People & Places

Felina Martinez News-Bulletin Writer

Felina Martinez
VCNB Staff Writer

It’s that time of the year when bugs of all sorts are making their way back into our lives. While there are still some that make my skin crawl, I’ve come to have more appreciation for them over the years.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing outdoors, so wildlife has always been a big interest of mine. At one point in time, snails were all the rage for me.

As a kid, my friend and I loved to go out looking for snails when we were outdoors. I still remember the glee we had when we found one, and how funny we thought they were with their elongated eyes and slow and slimy demeanor.

Even though my snail hunting days are behind me, I always keep an eye out for them. However, I’ve noticed throughout the years that I just don’t see them much anymore. I even make a point to look at my ol’ reliable spots like by the ditchbanks, but still nothing.

It’s been occurring to me that it’s not just snails I don’t see much of now, but quite a number of bugs I am seeing less of. I ended up doing a bit of research into the general state of the insect population and lo and behold, I was greeted with article after article detailing the alarming decline of insect populations worldwide in recent times.

Broadly, it’s agreed that habitat loss, pesticides and climate change are the biggest drivers in this decline. Knowing this, I wanted to learn more about what the average citizen can do so I spoke with Ted Hodoba, a plant and wildlife conservation enthusiast and previous manager of the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

“Insects are important in so many ways,” Hodoba said. “They are important for pollination and food for other animals. They really are, in many ways, the beginning of the food chain; everything eventually depends on them.”

It’s safe to say that without bugs, all species, including humans, would be in a lot of trouble, so what can we do in our own yards to help? Hodoba said, first and foremost, to stop or at least reduce pesticide use.

“The main thing to keep in mind with pesticides is they do not discriminate. They kill the good bugs along with the bad bugs, which the organic pesticides do as well,” he said. “You really need to be careful and think about what you’re doing before you spray a pesticide because they kill anything that visits that plant.”

Aphids, a common small garden pest, for example, can be sprayed off a plant instead with a hose or be treated with ladybugs who will gladly guzzle them all.

Another thing we can do is to include more native plants and flowers in our yards which provide more benefits to native insects, on average, than exotic, ornamental species.

“Native plants have been adapted to be pollinated by native insects and other pollinators. They have also adapted to the environment, so they typically grow better and require less fertilizer. A lot of them require less water as well,” he said.

To start, Hodoba recommends native cacti as they are well-suited to our hot, arid climate and they are among the first nectar and pollen sources for hummingbirds and other pollinators. He also highly recommends autumn sage and darcy sage, which bloom all summer and into the fall and are great for pollinators.

Trees That Please, in Tomé, is a good spot to find native plants, he said, and also Plants of the Southwest, in Albuquerque. Though, “most local nurseries … carry a pretty good selection of native plants.”

Lastly, he emphasizes cleaning up your garden in early spring versus the fall to help insects.

“Some shrubs you may need to prune in the fall but for the most part, leave things standing over the fall into the winter if you can. Then do pruning and clean up work in February or March. The reason is because a lot of insects, including bees, overwinter in the stems of plants.”

Hodoba said a lot of insects and native bees will also spend the winter under layers of dead leaves, so if you rake up all the leaves in the fall, you’ve eliminated all the insects in there along with it.

I’ll be the first to say that I get it — bugs can “bug.” I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant run-ins with some, but, at the same time, we can’t live without the little buggers, so maybe it’s time we rethink the way we get along with our “creepy crawlies.”

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.