Notes from the Field - November 2021

Insects of Bald Head Island
Written by: Emily Prins, Marketing & Development Intern Summer 2021

There is a wide variety of incredible wildlife on Bald Head Island, but some of the smallest and most important creatures are often overlooked. Insects, while not the cuddliest of creatures, are an important food source for many other animals in the ecosystem such as fish and birds. Some insects serve as pollinators that fertilize the plant life on the island, while others are decomposers that continue the cycle of life, making available nutrients for plants.

Insects are a group of invertebrates, or animals that don’t have a backbone. Their primary characteristics include having six legs and a body with three segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. In addition to this, most adult insects have wings and two antennae. Scientists estimate that there are many species of insect that haven’t yet been discovered, but about 1 million have been described and identified globally.
Carolina Mantis
Bald Head Island has a variety of ecosystems such as the dunes, salt marsh, and maritime forest. Each of these areas provides a unique habitat to a diverse range of insects, and those insects are essential to supporting those ecosystems and the barrier island as a whole. Allison Polinski, Conservation Intern Summer 2021, decided to tackle an ambitious project: to find, photograph, and identify a wide range of insects on Bald Head Island to create an informational resource about these key species.

To collect this data, Allison (and 16 Conservancy interns and staff members) went to a total of 26 various locations on Bald Head and searched for insects with close observation and sweep netting. Locations ranged from residential areas to the maritime forest. She then uploaded her photos to iNaturalist, a citizen science application. This allowed her to map and share all of the observations.
Milkweed Assassin Bug
During the project, Allison catalogued 276 total observations of 124 different species of insect. The orders of insects that had the most distinct species included Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps), Lepidoptera (butterflies & moths), Orthoptera (crickets, grasshoppers, & katydids), and Coleoptera (beetles).

However, all of the species catalogued during these few weeks of summer likely pale in comparison to the overall insect diversity of Bald Head Island. If you are interested in insect diversity or citizen science, you can download the iNaturalist app and upload your insect photos and observations. This can provide important data on where and when certain species are found, and can be used in a variety of projects. You can also protect plants that are native to the island, since they are important to attract pollinator species like butterflies, bees, moths, and wasps. In the end, insects are a vital part of the Bald Head Island ecosystem.
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