To Help Birds and Insects, Cultivate Native Gardens

Entomologist Doug Tallamy explains how filling our yards with local plants can provide our feathered friends with a caterpillar buffet

August 29, 2023 | Source: Knowable Magazine | by Emily Underwood

As a boy growing up in the ’60s, Doug Tallamy made daily visits to a pond on one of the last empty lots in his suburban New Jersey neighborhood. It was teeming with dragonflies and water beetles, polliwogs and frogs — until bulldozers arrived, burying the pond and its inhabitants.

That early loss sparked a lifelong passion for understanding nature. Tallamy became an entomologist, studying insect behaviors like egg dumping, in which female insects leave their own eggs in another female’s nest, and paternal care, in which male insects such as giant water beetles carry their egg broods on their backs. It also spurred Tallamy’s interest in protecting and restoring habitat. Although he couldn’t save the pond, Tallamy now realizes there had been nothing to stop him from digging another pond in his own backyard 50 yards away to create a refuge for the dragonflies and polliwogs. “My parents probably would have helped me — it would have been great,” he says.

Half a century later, Tallamy is alarmed by the loss of insect abundance and diversity on nearly every continent, from butterflies and bumblebees to tiger beetles and aquatic insects such as stone flies. Habitat destruction from agriculture, development and encroachment by invasive non-native plants is one major driver of the declines, experts agree.