Our treatment of insects really humans me



You know what really bugs me? How little respect humans have for bugs. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Humans don’t have much respect for humans, either. But just the expression “that bugs me” implies a great disrespect for bugs. We never say, “Boy, that really humans me!” I wonder if bugs do.

Geologists call our present time the age of man because of the massive impact humans have had on the planet. However, a great deal of our impact has been made in combating bugs. Consider all the energy, blood and riches that have been poured into the war on bugs, and then tell me who’s having the impact here?

It’s even worse than it seems. We have altered the face of the planet trying to fight off a handful of bugs that irritate us, when there are thousands more that actually benefit us. When did you last hear anything about one of the beneficial kind? Some bugs do unimportant things like maintain normal ecological cycles, decompose human waste and dead bodies and pollinate our crops. But some are really important!

What about Aceria malherbae? That’s a mite that lives on bindweed. Yes, I’m talking about THAT bindweed that grows all over my garden. Or Tyta luctuosa? You know, the noctuid moth that eats bindweed? Scientists at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Palisade Insectory have found that Tyta overwinters in the Grand Valley, just apparently not in my garden. 

Working secretly, in an underground bunker somewhere, this dedicated team of deranged individuals at the Palisade Insectary has, for years, befriended insects that are friends to humans. My goodness, that’s more than humans do for other humans. Oh, all right, they aren’t really secret or in an underground bunker. The rest of that description is spot on, though. 

What’s really incredible is that these normal-looking scientists are the folks who have given us Diorhabda carinulata, Hylobius transversovittatus and Jaapiella ivannikovi! All of these bugs work tirelessly in our behalf killing off tamarisk, purple loosestrife and Russian knapweed. Just because the average person doesn’t know what any of those weeds are, either, doesn’t mean that the bug people at the insectary aren’t doing us a big favor. 

Here’s the big question, though. If one of these Diorhabdas gets in to your house, would you say “thank you” and place it gently back outside? No, most humans would call the local pest control company. They’d rather have an insecticide in their home than insects. That’s what really humans me!

I have buried the serious part of this column as deeply as possible into the narrative so as to not disturb the casual reader. However, this is where I must be totally honest and serious. Resistance to insecticides, herbicides and even antibiotics in medicine may be one of the biggest problems facing mankind, assuming climate change doesn’t get us first. The logical solution to a problem like tamarisk is to use natural ecological pathways and methods, such as bio control, to live in balance with the things that really bug us. 

The Palisade Insectary of the Colorado Department of Agriculture is a unique, rare effort to systematically search for viable bio control methods to solve many of our problems. They have a voluntary “subscription” program that allows counties, municipalities and even humans to work closely with them by paying a small fee to support their program. I encourage people to contact them if they are interested. The insectary is located at 750 37.8 Road. They can be contacted by phone at 464-7916, or check out http://www.Colorado.gov/ag/biocontrol.

At least let’s have a little respect for Tyta luctuosa. Bindweed is killing my garden. Then the next time you see defoliated tamarisk, have a moment of silence for Diorhabda. Show a little respect for the good bugs by sending cash to the insectary. They accomplish more good than most politicians.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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