Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust
This quiet is a new phenomenon. Bird calls no longer punctuated by the roar of a passing jet overhead; few cars on the road; no intermittent stops and starts of the bus on the road; just no sound except birds , the occasional gust of wind, and even rarer; a thunderstorm and shower.
The postman is still doing his rounds, masked of course, as are competing message and parcel delivery services. For workers in general, it is limbo. No factories humming as before, no shops, restaurants, department stores, malls, in fact few business transactions. Wall Street is still open in a lackluster sort of way, and Warren Buffet warns against any buying or selling — bottom fishing can be hazardous if old sayings like ‘trying to catch a falling knife’ have any truth to them.
Across the world, it is an economic slowdown with experts estimating a drop in growth, even perhaps a recession. For our beleaguered planet, however, less human activity means less pollution and that is the silver lining in this ominous cloud. But that is not all. Good news is being reported on the entomological front.
Monarchs might be facing disaster in North America but there has been a resurgence for butterflies in the UK.The warm summer of 2019 has boosted numbers.
Painted Ladies migrating from as far away as North Africa to Europe and the UK are in numbers not seen since 2009 when 11 million arrived. Counts taken over three weeks estimate 30 times more than the previous summer (2018), which was also warm. An ubiquitous butterfly, the painted lady is found on all continents except South America and, of course, Antarctica.
The good news includes other species. Peacock butterflies had their best summer since 2014 recording a 235 percent increase over last year, and the marbled white rose in numbers by 264 percent helped by the warmth to move up north as far as Scotland.
The struggling small tortoise shell numbers rose to 70,000, the highest recorded since 2014; gatekeepers were up 95 percent, red admirals 138 percent, even the day-flying six-spot moth saw a 64 percent rise compared with last year. Last year, the small tortoise shell had the worst summer in the history of the count, hence the 167 percent rise in its numbers has been a relief to conservationists. As were the clouds of painted ladies, half a million in just three weeks, for butterflies also serve as food for other creatures like birds, dragonflies, hedgehogs and others.
There is also good news for bees. Scientists have developed a silver bullet from their gut bacteria that is effective against colony-killer varroa mites and the deformed wing virus (DWV) they help to transmit. So reports Science (Jan 31, 2020) in a descriptor note (pp 504-7) and full research article (pp 573-6).
Animal pollinators like bats, birds, butterflies and bees pollinate 75 percent of our crops and over 75 percent of flowering plants. In numbers these amount to 1200 crops and over 180,000 plants, representing more than $212 billion (nps.gov) in economic value.
Finally, from a group of small Indonesian islands, notably Taliabu, near Sulawesi comes the discovery of ten new bird species now added to the scientific record (Science News, Feb 1, 2020, p. 7).
Our earth, this wonder book of why and what keeps surprising us with new pages. Or is it a palimpsest written upon and rewritten?