Rolling out the welcome mat for bees, bugs, and butterflies

By Anne Boys-Hope – 

Sophie Cardinal’s garden is busier than a Kitchissippi coffee shop but her patrons are so small you can barely see them. Look closely: hundreds of insects buzz around the flowering plants and specially designed bee houses in her pollinator-friendly yard.

This Westboro resident and bug expert has rolled out the welcome mat to these insects for a reason—to create habitat for the hard-working bees, butterflies and beetles that pollinate plants and help us put food on our tables. That includes apples, berries, tomatoes, pumpkins, and the list goes on.

Westboro’s Sophie Cardinal is one of the organizers behind Ottawa Bug Day, which is taking place September 10. Sophie uses bamboo and wood block bee houses to create habitat for solitary bees in her backyard. Photo by Anne Boys-Hope
Westboro’s Sophie Cardinal is one of the organizers behind Ottawa Bug Day, which is taking place September 10. Sophie uses bamboo and wood block bee houses to create habitat for solitary bees in her backyard. Photos by Anne Boys-Hope

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“If we didn’t have insects our diet would be very different,” says Sophie. “Honey bees alone provide more than two billion dollars in pollination services every year in Canada.”

Sophie knows what she’s talking about: she has a doctorate in entomology from Cornell University and is a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“I curate the bee collection, research bees, looking at different factors that affect bee health and create tools to identify bees and recognize species,” she explains.

Sophie also organizes Ottawa Bug Day, an annual event co-sponsored by the Entomological Society of Ontario and the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. This year, the event will be held on Saturday, September 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ottawa Research and Development Centre at 960 Carling Ave. (at the Central Experimental Farm), in partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Admittance and on-site parking is free.

Now in its fourth year, Ottawa’s biggest bug fest draws close to two thousand bug lovers of all ages to watch cockroach races, see live bugs, and yes, taste some too.

“We will have roasted crickets on hand, but also some baked goods where we use cricket flour,” says Sophie, who has no qualms about insect cuisine. “Mealworms are pretty tasty,” she says convincingly.

More than 30 Ottawa entomologists are volunteering their time at the event. They’ll be available to answer all your bug related questions. Here’s your chance to find out if that huge hairy spider lurking in the attic is a friend or foe.

“You can bring in an insect picture or a specimen and we can identify it for you,” says Sophie.

Entomologists will be guiding insect expeditions to show you how to find and identify the bugs that live around us, but often go unseen. It’s a skill that might just change how you see the world.

“You walk down the street and you probably don’t see the hundreds of insects you are walking right by. Once you become aware of them you’ll find yourself walking very differently through any kind of habitat,” says Sophie.

For those interested in attracting pollinators to their yard, you can get information and advice about how to make and maintain the bee houses found in Sophie’s yard.

“Bee houses are a way to increase nesting habitat,” she says, adding, “you do have to manage them and clean them every year or you could actually have a negative impact.”

If you’re a bit squeamish about inviting bees into your backyard, don’t be. These houses are for solitary-nesting bees, and unlike bumble bees they don’t sting and they don’t make honey.

Event organizers are also asking for your help. The Canadian National Collection of Insects, which contains more than 17 million specimens, is currently being digitized. You can help scientists reach this ambitious goal by entering specimen information into the growing database—considered to be one of the largest in the world.

Not a bug lover? You’re invited too.

“Once people learn about bugs, they realize how cool they are. We try to help people get past the ‘ew icky bugs’ reaction and realize how important they are, and all the different things they do for us in terms of recycling waste, pollinating and agriculture,” says Sophie. “Bug people are really enthusiastic about what we do, and we like to share that with other people.”

Get more information about Ottawa Bug Day online at entsocont.ca/bug-day-ottawa-2016.html and twitter.com/bugdayOttawa. You can also tweet your bug questions to @bugdayOttawa and entomologists will answer them on Bug Day (September 10)!

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