I cannot begin to count the times I have heard people say to me “I hate Bugs.” OK, in some cases I will agree as I scratch a mosquito bite or swat gnats away from my face.
But if you look closer and try to understand some of the world's most interesting life forms on this planet you might retract that statement. We tend to put all insects into one group called pests. Yes there are “ bad insects” that have destroyed crops around the world and insects that eat your rose bush or bean plants or the insects that move into your house in the fall looking for a place to spend the harsh winter months.
Bad insects seem to be those that in some way inconvenience us. The elm leaf beetle that spread the Dutch Elm disease destroying millions of trees and left cities void of shade, leaving homeowners scrambling to plant trees for future generations. Then there were the grasshoppers that stripped fields of alfalfa, beans and corn during the drought years of the late 1970s.
More recently the Japanese beetle, which in 100 years marched from the East Coast, crossed the Mississippi River, and showed up at our doorstep. The large numbers of this bad bug could strip all the leaves off of a 30-foot Birch or Linden tree in a matter of days. One day, a neighbor called to tell me that the beetles were so thick on his cherry trees it looked like black baseballs hanging on the tree.
What an extreme exaggeration I remember thinking to myself as I drove into his yard. He was right, the trees were completely covered and you could not get close. All these insects have in some way been an economical burden or inconvenience to us.
There are of course many other examples, but considering there are more than one million different species of insects on this earth the odds are not bad.
Consider all of the “good insects” we never hear about or never even see. Like the beetles in the forest that eat dead and decaying plant material. The Asian lady beetle and her cousin the lady bug eat thousands of aphids and insect eggs every summer. The dragonfly larval stage has a voracious appetite for other smaller larvae like mosquitoes. Oh yes, those dreaded mosquitoes which we can all relate to.
But don’t forget the eggs, larvae and adults are a very important part of the food chain for fish, birds and bats. There are good insects that help keep our planet clean, like the group of insects that devour dead plant and animal material and help recycle it back to the earth, insects that help prune natural forests, shrubs, and weeds to keep them in check.
Insects have been around a lot longer then we have by about 300 million years. They are the most diverse group of animals on the planet. Many living solitary lives while others like ants and bees live more social lives in organized colonies.
Although bees are not the only insect that pollinate flowers, they are a very important part of that cycle. Without the help of bees and other pollinating insects, the world’s food source would come to a screeching halt. So maybe instead of saying, “ I hate bugs,” we should say “You darn bug. Shoo…go to the neighbors.”
Margo Hansen is the Director of Programs at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum.