alt text: A four-panelled comic strip about bees. The first panel features a bee nested in the centre of a yellow flower. Text above it reads "BEES LOVE FLOWERS! PLANTING MORE NATIVE FLOWERS CAN HELP BEES." Text below it reads "BUT THERE'S MORE TO THE STORY..." The second panel shows a bee entering a small mound of soil, on which is a sign saying "HOME SWEET HOME." Text above it reads "BEES NEED HOMES, TOO! OVER 80% OF BEE SPECIES NEST UNDERGROUND." Text below reads "A BARE PATCH OF SOIL CAN BE AN IDEAL LOCATION." The third panel shows the head of a bee as it crawls through the underground tunnel, a honey-coloured glow ahead of it. Text above reads “THE SOIL MUST HAVE THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE AND MOISTURE LEVEL.” Text below reads “THOSE CONDITIONS ARE SENSITIVE TO LAND-USE AND CLIMATE CHANGE.” The last panel shows a network of underground tunnels made by bees. Some bees are in the tunnels and other bees fly above the surface where grass grows. Text above reads “A BEE SPENDS MOST OF ITS LIFE IN ITS NEST…” Text below reads “MORE RESEARCH ON BEE NESTING WILL HELP US BETTER PROTECT THESE PRECIOUS POLLINATORS!”

FEATURES – Ecological Comics by Loy Xingwen

In ALL, FEATURES by Katrina Vera Wong

We all know about the birds and the bees…and how they pollinate flowers! But what about flies? What about the tricks they all play? There’s a ton of research flying to the surface about various pollinators and their relationships with plants, and Loy Xingwen is spreading the word through comics.

“Science seeks to provide us with the information we need to make good decisions. But you can’t ‘inform’ people into action,” says Loy. “To make change happen, people must be persuaded, convinced, inspired or captivated.” With his SciArt style, it’s hard not to pay attention.

In a single, four-panelled comic strip, Loy manages to fit a bite-sized science lesson about the various workings of insects, birds, and flowers. “I was never a comic book fan, but I like the way that comic strips can deliver interesting ideas so succinctly,” says Loy. He partners vibrant colours and fluid shapes with carefully worded text in order to “tell a compelling, complex research story in very few words.”

alt text: A four-panelled comic strip about jewelweed. The first panel shows a jewelweed shedding a tear over a bee dying on its leaf. Text above reads “POLLINATORS ARE IN DECLINE… COULD PLANTS EVOLVE TO COPE?” The second panel shows a big showy orange flower on the left and three small green drooping buds on the right. Text above reads “TO FIND OUT, SCIENTISTS RAN TESTS ON JEWELWEED — A PLANT THAT CAN MAKES 2 TYPES OF FLOWERS.” Text on the bottom left reads “ANIMAL pollinated flowers” and text on the bottom right reads “SELF pollinating flowers.” In the third panel, text above reads “WHEN THE NUMBER OF POLLINATORS WAS REDUCED, PLANT POPULATIONS WERE PRESSURED INTO PRODUCING: 1. MORE SELF-POLLINATING FLOWERS” under which shows a branch of small green buds become a multiplied branch of several more green buds. Text continues “2. SHOWIER ANIMAL-POLLINATED ONES” under which shows an orange flower becoming larger, showier flower. The last panel shows a drawing of a jewelweed (with leaves and both green buds and orange flowers) on the left and a drawing of a dark purple peony on the right. Text above reads “JEWELWEED’S 2-FLOWER ADVANTAGE MAY HELP TO SECURE ITS FUTURE” while text below reads “BUT WILL OTHER PLANTS COPE IN A WORLD WITH FEWER POLLINATORS?” The peony has a thought bubble that reads “I’m a one-trick peony…”
Comic on Jewelweed by Loy Xingwen

Loy is an ecologist working at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, in the Southeastern Center for Conservation, where they focus on the conservation of plants in and beyond the southeastern US. “To conserve and manage imperiled species, conservationists need to understand what is harming them, as well as what can be done to bolster vulnerable populations,” says Loy. “My job is to find out what an imperiled species needs to thrive, so we can protect or create suitable conditions for it in the wild.”

Meandering the many options plant science (and life) has to offer, Loy studied horticulture and botany before landing on plant ecology. But his passion for plants and pollinators kindled as a child in the small island country of Singapore, where he “learned to appreciate biodiversity not in Singapore’s lush rainforests but playing in weedy urbanscapes.”

It seems that for plant people with ties to Singapore, such as Loy or myself or botanist James Wong, there’s an appreciation for how the densely populated city incorporates nature. However, as Loy says, “gardens are no substitute for the lush rainforests, mangroves, and other wild spaces that once covered the island.” Its four nature reserves make up less than 5% of the land area, and Loy hopes these “remaining wild spaces will be protected and managed to support [their] incredible native biodiversity.”

alt text: A four-panelled comic strip about jack-in-the-pulpit and gnats, part one of two. The first panel shows two jack-in-the-pulpit flowers. Text above reads “THE POLLINATION OF ‘JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT’ IS A SINISTER STORY.” In the second panel, text above reads “BLOOMS CONTAIN EITHER MALE OR FEMALE FLOWERS, AND ATTRACT FUNGUS GNATS” under which shows a male bloom of jack-in-the-pulpit on the right and a flying gnat on the left with a thought bubble that reads “ooh pretty!” In the third panel, text across the middle reads “THE GNAT IS BRIEFLY TRAPPED! MALE FLOWERS ARE INSIDE.” The drawing shows a vertical cross section of the flower, showing the inner spadix and inflorescence of the jack-in-the-pulpit, and a gnat that’s trapped inside with a thought bubble that reads “umm…” On the bottom right of the last panel, text reads “BUT MALE BLOOMS HAVE A TINY HOLE. THE GNAT ESCAPES, COVERED WITH POLLEN.” The drawing shows a gnat finding the hole in the jack-in-the-pulpit through which to escape. A thought bubble shows the gnat thinking “AHA!”
Part 1/2 of a Comic on Jack-in-the-pulpit and Gnats by Loy Xingwen

Understanding what makes biodiversity so important can lead to better efforts for its protection, and Loy’s comics are an amusing way to learn about flora and fauna. “My comics are inspired by plants and animals that I see around me. I believe you don’t need to go far to find fascinating plants and animals, and I hope my comics inspire people to take an interest in the natural world around them,” says Loy.

“When I’ve identified a plant or animal I want to highlight,” Loy continues, “I look up published research articles related to it. Some types of research suit this style of science communication more than others, and nearly all my comics are based on such research articles.” His comics thus cover lesser known but utterly fascinating details, such as how jewelweed can produce animal-pollinated or self-pollinated flowers, or why luna moths have tailed wings….

Or how plants can be quite devious: “Some plants trick their pollinators, attracting them to pollinate but giving nothing in return. Jack-in-the-pulpit is like that. It attracts gnats to pollinate it but it gives nothing in return. But things go a step darker: the gnat sometimes dies after pollination because it gets trapped in the plant and the plant has simply not evolved a way for the gnat to easily escape,” Loy explains. “It’s such a harsh reminder that pollinators and plants are not friends or foes to one another. Their relationship is quite pragmatic. But I think the contrast of how dark the plant-pollinator relationship could be, and how it usually isn’t, is uplifting.”

alt text: A four-panelled comic strip about jack-in-the-pulpit and gnats, part two of two. In the first panel, text above reads “LATER, IT FINDS A FEMALE BLOOM — GNATS AREN’T TOO BRIGHT” under which shows a female bloom of jack-in-the-pulpit on the right and a flying, pollen-covered gnat on the left with a thought bubble that reads “ooh pretty!” The second panel shows the gnat trapped inside the jack-in-the-pulpit once again. Text to the left reads “TRAPPED AGAIN.” The gnat within, near the female inflorescence, has a thought bubble that reads “ooh… Deja Vu!” In the third panel, text above reads “INSIDE, THE GNAT SCATTERS POLLEN ON THE FEMALE FLOWERS — POLLINATION ACHIEVED!” A drawing of a cluster of green flowers covered in pollen becomes a cluster of red berries. The last panel shows the jack-in-the-pulpit at night with a crescent moon. Text in the bottom left reads “NOW THE GNAT SEARCHES FOR AN EXIT. THIS TIME SADLY, THERE ISN’T ONE.” Another flying gnat to the right has a thought bubble that reads “Anyone seen Nat?” Under it is an arrow pointing out of the jack-in-the-pulpit, indicating that the gnat trapped inside has died, as shown via a smiley face with cross-out eyes and a stuck-out tongue.
Part 2/2 of a Comic on Jack-in-the-pulpit and Gnats by Loy Xingwen

Loy shares his comics on Instagram and Twitter—social media platforms that have extended the reach of science communication. “I think it’s a dependable way to communicate science but not always a dependable source of it,” Loy says. “I don’t think social media should be one’s primary source of information.” Modelling this, Loy credits the research on which his comics are based, allowing people to read further, if they so choose, and he’s open to his followers asking questions.

Climate change often appears in Loy’s comics as one of the main factors affecting pollinators and biodiversity. While he recommends following scientists and organizations such as Pollinator Partnership, the Xerces Society, or the USA National Phenology Network for updates on pollinator-focused work, he also puts forward a caveat: “I will say though, that while knowledge of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity can be valuable for mitigating species loss, it is not the root of the problem. Fighting climate change is the only long-term solution.”

With recent disasters in mind, such as the Lytton wildfire or the flooding in Germany, it’s feeling as though fighting climate change will continue to be a drawn-out battle. “I think in this scenario [people who feel] hopeless are actually the most hopeful,” says Loy. “They are disappointed because they wish for better, but they need to take care of themselves if they are going to be part of a solution.”

“Fighting climate change is the only long-term solution.”

Loy Xingwen

“My advice (really, what I try to tell myself) is stop searching for sources of hopelessness—you are already well aware of the gravity of the situation. Focus on solutions. Take small steps and make personal choices towards reducing your carbon footprint. This will not change the world but it will change you—that’s the first step on this journey. Recognize that there are people who have more power and influence than you—push them to make a difference.”

Whatever your journey is, don’t forget to include things that make life worth living and the planet worth saving. In Loy’s case, there are more house plants and possibly a puppy, a passion for his work, and a desire to encounter new plants and ecosystems. And definitely more comics!

Learn more about Loy Xingwen on his website and check out his comics on Instagram and Twitter.

Featured Image: Comic on Bee Nesting by Loy Xingwen.
All images courtesy of Loy Xingwen.

Share this Post

About the Author

Katrina Vera Wong

Katrina is a Korean-Chinese artist, writer, and editor. Learning from literature, botany, herbaria and ikebana, she makes hybrid flowers from dried or pressed plants and calls them Frankenflora. She currently writes about sciart at Art The Science, proofreads SAD Mag, and blogs at Lifeology. She also created Seagery Zine, a small print publication that explores the overlap between art, science and literature. Her Frankenflora have been exhibited in Vancouver, BC, at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Science World, and the VIVO Media Arts Centre. ​ Katrina was born on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeg (so-called Hamilton, ON), raised in Singapore, and is grateful to be living on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (so-called Vancouver, BC). She graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biology and English. Instagram: @furiebeckite