We’re dipping into the season of gratitude. Although it’s definitely cliché, I feel like many of us who sniffed at the idea of owning a gratitude journal have inevitably found ourselves thankful for small, everyday things more often than we did a few years ago. The truth is, the sum of many small things makes a big difference, and this rings true for the natural world as well.
The graphic above depicts some typical Thanksgiving Day food that either depends upon or may benefit from animal pollination, as well as pest control from wasps, birds, and bats. It is not an exhaustive list!
Who runs the world? Bugs!
E. O. Wilson said it best: insects are the “little things that run the world”, and that includes pollinators. Pollinators are not only key to the survival of about 87% of Earth’s flowering plant species; they are also a major food source for many animals, and around 35% of our world’s food crops depend upon them. The food we cook for a Thanksgiving meal, and many of our other meals, comes from all over the world. It is consequently imperative to appreciate and protect the biodiversity of the entire planet.
We rely on squash bees in our gardens to pollinate our pumpkins, and tropical flies and beetles to pollinate coffee and spice plants such as nutmeg, anise, and cardamom. If you hunt for a wild turkey this fall, know that about 10% of its diet was comprised of insects (and it required even more when it was a poult). And while not all of our food or cultivars require animal pollination, we clearly need all kinds of insects to run the world, from South American flies we will probably never notice or see, to the monarchs that bless our backyard gardens in summer.
A Value of Their Own
Pollinators, and all wildlife for that matter, have intrinsic value, and should not be valued purely based on the goods and services they provide for humans. Pollinators and other wildlife have played key roles in nature and agriculture long before we realized it, and will continue to do so after we forget about them (but let’s try not to forget). The purpose of this article is to bring to light just how dependent we really are on all “the little things”. Whether we choose to value pollinators, insects, and nature in general or not, we are sustained by the air, plants, and diverse food groups they support. So at your next Thanksgiving meal, give a mulled wine toast to the little things!
Sources for percentages:
- Ollerton J, Winfree R, and Tarrant S (2011) How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals?
Klein A.-M., Vaissière B. E., Cane J. H., Steffan-Dewenter I., Cunningham S. A., Kremen C., & Tscharntke, T (2007) Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops.
- Brigida D, Mizejewski D (2021) NWF Blog: 6 Tips for Feeding Wild Turkeys with Your Garden.
Pollinators/beneficial insects listed in the Thanksgiving food graphic were informed in part by the Pollinator Partnership.