“It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.” ~ Samuel Johnson
Readers Beware: This post is crawling with bugs.
Relax! Take a Prozac and learn a little something today.
We Are Outnumbered, But That’s Okay
This is an insect’s world and we’re living in it.
We rarely consider the inter-connectedness of our species to them, that our survival is dependent upon their survival, but one thing is certain: they’re here to stay. Before we assumed dominion over the earth this was their world, and when our extinction comes to pass, they will no doubt still be buzzin’ around heaving a collective sigh of relief that we and all our fancy sprays are gone.
When most people think of insects, the nuisance ones — mosquitoes, cockroaches, caterpillars, lice — are usually suspect and we are intent on how to kill them. We squash and swat and spray without second thought. We label them ‘pests.’ They look ‘creepy’. They are so little like us in structure that we are remiss in considering them living beings at all.
But they are. And we easily forget our place. Without us, they thrive. Without them, however, we die.
The size of their collective population across the globe is difficult to imagine: for every human on the planet, there are 1.4 billion of them. If they ever decided to rise up against us, may they remember that I always took them along on picnics and fed them sugar-water to ‘rescue’ them from inside my house to out.
Perhaps they will show mercy on me and make me one of their captains instead.
Our insect friends help us out in so many ways. They are responsible for healthy soil which grows our food. They clean up our waste, heal our wounds even. Many have developed symbiotic relationships with the plants alongside which they’ve evolved, helping to make much of our food happen seemingly automatically. In some places, they are our food, but at the least, they are food for our food. They naturally keep other insect populations in check so ecosystems remain in balance.
When we disturb the delicate balance, we watch helplessly as insect over-populations ravage our environmental façade. We’ve learned through failed domestication efforts that they tend to work best when we get out of the way.
There is general consensus in the scientific community that without insects, many terrestrial species would die off inside of a month — birds, in particular. Their very existence lays a foundation for all other life on the surface of the planet. Without them, none of us would be here and the earth would just be very, very green, and with no more flowers for them to pollinate, very, very boring as well.
Green Anole with Lunch
Many cultures of people around the world subsist on insects. They are plentiful and cyclical. Rather than ‘growing’ sentient beings for human food here in America — a process which is both resource intensive and environmentally damaging, not to mention morally reprehensible — Marcel Dicke suggests insects as an alternative to animals for a reliable protein source. Watch his 20-minute TED Talk, Why Not Eat Insects? (I dare you to watch it.)
Taste like popcorn, and helps me look weird
for my suburbanite friends at the same time.
Ever have a ‘Mud Bug?’
Crayfish are not unlike insects.
Give Up The Willies
I’m not sure when it was that the human species began getting so creeped out by insects; perhaps an ant or beetle crawling up the arm felt too much like lion whiskers. These days, certainly our phobias are unwarranted. We are smart, capable even of protecting ourselves against insect invasion (much less a lion attack). It may surprise you to know that of the millions of species of insects, the mass majority are harmless beetles.
Caterpillar? A little tickly, that’s all.
Wasps only sting to defend.
They are easily caught by hand with sugar-water
to be released outside.
Homo Sapiens Free Clean-up Crew
The American Cockroach (above) gets a bad rap and is probably on top of every insect-hater’s list. It probably won’t surprise you that we are not roach-squishers. (They’re easy to live-catch if you know the trick.) I’m as instinctive as the next guy and will fling one a few yards should it run unexpectedly up my arm. But kill with a shoe or newspaper? Purposely with no good reason? Nuh-uh. I’d like to think I’m better than that. Plus, who wants to clean that mess up?
If you don’t like roaches in your house, quit leaving food out for them and don’t let them just walk on in. Plug the holes and make it more difficult for them to make a living. They’ll go elsewhere. (Or take them out to the compost where they’ll do the most good.)
Bugs Are Here To Stay
The best yard garden is the one where the eco-system is fully in tact, and yes, this means that it is crawling with bugs. Using synthetic pesticide has unintended consequences which wreck an otherwise balanced ecosystem, in addition to wrecking the more complex organisms at the cellular level (uh, that would be you and your body). Toxicity from these products builds up in soil and water much like they do our bodies — they don’t just go away. If you value quality of life, steer clear of these quick solutions, no matter how cheap they may be.
Organic gardeners like to use natural methods for controlling insect ‘pests.’ (I’d like to think that we’re the pests, really.) Some turn to another bug to naturally eliminate caterpillars on specific garden plants: bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Technically Bt is an organic product, but I don’t use it because it kills caterpillars, caterpillars that would otherwise turn into moths or butterflies, moths or butterflies that could become food for other animals or pollinate the flowers that become food for us. It is not selective. Think before you use any pesticide, even the organic ones.
If my Scottie killed the tomato hornworm at the beginning of this post instead of learning about it, the beautiful and beneficial Sphinx Moth would not have graced our garden later on. They are amazing creatures to watch, and my children regularly mistaken them for hummingbirds.
Photo Credit: Tom Sisemore Photography
If you would like to prevent insect invasions in your garden spaces, try these solutions instead:
- Stagger fruiting plants among other varieties — companion planting — so that if one plant gets hit, it’s easily managed. Stop planting in long, tight rows which gives insects a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet with a built-in bridge to the next meal.
- Plant sunflowers, place feeders and water pans, and build brush piles to welcome the army of birds, amphibians, and reptiles into the mix. They are better than you at keeping the most destructive insect populations in check, just doing what they do.
- Drive 4-ft T-posts randomly throughout your space to give look-out ‘perches’ for damselflies (dragonflies). They are formidable insect hunters and will catch fliers mid-air before they land on your plants.
- Take care of your soil and everything within it. Go organic and stop roto-tilling (which breaks up the mycelium network and kills earthworms). A healthy plant does better at preventing insect attacks than a stressed one does.
- Mail-order ladybird beetles and let your kids release them while you watch. You can do the same for praying mantis. Certain parasitic wasps will take care of a few caterpillars for you (their larva eat the caterpillar).
- Keep fire ants out of your garden by leaving them alone outside your garden space (they move where disturbed). Should they find themselves where you don’t want them, prevent using a citrus/essential oil mix or coffee grounds, applied specifically (rather than broadly) to the area to get them in line with the new program.
Bugs are the little things that make the world go ’round.
Knowledge is power! Learn what insect you’ve
got at www.BugGuide.net.
25 thoughts on “It’s The Little (Exoskeleton) Things”
Still as fascinating now as it was before! I hope you and your family are enjoying your summer.
Aw, thanks, Tanja. Just got a great new book by another bug-lover: ‘Bugged’ by David MacNeal. For me, this stuff never gets old!
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I looked it up, sounds intriguing, but also potentially nightmarish. I am much better now than when I was a kid, but critters with 8 legs still make my skin creep.
Thank you for reminding us that we are not at the center of this earth, even if we act like it. I must admit that I will not let a mosquito live if it lands on me, but I carry every other invading insect and arachnid outside.
We too, Tanja! I have an affinity for all things small, but mosquitoes and chiggers and black fly midges drive me bonkers. Still I ‘flick’ rather than squish.
Very informative post! Great photos too.
Thank you, Belinda. We are giants in an insect world.
I have never given much thought to insects (other than being creeped out by worms of variable numbers of feet) but you inspire me.
My father always treats insects with a lot of love – they are like babies, he says. I am beginning to understand it now…
You are like most people. Few call themselves ‘animal lovers’ and intend upon encompassing the very small. It would be the end of us to be without them, though; they deserve that respect at the least. Thanks for coming by, LG.
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An excellent post you’ve put together here, Shannon. As many times as I’ve seen an anole, I’ve never managed to photograph one with such a mouthful. You’ve suddenly made me wonder whether anyone has ever crafted a wooden walking stick for people in the shape of an insect walking stick.
If no one has, it would sure be a nifty thing, and I’d probably have one. Sorry I’m late to reply, Steve. Love your clever comments. 😀
Check out this Fresh Pressed piece by BooksAndBugs. http://wp.me/p2UgAC-6x
Amazing post Shannon. Missed your perspectives and poignancy dearly.
Such blessedly cute bugs these are and it is unfortunate that people get the willies around them. I think the word “crawl” and its implications have done a lot of damage to the way we look at bugs.
I am one to talk though, I still haven’t gotten over my fear of cockroaches, sniff. But this post went a long way to make me want to get over it.
This post has been in the works since your jewel bug piece. A long while! It’s high time these guys get the respect they’re due. Don’t worry Christy. Cockroaches are easy to dislike. They are super fast and feel other-worldly when running across a sensitive skin surface. But if I could overcome my fear of them, so can you! Only my son is able to let them crawl on his hand/arm. Still can’t cross that barrier myself…perhaps one day.
Can’t be a dirt girl without being a bug girl. They do go hand-in-hand.
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Absolutely delightful post Shannon! Your photos here are incredible (the walking stick and luna moth my favorites) and the information so powerful. You rock. 🙂
‘Delightful’ is not typically the response I get with bug posts! Thank you, Jet, for thinking so. We found an adult ox beetle today. Such excitement for the kids (and mom)!
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So cool! And I did learn a lot. Thanks Shannon and (brave) family!
Thank you, Lisa. I do hope you are enjoying your summer, bugs or no. We had our first ox beetle adult encounter in our yard this past weekend. In my husband’s words, ‘What a hoss!’
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