Be Free

Friday, August 24, 2012

Discreet until dead

I don't have time to articulate this idea as well as I'd like. But, the sad demise of some of these amazing creatures provoked some thought on my part that precipitated this post. How did they die? Through our clueless interference. All summer long I've been thanking the LORD for giving us a sufficient quantity of these dung beetles to keep up with ALL of the horse and cow manure, and even most of the dog dung, on our property! I don't know all the environmental keys that have caused them to thrive as they have, but I've been daily rejoicing in their continued level of efficiency, come rain or shine. We have left them undisturbed (although Hub has repeatedly asked if he can take the tractor into the horse pens and extract manure for his compost pile). I have denied his request each time, telling him that I don't want to interfere in anyway with their labors. When they begin to fail to complete the daily chore of reducing manure piles to an oatmeal consistency, I will look into how some of the thoroughly recycled (through them) manure might be appropriated for his garden, but NOT at the expense of our better beetle community! Just to give you an idea of how much they have been accomplishing; a 1000 pound horse can produce 50 pounds of manure a day; we have 3 1/5 horses (Remy is only about 200 pounds), so, that's over 150 pounds of manure per day that these tiny laborers are processing!

Last week we had a good heavy rain that deposited 1.3 inches into our soil and every other container capable of collecting it. I went about pouring water out of bowls, buckets, wheelbarrows... and in looking for anything retaining water (since we are now very close to a West Nile epidemic in this state), I realized that a very large tire we recently imported (I have plans to use it as a trail course obstacle) had caught some of the water. Enough to interest mosquitoes. It was not in a place easy to pour out. The tire is too heavy to move by hand and I wasn't really wanting to try scooping all that water out, so, I mentioned to Hub we had a potential mosquito breeding site in the tire. He said he had heard pouring oil in the water would prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs. I asked if it has to be motor oil. He said he didn't know, but we have decided not to use the sunflower oil we have in our cabinet. He said I might try that. I did. I poured some into the water in the tire. Three days later (mosquito eggs take four days to hatch out), I went to see if there were any mosquito larvae in the treated water. I was horrified, and dismayed, and grieved, and distraught, to find 10 dead dung beetles in the water. I scooped all the water out and arranged the gorgeous little carcases. I wanted to cry!

I really had hardly seen these guys when they were alive. Very rarely I'd gotten a glimpse of one landing and burrowing immediately out of sight, but this pretty iridescent variety is nocturnal, so, they rarely are seen in the light of day. There is another type I do see that is a more drab grayish brown. They work the dayshift. I was truly guilt-ridden to think that something as seemingly innocuous as sunflower oil could have lured my reclusive workforce to their deaths! I don't yet know how losing ten of them will effect efficiency; that remains to be seen. But, I do know, that this was certainly not a deserved death for them!

The thoughts that arose in me are along these lines:
1. So many things in nature contribute to our ecological balance; it seems like every year I am shown a new creature's important role. In previous years, I've learned the significance of dragonflies (specifically their nymphs), wolf spiders, native fire ants, bees, bats, and turkey vultures... this has been our year of the dung beetles (we had a good crew of them last year as well, in spite of the drought).

2. In our culture, the most useful/productive/efficient members are often over-looked and unappreciated until they die. Then we see how much they were doing. Then we recognize their contribution and miss them.

3. God made even some of the lowliest insects beautiful. They have to live in and consume waste that we find repugnant. But, to them it is sustenance and given how rapidly they ingest it, I'm guessing they truly enjoy their meal and their work. I am glad for their sakes that they do. I'm sorry for them that we carelessly complicate their job and even stupidly cause them to lose their lives. They have short lives anyway. They would die in a few weeks. But, I feel responsible for ten of them dying unnecessarily.

Alas. But, I shall be more careful in the future. Much more. Dung beetles WERE injured in this story. I hope that telling it will educate folks and cause them to be less heedless!