Insects for thought. – June 6, 2011 – Cornwall Ontario

CFN – We have a few apple trees on the property and we have tent caterpillars who have taken up residence in these same trees.  Although our neighbours have urged us to spray the trees for these insects in the past we have chosen to leave them as a food source for surrounding wildlife.

In reading on this subject it was found that chickadees, nuthatches, crows, robins, red-winged black birds, baltimore orioles, blue birds and blue-jays to name a few were found to feed on tent caterpillars.  Bears, skunks, frogs and mice were several species found to also snack on this plump morsel of meat.  So if you find a tent caterpillar nest around your yard you may wish to consider leaving it for the surrounding wildlife.

One point that is worth mentioning for any of you who have horses in foal (according to is that ingestion of tent caterpillars by pregnant horses can cause them to miscarry.  It is advisable to keep your mares away from this insect.  (Below is an image of a tent caterpillar in the grass.)

All living things including insects serve a purpose just like any other plant or animal.  Even the peskiest insects such as cockroaches or black flys have their place.  All insects play an important role in their natural habitat, some of which we may not even be aware of yet.  They may be a food source for other animals or insects or they may keep other insect populations in check. (Below is unidentified bug feeding on a tent caterpillar.)

Insects perform an array of important tasks in our ecosystem.  They aerate the soil, pollinate blossoms, control plant pests, decompose dead materials thereby nourishing the soul.  Burrowing insects such as ants and worms dig tunnels that provide pathways for water to benefit plants.  Bees are major pollinators for our fruit trees, vegetables and flowers.  Insects also serve as food sources for larger animals.

According to renowned entomologist Edward O. Wilson in his book The Diversity of Life, Wilson discusses the importance of insects mentioning that “if they all were to disappear, humanity probably could not last more than a few months.”

This would have a domino effect on the “circle of life”.

Take away the insect link in the food chain and soon the animals that feed on them would disappear and the mammals that depend on them would disappear which would of course mean us…man.  “We are all interdependant.”

In traveling our county roads and highways have you noticed the number of lone red-winged black birds that hang out on the gravel shoulders of the roads?

One might guess that this is a great place to find crawling insects for the dinner menu.  Walking on graveled shoulders reveals that our vehicles have an impact on the insect populations by the number of insect mortalities found on the shoulders.

This may just be why red-winged blackbirds are often noticed on the side of roadways.

Waiting for and searching for snacks our cars will deliver.  Red-winged blackbirds are omnivorous.  This means they feed on both plant and animal material.  According to they are primarily plant eaters, perferring seeds, corn or rice and about a quarter of its diet consists of  insects such as dragonflies, butterflies, flies, but also dines on snails, carrion, worms, spiders and frogs.

It will also consume blueberries and other small fruit in season.  As the blackbird does not have an aversion to carrion (dead animals) it is probable that it would be delighted to find some insect roadkill.  A meal delivered right to the beak.

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