A espresso with Maxim Larrivee | It is carnage and he is within the entrance row!

If some claim to see our future in tea leaves, Maxim Larrivee is actually able to see the planet’s future by studying insects.

Posted at 5 am.

Alexandre Sirois

Alexandre Sirois
The press

And the news is not very good, you can imagine. Insects are disappearing at a worrying rate. Simple-to-see test: This summer, see how clean your vehicle’s windshield is, even if you’ve been driving for a few hours. 30 years ago, it would have been covered in bugs.

“The windshield test is as innocuous and simplistic as it is true,” says Maxim Larrivee when asked about the phenomenon.

But we’ll come back to that later. All in your time. Allow us to introduce you first, because you may have never heard of this charismatic 40 year old with an athletic physique. And that’s a shame, because this experienced researcher and science popularizer with infectious enthusiasm deserves to be known.

He invites us to meet on the terrace of the Jardim Botânico restaurant because he loves this place, but also because it is, in a way, his backyard. He held the position of director of the Montreal Insectarium for three years.


PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, PRESS

Maxim Larrivee discusses with Alexandre Sirois, editorial writer for The press.

His trajectory is easy to explain: this doctor of entomology – the study of insects – from McGill University fell into the pot when he was very young.

He literally grew up with a butterfly net in his hands.

His father was a naturalist passionate about ornithology (who created the Étude des populations d’oiseaus du Québec database in the 1970s), as was his uncle Michel. He also studied butterflies. And both men were mentored by a recognized naturalist and eminent butterfly collector from Bas-Saint-Laurent, Rosaire Pelletier.

The passion of these three men was contagious. Maxim Larrivee remembers that all his neighbors on rue Ouellet collected butterflies. “My mother already reminded me that at the age of 3 I knew 32 species of butterflies in English, French and Latin”, he says.

At CEGEP (in Limoilou) and at the university (Laval), he let himself be tempted by sport. This big six-foot-tall guy had both the talent and the physique for the job. He was playing volleyball at the time. But inside, he knew it wouldn’t last. “I always felt something stronger when I was outdoors, in nature, than in a gym. »

So here he is today at the head of an Insectarium that has just reopened, transformed, and whose existence seems more fundamental than ever. Maxim Larrivee, like all those who participated in the design of the new establishment and contributed to its development, is well aware of this.

Because the famous windshield test is emblematic: insects are victims of a catastrophe. And their fate is inevitably linked to ours.

I think you can see a lot of the future of the planet from how insects are able to adapt or not adapt to the environmental pressures that are being imposed on them right now.

Maxim Larrivee

“My postdoctoral lab director at the University of Ottawa used a beautiful metaphor: the insects are the canaries in the coal mine. »

The life cycle of an insect is very short. There are some, even in Quebec, that can form up to three or four generations a year. So, inevitably, your adaptability is greater.

“We are able, by measuring their ability to adapt, to keep up with the pace of change. To check if the rest of the living beings, which have a slower life cycle, will also be able to adapt. And it’s a safe bet they won’t,” he says.

To give us an idea of ​​the urgency of the situation, Maxim Larrivee evokes the fate of the superb monarch butterfly, which is threatened with extinction. “The female monarch lays 200 eggs. One that survives to adulthood is enough for the population to be stable. But there is not even 1 in 200! It’s crazy! »

And to add: “Imagine a human who has 200 children and cannot even have a stable population… It would be an unspeakable catastrophe. »

According to a recent study published in the journal Naturethe number of insects in the world has halved in the last 30 years and there are now 27% fewer species.

Alarming numbers, considering that the fate of humans is linked to that of insects.

As he broaches this subject, Maxim Larrivee’s face lights up again. He tells us, above all, about pollination. He also mentions the fact that insects “will self-regulate, most of the time, to prevent epidemics, in a natural way, without chemicals”. He tells us about the importance of aquatic insect larvae, which serve as food for fish, but are also essential for wetlands, namely because they filter water.

Not to mention that insects are the animal protein with the smallest ecological footprint. “And it’s a superfood, like cabbage, broccoli …”, he specifies, even though he knows very well that there is still a long way to go to integrate them into our daily diet.

Entomologist and director of the Insectarium, Maxim Larrivee finds himself at the center of the ongoing disaster. However, he is decidedly optimistic. Certainly, in large part because he is convinced that the new Insectarium can be a formidable agent of change.

The museum, its director and “the entire team” want to create an entomophilous society, that is, one that is capable of valuing insects. The new establishment, which opened last April, was also designed to “put people in a position of openness and respect for insects”.

It’s a fundamental mission, insists Maxim Larrivee. To take the necessary measures to protect both insects and the planet as a whole, “a re-signification of the relationship with nature that man has” is needed.

He knows well that “not everyone will fall in love with insects or find them beautiful”. He is convinced, on the other hand, that “all people are capable of valuing them and understanding the essential role they play in ecosystems and in the services they provide to all”.

UNFILTERED QUESTIONNAIRE

Your relationship with coffee: I drink two double espressos after my first large glass of water in the morning, either black or with a drop of cream.

Your favorite insect: The mysterious elf. The only diurnal butterfly in Quebec that is iridescent green. He really does look like a leprechaun!

Your heroes: My parents.

Books to recommend about the future of the planet: biophilia, by Edward O. Wilson, and On inequality between societies: an essay on man and the environment in historyby Jared Diamond.

The gift you would like to receive: The ability to go back in time to see pre-colonial Quebec.

Your dream of happiness: My dream of happiness? I’m living it!

Who is Maxim Larrivee?

  • Born in Quebec in 1976, his family moved to Rimouski when he was 6 months old.
  • He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Université Laval, a master’s degree in ecology from Carleton University and a doctorate in entomology from McGill University.
  • He created the iPapillon (eButterfly) project, a citizen science project that aims to be a global butterfly database, in 2012.
  • He became director of the Montreal Insectarium in 2019.

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