Category: Insects

Dragonfly Migration: A Mystery Citizen Scientists Can Help Solve

A dragonfly holds the record for the longest insect migration. And yet dragonfly migration remains a poorly understood ecological phenomenon. Take note, citizen scientists: your observations can contribute significantly to our understanding of the species, and it’s importance to conservation. Break out your field guide and look around city park or backyard.

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Citizen Science: Survey Katydids in Your Neighborhood

That night music you hear coming from the trees? At least in part, that’s coming from katydids. Despite their ubiquity, very little is known about these charismatic critters. But you can help. Grab your smart phone and head into your neighborhood for a katydid census! Blogger Jon Fisher gets you started.

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The Cooler: Towards a Deeper Conversation on Invasive Species

You know the story: invasive species are bad, bad, bad. But what if that old story is a bit more…complicated? “Ecological hit men” Jeffrey A. Lockwood and Alexandre V. Latchininsky confront an invasive grasshopper on a remote island. And the more they look, the less clear the picture.

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New Science: Wild Pollinator Habitat Benefits Agriculture

When most people think of pollinators, honey bees are the first thing that comes to mind. But wild pollinators–like bumblebees, sweat bees and squash bees–can be more effective at pollinating than managed honey bees. Despite the evidence of wild pollinators being a viable alternative to managed honey bees, they are only just beginning to catch on as a strategy in the agricultural community, primarily due to a lack of understanding of the costs and benefits of investing in them. The Nature Conservancy has completed an economic analysis of wild pollinator contribution to 10 major crops grown in the northeastern United States – tomatoes, blueberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, soybeans, cucumbers, squash, apples, peaches, and bell peppers.

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Citizen Science: The Lost Ladybug Project

Preserve manager Dayna Gross’ sons were already skilled bug collectors. Now their hobby is contributing to a conservation science effort to understand ladybug population declines. You can help, too. Grab a net, head out into your backyard and join the Lost Ladybug Project.

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Wild Pollinators Are Critical in Keeping our Picnic Baskets Full

Bees may seem like uninvited guests at your picnic – but before you shoo them away from the fruit salad, think twice, as they play a critical role in making your picnic possible.

Some of the most healthful, picnic favorites – including blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, avocados and almonds – would not make it to the table without the essential work by bees and other insects.

Most crops depend on pollinating insects to produce seeds or fruits. In fact, about three-quarters of global food crops require insect pollination to thrive; one-third of our calories and the majority of critical micronutrients, such as vitamins A, C and E, come from animal-pollinated food crops.

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The Monarch Butterfly Decline, and What You Can Do About It

For the past month, monarch butterflies have caused a lot of buzz in both the news and in conservation circles. The reason: a report published by the World Wildlife Fund and others that documented a 59 percent decline in monarch populations this year.

This week, Yale360 published perhaps the best piece yet on this alarming decline, Richard Conniff’s interview with Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch. It presents a number of interesting issues that conservationists should notice.

It’s well known that almost the entire eastern population of monarch butterflies overwinters in a few clustered forests in Mexico. These tiny islands of habitat make the butterflies vulnerable. Many U.S. residents believe that the population decline is, in fact, due to logging in Mexican forests. But as Taylor points out, the Mexican government has done an excellent job stopping illegal logging.

So why the decline?

The study’s authors point to agricultural fields. Taylor suggests that the monarch butterfly is likely “collateral damage” from the use of genetically engineered crops, namely Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. These crops have resulted in significantly higher pesticide use, wiping out the milkweeds that monarchs need to survive.

As Taylor says in the interview:

Now you are really hard pressed to find any corn or soybeans that have milkweed in the fields. I haven’t seen any for years now because of the use of Roundup after they planted these crops. They have effectively eliminated milkweed from almost all of the habitat that monarchs used to use.

Additionally, due to biofuel and high crop prices, there are more acres in corn and soybean production than any year since just after World War II.  This has meant that a lot of land has been taken out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and a lot of marginal land–where milkweeds once grew– has been tilled.

That’s a lot of lost habitat for wildlife, including monarch butterflies.

And here’s where you come in.

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The Yucca and its Moth

It sounds too good to be true; two species helping each other survive for millions of years – each getting as much as they give.

For more than 40 million years there has been a relationship between yucca plants and yucca moths.  It’s a particularly important one because neither the yucca or the moth can survive without the other.  The moth’s larvae depend on the seeds of the yucca plant for food, and the yucca plant can only be pollinated by the yucca moth.

In the central United States, soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca) is pollinated by a moth known as Tegeticulla yuccasella.  Each spring, adult moths emerge from underground cocoons and the males and females meet up with each other on yucca plants to mate.

When a female is ready to lay eggs, she first goes to a yucca flower to collect pollen.  Unlike most moth species, yucca moths have two short tentacles near their mouth that they use to scrape pollen from the anthers of the flower.  As she collects the sticky pollen, the yucca moth packs it into a ball and sticks it under her head.  She then flies off to another yucca flower.

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