Endangered Insects, Endangered Buses?

San Francisco artist, Todd, Gilens, has created a mobile art project, “EndangerBus”. The project places artistic renderings of endangered species on the sides of buses in place of advertising. Todd Gilens explains his project on his website

Like street trees, sidewalk cafes, and parks, public transit vehicles can be lively, as well as useful visual elements of everyday urban life. But the buses are so assaulted by advertising, it’s as if our transit system is not our own. But whose environment is it? How can we best look after the places we live? Public transit is about pooling and sharing resources. Bringing the bus together with local ecosystems and vulnerable animal species was a natural fit once I started to think about it that way.

….what is beauty in everyday life? what are our responsibilities to the resources we use? How is ownership and power divided between people – and between species?

One of the species depicted on the bus, the Mission Blue Butterfly is found only in the San Francisco area. The Mission Blue has been on the endangered species list since 1976. Habitat destruction is the primary cause of the threatened extinction of the Mission Blue. Much of the habitat destruction is for development. The town of Brisbane, CA now occupies once prime butterfly habitat. Other threats are cultivation, grazing and invasive plant species that displace the lupine host plants of the Mission Blue.

Like other Blue Butterflies, the Mission Blue has an association with ants. The caterpillars secrete a sweet liquid (honeydew) that attracts ants. The ants will feed on the secretion and protect the caterpillars as a food source.

Lupines, the host plant of the Mission Blue contain toxic chemicals that are sequestered by the caterpillars. These toxins afford the adult butterflies protection from predators.

The need to preserve habitat that supports the Mission Blue is a metaphor for the need to create urban habitats that support a high quality of life for people. Public transportation is an important shared resource in urban areas that reduces traffic congestion, lowers energy utilization and improves the quality of urban life. Some countries, such as Spain are increasing funding of mass transit in response to rising oil prices. In the US, our mass transit is facing funding cuts as our governments make cuts in taxes and spending. The EndangerBus is a symbol for this message.

Photo: Todd Gilens

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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