- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The three "F's" win hands-down: family, friends and food.
But "insects" should definitely added to that list. They are among the tiniest of critters on this planet, but think of their importance in our lives and in our ecosystems.
As British entomologist-zoologist George McGavin, author, academician, explorer and television presenter wrote in an article published in 2004 in The Guardian: "They are the most successful multi-cellular life form on the planet...Insects have endured for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived the numerous global upheavals and catastrophes that spelled the end for much greater and grander creatures and they will continue to be a major part of the Earth's fauna for many more millennia."
McGavin, an honorary research associate at both the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Department of Zoology, points out that insects are "the food of the world."
"Most of the higher animal species on Earth eat insect--they are the food of the world," he writes in his piece on Why I Love Insects. "All of the blue tit chicks in the British Isles alone consume 35bn caterpillars before they become adult. A single pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat species in the UK, has to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 insects most nights to stay alive."
McGavin also emphasizes the importance of pollinators and recyclers, that "we depend on bees for perhaps as much as a third of the food we eat....As recyclers, flies and beetles devour carcasses and clear prodigious quantities of dung every day."
We met George McGavin in July 2012 at a sunflower field in Winters. He and his crew were there to film a documentary on ultimate swarms, featuring Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Gary, an author, scientist and now a retired professional bee wrangler, clued him in on bee behavior.
Like many scientists, McGavin loves to share his enthusiasm for insects, something we all need to appreciate more and to support as much as we can. For example, the Entomological Society of America launched a Chrysalis Fund to bring insect education into the classroom. According to the website, it's "supported by donors dedicated to the mission of enhancing insect education for K-12 students. Teachers and educators with creative ideas for insect-themed programs or projects are encouraged to apply for funding." (On a side note, UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal donated his $1000 honorarium from the recent ESA Founders' Memorial Award Lecture to the Chrysalis Fund. See YouTube video.)
So, what are we thankful for? Family, friends and food, for sure.
And the list also includes...insects.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The date: July 22, 2012. The place: a sunfiower field in Winters, Calif.
We watched as a BBC crew set up their cameras while professional bee wrangler Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, trained his bees for the documentary that would be titled "Ultimate Swarms."
Documentary host/zoologist George McGavin of Oxford, England, (he's an honorary research associate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History), walked among the rows, rehearsing his lines.
Gary, who has wrangled bees for more than 40 years for movies, TV shows, and commercials (including approximately 18 movies, 70 or so TV shows, and about a half-dozen commercials) prepped McGavin about honey bee behavior.
The bees "are in a swarm state, completely non-aggressive," McGavin told the camera. "They're not protecting anything, not protecting their young or honey, simply protecting the queen in the heart of this swarm until a new home is found."
McGavin related that honey bees are worth "a staggering $180 billion a year, and without them over a third of all the food we eat wouldn't exist."
Honey bees are just one part of the one-hour "Ultimate Swarms," which will premiere at 8 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time and Pacific Time), Tuesday, Oct. 22 on the television show, Animal Planet.
In one segment, McGavin becomes the queen bee, thanks to Norm Gary and a swarm of 40,000 worker bees clustering on the host.
“Swarms," McGavin says, "are one of the greatest spectacles on earth.” Far from "being the ultimate nightmare, they are one of nature's most ingenious solutions."
"By joining together, even the most simplest of creatures can achieve the impossible," McGavin said.)
As for Gary, who will be 80 next month, says this was his last shoot as a professional bee wrangler. Last month he retired from beekeeping, after 66 years of keeping bees. "Training bees to do the right behavior on cue gets very complicated and gave me the opportunity to apply science as well as practical 'in-the-trench' beekeeping operations," Gary said, describing bee wrangling as "making bees 'act' in various scenes as called for by the script." A good example of his work is the bee scene in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes.
However, Gary still has his specially patented pheromones (his invention), and he plans to come out of retirement to help UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice President Barbara Allen-Diaz fulfill her "promise for education" to help UC students in financial need. (See website to donate to the cause. If Allen-Diaz reaches her goal of $2500, the bee stunt will take place next spring at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis,)