Studying Insects

A new facility for collecting flying insects, which was recently installed at Ramat Hanadiv, will contribute to research on the disappearance of these insects throughout the world. The insects collected by the facility are studied at the Entomology Lab in the Steinhardt Museum, Tel Aviv University.


If you follow the dirt road at Ramat Hanadiv, heading west from the goat pen towards the vulture trail, you’ll notice a kind of white tent nestled in the vegetation. But it’s not really a tent and no-one is camping here: it’s a new facility that was installed here about two months ago for the purpose of studying flying insects and making sure they’ll be protected in nature.

This facility has a scientific name – malaise trap – after the Swedish entomologist who invented it. Connected to its edge is an inverted bottle that traps flies, mosquitoes, moths and other flying insects.

It’s true; these insects can be really annoying sometimes, so why do we need to make so much effort to protect them? Well, did you know they are responsible for the pollination of flowers in nature, and that without them we wouldn’t exist?

A study conducted at Ramat Hanadiv found that the cyclamen, for example, is pollinated exclusively by species of flies and moths that ensure its continued existence!


The insect apocalypse

In 2017, a paper published by a group of German researchers caused deep concern among ecologists and nature conservationists throughout the world. The researchers found that in the last 27 years there was a 76% decrease in the total mass of flying insects in Germany. Following the paper, this worrying phenomenon was studied in other places around the world, and the results demonstrated a concerning decline in the abundance and diversity of these insect species.

Researchers define this phenomenon as no less than an “insect apocalypse”, since the collapse of insect populations and communities threatens the entire ecosystem. Insects fulfil a broad range of roles in nature as pollinators, seed dispersers, decomposers, natural enemies of plant pests, and more.


Researchers define this phenomenon as no less than an “insect apocalypse”, since the collapse of insect populations and communities threatens the entire ecosystem


Israel joins the research

Unfortunately, ecological research only began to understand this concerning trend a few decades after it began. Currently, there is a lack of long-term insect monitoring programmes that sample insects over time using structured methods.

Israel, for example, is a country rich in insects, including endemic insects, yet there is still a lack of information based on their state of being and the ways we can act to protect them. Therefore, a national, long-term monitoring programme is set to be established in the coming years, led by the Entomology Lab for Applied Ecology at the Steinhardt Museum, which conducts studies on insect conservation.


This is how it works

One of the flagship methods for monitoring insects is the malaise trap, the same ‘tent’ that has been installed at Ramat Hanadiv and in other locations around the country. Once a fortnight the research staff of Ramat Hanadiv collects the sampled insects and transfers them to the Steinhardt Museum. There, in the lab, the insects are weighed, identified by experts and preserved in Israel’s National Nature Collections.

In addition to its importance at a national level, the information collected over the long term will also increase our familiarity with the local world of insects at Ramat Hanadiv and the ways it can be protected.

The facility is resistant to weather hazards, including the strong winds that blow through the region now and then, and has been fenced by the staff of Ramat Hanadiv to protect it from wildlife damage.

The large-holed netting stretched over the mouth of the trap prevents the entrance of large flying animals such as birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies, which are not part of this study.

This trap, together with additional sampling methods, will teach us about the extent of the decline in insect abundance and diversity in Israel, its causes and how we can stop it.

So the next time a fly annoys you, be gentle with it, and remember that even the humble fly has an important role to play in nature.