A noble scoliid wasp. Though wasps are often thought of as aggressive, they are actually quite gentle. In fact, I sat in the middle of a group of mud-dauber wasps the other day and they didn’t pay me any attention. (All photos by Brice Claypoole)
This spring, I watched a pair of crows raise their two babies in our yard. The poor, tired parents gathered food all day. While they weren’t finding food, they were fighting off mockingbirds and grackles. The babies would nestle in fallen palm fronds and wait for their parents.
This year the crows were lucky. Both babies made it, but last year only one of their four babies grew up and joined the flock that calls our island home. The other three fell out of the nest just after being born. We took them to Wildlife Inc (a local wildlife rehabilitation center) and hopefully they lead happy lives now. I still feel bad for the parents; they don’t know we gave their babies a good chance. The poor parents must have been sad.
One evening, I watched an ant carrying a dead ant. After carrying the other ant for a while, she (the ant) sat it down and waggled her antennae over it. Perhaps she was sad for her nestmate. This certainly looked like some kind of ritual, maybe sort of like a human funeral. Finally, she left, hopefully she had a good night.
Animals are not inanimate objects; they are living, breathing, feeling things. And as with humans, they should be treated with kindness and respect. But they are not. They are often killed just for the crime of trying to survive. Animals have the same basic right to live that people do.
We humans are quick to label anything we dislike a “pest”. And once an animal has been called a “pest”, we try our hardest to kill them all. We are taught that is what we ought to do. But that is not the course of actions we should take. It is not necessary to harm these animals.
If we see holes in leaves our reaction is often to attempt to kill the culprit. In one of my native plant gardening books, just after the section on wildlife in the garden, there is a section on how to kill anything that dares take a bite out of one of your plants. Even if an animal is eating a plant in your garden it is not because that animal is out to get you. It is because that animal needs to eat that plant to survive. There is no need to panic and spray a plant with pesticides if you see that something is eating it. The plant will probably recover quickly. If you find bites out of one of your plants, be proud that you're feeding an animal in need!
Here are a few animals often regarded as “pests” and a look into their lives:
Wasps and bees are often killed just because they can sting. These animals are often characterized as aggressive, but they are really quite gentle. I hold bees all the time and our pollinator-friendly garden swarms with probably hundreds of them a lot of the time, but they never bother us. It’s the same with wasps. The other day I sat with my face less than a foot from a group of mud-dauber wasps and I did not get stung. It was fascinating to watch them rolling up balls of mud and fly off with them to make their nests we later found in a gourd painted like a flamingo.
Snakes are also sometimes treated cruelly. They are important predators of rats; without them, rats would be a lot more of a problem. In fact, I have heard there used to be lots of different snakes in our neighborhood, but people killed most of them and we do have rat problems now. When snakes aren’t helping people out with rats, they do a lot of sunbathing, lying on rocks or concrete and staying there till they’re nice and warm.
Ants are another common animal and an intriguing one. Ants have a very social lifestyle, often living in large colonies that are sometimes hundreds strong. They often form long ant roads that are really interesting to watch. Ants have a surprisingly long lifespan -- some scientists estimate the queen can live up to 20, or maybe even 40 years in some species! They are excellent at aerating soil. They also fertilize it by taking decaying materials underground to plant roots.
Possums are a common animal across North America and people often think they are a problem. Maybe they carry rabies, bite or eat plants? Possums are not a problem. They do not carry rabies, bite or eat plants. If you make a possum feel threatened, they will hiss and then play dead. Possums are harmless (and adorable up close).
Now, trees. Wait! Trees having feelings?! Some scientists now believe that trees really might have feelings and they definitely do have some sort of friendships! Trees in a forest are connected by an underground web of mycorrhizal fungi. The trees use this mycorrhizal network, sometimes called the “wood wide web”, to share nutrients and messages with their friends. When a tree knows it is dying, it will send out the last of its energy to other trees nearby. Trees have even been known to keep a good friend who has nothing left to give alive. Occasionally when a tree falls or is cut down, a close friend will feed the fallen tree (which is now only a stump) through its roots, sometimes for hundreds of years. The social life of trees is so amazing I could go on and on. Maybe that’s my next post. Before you kill a tree in your yard, think about if it is really necessary. You will be killing something that may have worked for over a hundred years to get to where it is. Trees are ecosystems themselves, so you will also be destroying a whole community.
These are just a few of the animals and plants you might encounter in your yard, you will see many others and they all deserve kindness. If you see a new animal in your yard celebrate! You have provided a safe place for him or her to relax and live their life in peace!
It seems we will do anything to kill unwanted animals, I once read an article from Mother Earth News on how to feed ants grits then watch them explode. Disposing of “pests” by any necessary means is embedded in our culture. But it doesn’t have to be a part of our culture. By regarding other species with kindness, we change our norms and make treating animals with cruelty look wrong, weird and uncool.
As Ellie Whitney, D. Bruce Means and Anne Rudloe, wrote so beautifully in their book, Priceless Florida, “Beyond the value of diversity, beyond the utilitarian value of ecosystem services, and beyond their beauty and fascination, the other creatures, plants as well as animals, simply have the right to be here. They have traversed the same, long, evolutionary time span, and the same bumpy road of life and death through myriad generations, as we have. They share with us the eloquent language of DNA; they are our kin. They need us to pay attention to their plight in the wake of our hurtling journey into the future.” Animals and plants are our kin and they deserve to be treated with kindness. Please treat them kindly. They deserve love.
Here are two extremely helpful and thoughtful articles by environmental writer Nancy Lawson: