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What’s Bugging You?

Big ones, small ones, hairy ones, scary ones, and everything in between—love them or hate them—insects are all around us. But wait, that’s not all bad news. What about the butterflies? Everyone loves those wondrous winged creatures don’t they? Did you know that butterflies are important pollinators, second only to bees? Without pollinators, we would have no fruits, nuts, or even chocolate.

And how about the luminous lightning bugs? There’s no reason to be afraid of their twinkling taillights. In their larval form lightning bugs are a gardener’s best friend, living in the soil while devouring slugs and snails before they slime their way across your garden to eat your plants. You may cross paths with a variety of insects in your own back yard, including praying mantises, moths, beetles, leafhoppers, bees, and caterpillars.

We all seem to find a place in our heart for the “pretty” bugs. Some insects like ladybugs, butterflies, and dragonflies we find adorable and use their likeness in decorating everything from toys to car seat covers. These bugs have great press agents and are loved by most, especially because they don’t bite or sting people.

As with many things in life you’ve got to take the bad with the good, and that brings us to the subject of the “bad” or ugly bugs. But hold on…who determines what is bad? Everything is a matter of perspective.

The key concept that drives the natural world is balance. Everything is connected and each creature has its own purpose in the grand scheme of things. For example, while we hate everything about those nasty blood-sucking mosquitoes, they do actually play an important role in the food web. They are dinner entrees for dragonflies, fish, frogs, and bats, just to name a few.

Spiders are among those bugs that are not particularly well-loved. They are innocent enough while sitting in their intricate dew-covered webs shimmering in the morning sunlight. And they are important in controlling the insect populations, but if you get one of those eight-legged hairy monsters in your bed, see how quickly your perspective changes!

Lovely ladybugs eat those pesky aphids guilty of sucking the very life juices out of your prize rose bushes. Gardeners love ladybugs, but try being a homeowner with hordes of those stinky little beetles invading your windowsills looking for a winter retreat, and see how fast you go for the vacuum cleaner. So most of us will probably agree that nature can keep its balance, as long as it happens in the back yard and not inside our house.

So what is a good way for you to get rid of the bugs you don’t want in your garden without killing the ones you love? Generally, most poisons will kill the good with the bad and we care too much about our health and environment to recommend using toxic chemicals.

Here’s an idea. Bribe your kids to help. It worked for our mom years ago. Put a bounty on the head of each bug captured and follow these steps:  Step one: get an empty plastic bottle and give it to your kid. Step two: have them knock the “bad” bugs off your plants and into the bottle. This works best for insects like Japanese beetles and stink bugs. Step three: screw on the cap and place the bug-filled bottle in your freezer until winter.

Ewwww, now what? Take out those freeze-dried bugs and feed them to your hungry birds during the cold winter months. Ta-da…you just went green and recycled. Doesn’t it feel good? Yes, we know it’s sort of gross but it does work. But you may still want to keep the fly swatter and the citronella candles handy when you’re outside barbecuing this summer.

JUDY BURRIS and WAYNE RICHARDS of northern Kentucky are the authors of The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs, The Life Cycles of Butterflies, and Nature’s Notes. Learn more at


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