Insects can seem to be everywhere, all at once, sometimes to an annoying extent. Three out of four of every four known animal species on Earth are insects, after all. But these dazzlingly adept creatures, which pre-date the dinosaurs, are suffering a silent yet hugely consequential crisis, with their numbers plummeting around the world. Oliver Milman, environment correspondent for Guardian US, has outlined the ramifications of this loss in his book The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires that Run the World, a publication that has received widespread praise, from the environmentalist Bill McKibben to the New York Times.
The Albany Hill is nestled along highway I-80 / I-580 in the East Bay town of Albany. Trails along the north side wind through a native forest of oaks, hazel nut, and other native trees, which harbor birds, deer, and other wildlife. More trails to the south scramble up a mostly eucalyptus forest leading to open areas of grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers at the top. And in the winter, a small aggregation of monarch butterflies clusters high up in the eucalyptus branches awaiting spring when they head inland to lay eggs on milkweed and start the next generation.
Friends of Albany Hill have worked tirelessly to secure the land for conservation, maintain trails, and foster environmental education through hands-on activities. Their latest project, spearheaded by artist Carole Fitzgerald, is a mural along Jackson Street on the the east side of the hill depicting the butterflies that occur on hill and the plants they depend on. Each butterfly species is accompanied by the host plant on which its caterpillar feeds. Citizen artists gathered for months to make sketches and eventually paint sections of the mural, paying close attention to biological details of both plants and insects. For the butterflies, their inspiration was a collection assembled in the 1990’s by Essig Museum research affiliate, Robert Langston.
Robert Langston and Jerry Powell (longtime director of the Essig Museum) spent several seasons exploring the various habitats of the hill documenting all the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) they could find. For the moths this was done without setting out lights at night, but by hunting for caterpillars on their host plants and netting moths by day.
Recently the Albany Hill mural artists made a visit to the Essig Museum to learn more about butterflies and other insects found across California and how the museum continues to grow through ongoing research from faculty, staff, and students.
Weed warriors: Allie, Shiran, Cameron, Taylor, Alba, Pete, Tim, Marissa, Sakina, Leslie, and Zeal after 2 hours of pulling and rolling ivy. Not in photo – Theron, Ellen, Lily, Kyra.
Thanks to everyone who helped out at our weed pulling party on May 7, 2019! The Essig Museum and Entomology Club teamed up with CalPIRG and others to pull ivy and other weeds outside the Valley Life Science Building to prepare the area for restoration of native plants. The “Essig Garden” will be an outdoor education space to learn about how insects, spiders, birds, and other wildlife interact with their habitats, and the value of native plants to reduce irrigation needs. The Garden is also part of CalPIRG’s effort to make UC Berkeley a Xerces Society Bee Campus.
Volunteers pulling and rolling 15 ft strands of Algerian ivy.
Before the battle: The area between VLSB and LSA before the weed warriors launched their assault.
Ride, walk, or jog along the Greenway in Emeryville and you will be greeted by a swarm of Bay Area “bugs”. Commissioned by the city of Emeryville, Joey Rose created two murals, titled “Ascend”, depicting some of the Bay Area’s most important inhabitants – the insects. Part of Emeryville’s park system, this green space cuts through the heart of Emeryville connecting Oakland to Berkeley. “The Greenway hopes to connect people with nature and serves as an “escape” in a historically industrial city,” says Rose. “My murals reflect this ideal. The intended audience is anyone who may happen to see them. It’s important for people of any age or demographic to feel connected to nature and see the importance of preservation.”
For inspiration, Joey visited the Essig Museum to photograph and sketch his subjects. I asked him why insects for this project. “Insects are an often ignored part of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, there is a stigma against insects. They are usually portrayed as being disgusting or scary. I wanted to show the true beauty of insects. This is a sight-specific mural, so I wanted to highlight local and native Bay Area insects. I hope people will be reminded of my painting when they see these insects around the Bay and vice-versa.”
The murals were unveiled on May 10, 2018 at 5768 Peladeau Street in Emeryville to an enthusiastic crowd. “The two figures in the murals are literally being carried by these insects,” says Rose. “I think that is really the core of what I want people to come away with. It’s not so important that they can identify each and every insect. What’s important is to get people thinking about how essential every creature is to not only our ecosystem, but to us (humans) as fellow members of that ecosystem. Even the little guys are important!”