You Are Nature’s Best Hope

Nature's Best Hope

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022 VINS hosted Douglas Tallamy via Zoom for a lecture about “Nature’s Best Hope” – spoiler alert, it’s you!

Douglas Tallamy is the T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has taught for 41 years. His main focus is teaching others about how all aspects of life are connected through what he calls “specialized interactions.” In his talk titled “Nature’s Best Hope,” Doug focused on the specialized interactions between native plants, caterpillars, and birds, and advised the members of his audience that each of them can make a big difference by doing something small.

That something small, Doug said, is landscaping with caterpillars in mind. He informed his audience that caterpillars play a very important role in conservation – most backyard birds we are familiar with rely heavily on caterpillar species to feed their young. And when these birds fly back and forth from plant to plant looking for caterpillars, they are pollinating those plants and keeping the ecosystem healthy. Birds help our ecosystems thrive in this way, by helping to keep that natural cycle going. Without native plants, there are no caterpillars, and without caterpillars, there are no birds. There’s that “specialized interaction” at work!

To landscape with caterpillars in mind, Doug shared his five keys to success:

  1. Shrink the lawn – Convert some of your lawn space into an area for native plants. It doesn’t have to be huge or costly; a few well-placed seeds will sprout into plants that help insects and birds exponentially more than an area of grassy lawn would.
  2. Keystone plants are essential – You don’t need tons of different plant species! There are native plants that cater to more insect species than others. Doug recommends oak trees and goldenrod as a start. Check out to find your area’s native plants!
  3. Darkness is good – Using bright floodlights can actually harm caterpillar and moth species by interrupting their flight patterns or killing them outright. Doug suggests using a yellow floodlight if you need one, and making it motion-sensor, so it’s not on when it doesn’t need to be.
  4. Get rid of pesticides – This might sound obvious, but lots of people don’t realize that most of the pesticides that “only kill mosquitoes” actually kill any insects they come in contact with. Not only is this bad news for bugs, but birds might eat those poisoned insects and harm themselves, too. Stick with natural methods for mosquito control if you feel it’s necessary. Doug recommends a mosquito dunk: fill a bucket with water, put a handful of hay in there and let it ferment for a day or two. Female mosquitoes will lay their eggs in the bucket, and when that happens you can drop a mosquito dunk (available at hardware stores) in there to kill the larvae. Best of all, it won’t harm any other critters besides the mosquito larvae!
  5. Don’t create eco-traps – Finally, Doug touched on eco-traps, and their solutions. For starters, keep your cats inside! This will keep them from hunting and killing birds (2-3 billion are killed by cats each year in North America), and it will keep your cats safe from disease and predators, too. Also, try to find a way to keep birds from flying into your windows. Window strikes kill up to 1 billion birds each year, and this issue can be solved as easily as putting decals or bungee cords over your windows!

A lot of what we hear about climate change and the state of the earth these days sounds like the end is near. It’s easy to feel like we’re doomed, like we’ve failed as humans and that things will never get better. But the truth is, there is hope! We can make change as individuals, and it’s a lot simpler than the news makes it seem. Doug said, “every square inch of the planet has ecological significance. Right now, so many people feel absolutely powerless. They see these headlines [that say] the earth is so big with so many problems, they just say ‘what can one person do?’ One person can totally revitalize the ecosystem where they live, which will enhance their local ecosystem instead of degrade it.”

Whether you have acres of land and the means to convert it into a huge native forest, an apartment patio with room for a few potted plants, or a sneaky cat that likes to hunt outside, you can still make a positive change to your local ecosystem, and help the planet thrive.

Check out Doug Tallamy’s website, and learn how to regenerate natural biodiversity in your own backyard.

Doug Tallamy’s book, Nature’s Best Hope, is available for purchase at the VINS Nature Store. Get your copy today!

VINS Development Associate Sarah Howe

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