Friday, July 08, 2011

The Only Good Bug

It gets lost in the switch from childhood to adulthood that sense of curiosity and awe of insects. That need to get down on all fours and watch ants pick up crumbs of food and follow them to the nest, that avaricious desire to examine all trees for a sign of a cast off cocoon or drying skin from a cicada disappears and is replaced with a feeling of crawling skin and an ick factor that goes off the charts the closer an insect or larvae get within touching distance. Out comes the bug spray and on go the gloves while steaming water rushes into a bucket where it foams on contact with antibacterial and antimicrobial soap and cleansers to eradicate every last alien hell-spawned insect in the vicinity.

Add spiders to the mix, and all the arachnid family, just makes the feelings worse. The alien hair-covered legs and compound eyes of a spider waiting to pounce from some shadowy niche to sing venom-dripping fangs into a soft portion of skin that will soon seethe with pus, turn red, and catch on fire to blacken and drop off or deteriorate into a spongy, decomposing mess engenders terror and horror the likes of which even the best horror writer never understood because it strikes women more than men. Men cringe in horror at spider webs, but secretly hope they will one day learn the secret of The Fly, as long as it happens to a close personal friend.

Insects are multi-legged aliens that must be destroyed.

Humans are the late comers to this planet. Insects emerged and differentiated long before humans had crawled from the mud in the cells of amphibians that would eventually evolve into warm-blooded mammals and eventually into humans. We are the aliens.

As a child, I crowed with sheer delight when I found a cicada husk clinging to the roughened bark of a tree and summers were spent scanning bark for any signs of an intact split skin, the hope of seeing a cicada emerge a close nurtured hope. I caught doodlebugs and heaped up little piles of dust ringed with popsicle sticks and bits of wood while I pushed and prodded the bugs to curl up and scuttle backward through the dust mounds and watched and played for hours. Each new insect -- the giant walking stick and grasshopper dad caught and pinned to the inside of a box to send to a cousin for biology, the mealy bugs that swarmed out of wet and warm cracks among the coconut trees, and the dozens of brilliant butterflies and brightly colored spiders that seethed and crawled and stalked among the debris of the jungle floor in Panama -- was a magical world of wonder and possibility that fascinated me endlessly -- until I grew up.

No longer did I spread a blanket in the summer grass and flop down onto my belly to peer through the grass to watch the silent world, not without a big can of bug spray and constantly scanning the edges for invading armies of ants and insect life. The big black ants that appeared on the my skin was a sign for a frantic Watusi until the interloper could be shaken off or squished beneath something large and heavy were signs the invading hordes were upon me. A bee or wasp or hornet sent me into paroxysms of fear while holding my breath and inching toward safety, eyes glued to the buzzing, flying death dealer. I'm allergic to bees, wasps, hornets, and other stinging insects and carry an Epi-Pen everywhere I go, avoiding dark colors and perfume that lure the assassins in.

The world became overnight an arena where death crept, flew, and stalked on six legs and eight. I remained fascinated by insects and arachnids on the television, but not in real life. I wanted them far from my sphere of influence and farther away from me. The only good bug was a dead bug -- until the other day when I contemplated buying eggs and live bugs to set loose in my garden to kill off the bad bugs, as long as I can find some way of delivering the assassins without actually touching them or having them in the house.

I received a notice from the gardening club I belong to that detailed how to purchase thousands of lady bugs and green lacewing flies and my childhood wow factor kicked in long enough to check the claims out.

A lady bug eats up to 50 aphids, thrips, and other garden pests a day while a green lacewing fly eats 1000 a day of the same pests. Good bug versus bad bug. I could handle that -- as long as the good bugs stay outside. The memory of a lady bug infestation several years ago still sends shivers through me.

There's nothing like sitting on the toilet when a lady bug flits into view. The first couple brought smiles to my face. The seething red and black carpet oozing through the cracks and crevices of the screen window beside me filled me horror. I was trapped, still struggling with current business, and new business was actively invading my sanctuary. I had no choice but to finish the old business before cleaning up and rushing pellmell for the kitchen where the bug spray waited waited under the sink. I could not get there fast enough, nor was I elated with the results. The can emitted a few watery spurts and died while lady bugs swarmed and oozed through the infinitesimal breaks between aluminum frame and wooden sill.

I'm not sure I can face another infestation of lady bugs, especially if only 50 aphids a day per bug are being eradicated, not when green lacewings will kill more. The question is whether or not I need that much bug power. Still, I am interested, and a bug hunt is in order.

My research provided me with several options, each larger and more lethal, culminating in three healthy and fertile praying mantis eggs guaranteed to get rid of another form of insect life, otherwise known as Mother Nature's assassins. Encarsia Formosas that prey on whiteflies, earthworms for aerating the soil, green lacewings, lady bugs, predatory mites, flea killing nematodes and dozens of other supposedly good bugs to kill off the bad bugs, and lady bug homes. I didn't know lady bugs needed homes, but evidently there are places that build and sell homes for lady bugs without the problems of mortgages and defaults, unless the owner's mortgage goes up in flames when he defaults, or just before if he's planning on collecting the insurance.

Lady bug, lady bug fly away home.
Your house is on fire,
your children are gone.

Somebody knew about lady bug homes before I did.

I may change my mind about actually handling Mother Nature's assassins if I can summon up sufficient energy to clear out the planting beds and put in something more decorative than the evergreens crouching in the beds or the nearly impossible to kill honeysuckle that is taking over the front planter. I might even consider berries, roses, and flowers that will seduce hummingbirds and butterflies to visit regularly. Butterflies I can handle, but keep the moths far away from me, or me in the house when they're swarming the honeysuckle, at least until I can find a way to eradicate the honeysuckle without digging up the lot.

There are good bugs and bad bugs, at least as far as humans are concerned, and most of the time it is difficult to tell which is which -- even with a scorecard. The only good bug is the one that supports what you do want against what you don't want. That's the trick -- figuring out which is which.

No comments: