Bugging Me

Orchid cuckoo bee from Levon Bliss Microsculpture. Beautiful green and blue colours.

Have you ever imagined being an insect? Like, really imagined. 

When we told friends we were going to Scotland, the first thing they said: don’t get midged. Summer on the west coast is notorious for black swarms of these microscopic biting flies. 

For the first week in August, no problem. My husband Aden and I kept the windows open. One evening, there was a brief rain shower, then a burst of sun. Perfect breeding weather. That night there were, literally, thousands of midges in the bedroom, on the wall, on the ceiling, on the lights. 

I shrieked. Ran around like a crazy person, arms flapping. Both of us desperately Googling for solutions. 

Bowls of apple cider vinegar with washing up liquid? Diffuser with lavender? Nothing worked. Luckily we’d kept the bedroom door shut so they were confined. The next two nights we camped in the lounge and Aden vacuumed the room enough times to get rid of them, until finally, they were gone.

The role of insects from a regenerative perspective

Worldwide insect populations are declining faster than scientists can identify them. We’re losing our pollinators (like bees) at an alarming rate. In the last three decades, insects have declined up to 75% in Europe. What purpose, we wondered, do midges have within our ecosystem? 

Surely, like so many insects, they are food for other species (birds, marsupials, snakes). Without insects as pollinators, says Prof Simon Potts from the University of Reading, our food supplies and quality are in peril. 

So, how can we care that bit more about these tiny creatures? (Clearly, I failed on the midge front.) They are integral to our biodiversity.

Three ways to care (regeneratively) for our critters.

Tortoise beetle microsculpture taken by Levon Biss. It has a intricate reddish brown pattern on its rectangular body.
Tortoise beetle, Platypria melli (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae), China © Levon Biss.
Marion flightless moth microsculpture by Levin Biss. Long legs, and pincers on a brown and greyish body.
Marion flightless moth, Pringleophaga marioni (Lepidoptera, Tineidae), Marion Island, South Africa © Levon Biss.

1. See insects in a new light

Photographer Levon Biss has made an art form out of insects (see photos above). In collaboration with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, his work marries creative innovation with science. I happened to see a tiny exhibition ‘Microsculpture’ of his massively blown-up, carefully-lit photos that capture the extraordinary form, colour and evolutionary detail of insects.

Each image is created from around 8,000 individual photographs, taking around three weeks to shoot and retouch. The result is a series of photos of insect specimens (they are from the museum collection and each is pinned ‘on an adapted microscope stage’) that change how you see them. 

His photos don’t make them look any less weird or strange. But the detail of the Tortoise Beetle, for example, with its scaly back and spiky spines is like a Genghis Khan of the insect world. I see it in a new light.

2. Name insects in your garden or park

My sister posted the picture below of a caterpillar on our WhatsApp ’virtual gardening’ chat. Anyone know the name? My other sister looked it up. 

Start with butterflies. They’re pretty. Try to name every new butterfly you see. You’ll be amazed at how you relate differently to them.

Naming helps us identify — and get closer — to our more-than-human world.

A picture taken by Claire's sister Jane from a book of insects. It shows sixteen species of caterpillars.
Picture taken by Claire's sister Sarah. It shows a close up of a yellow and brown fluffy caterpillar resting on bright green leaves.
Picture taken by Claire's sister Sarah.

3. House insects wherever you can

I’ve talked about rewilding in this post. Letting weeds grow and encouraging insect-loving plants in your garden all helps. Or, if there’s a patch of grass on the pavement, plant wild flowers. Central London have taken this one step further. In Regent’s Place there are now ‘Bug Hotels’ (see below). These encourage ladybirds, butterflies and beetles to ‘thrive on campus’.

A sad irony, though. Across the road are a row of tents where homeless people live. (The council is providing for bugs not people… obv, not a regenerative approach.)

A sign displaying information on a 'bug hotel' in Regents Place. It explains the role of insects and their importance for biodiversity.
On display in Regent's Place Plaza.
A picture showing a hexagonal wooden structure under a tree to help attract insects. Highlighting the important role of insects.
'Bug Hotel' in Regent's Place Plaza.

Insects face an existential crisis

However, there’s another framing for this. Aden commented on it when he read the blog. He’s First Nations, a Gumbaynggirr man from the east coast of Australia. He tends to see how everything is interrelated — he’s a pattern thinker. ‘While we’re facing a cost of living and a housing crisis,’ he commented. ’For insects, ”cost of living” has a whole new meaning: it’s existence itself.’

Something to ponder on, next time I go to swat a mossie.

What about you? Can you cope with the crawly, jumpy, flighty ones? If you can’t, can you try? 

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.