Outdoors

Don't let insects bug you, your garden or lawn

Wildside column: There are good ones and bad ones

A monarch butterfly, a beneficial insect, rests on a sweet corn leaf on July 9 in a Quasqueton garden. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
A monarch butterfly, a beneficial insect, rests on a sweet corn leaf on July 9 in a Quasqueton garden. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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The good, the bad and the ugly pretty well describes the insects that delight or affright as I make my daily rounds of lawn and garden.

Among the good I count bees, butterflies and lightning bugs. Gnats, flies and mosquitoes top the bad bug list. And in a class by themselves, on a par with biblical plagues, are the Japanese beetles.

Lightning bugs don’t bite, sting, pinch, buzz or carry disease. They are winged beetles with the gift for generating living light. Their silent and subtle twilight light shows provide a soothing fireworks alternative for pets and nerve-jangled veterans.

The humble bee, the insect equivalent to James Brown, the hardest working man in show business, spends its spring and summer gathering pollen and nectar from flowering plants and, in so doing, increases the yield and quality of my garden produce. As a kid I feared bumblebees, having once been painfully stung by one. Now I welcome them as the principal pollinators of my raspberries and several garden crops. Tufts in my lawn likely indicate spots where I mowed around a bee on a white clover blossom.

Monarchs and painted ladies beautify my surroundings, and their flutterings provide an antidote to the negative vibes radiating from the bad bugs.

Flies — what can you say? They’ll follow you into the house, buzz in your ears and walk on you with their dirty little feet — especially when you’re trying to take a nap. Reach for the fly swatter, and they go into hiding.

Mosquitoes, with their buzzing, biting and blood sucking, not to mention their ability to transmit West Nile virus, can shorten many a pleasant evening outdoors.

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The swarms of gnats, so prevalent in June, don’t bite me like they do some people, but they get in my face. They buzz in my ears and try to drink the fluid from my eyes, nose and mouth. I have inadvertently swallowed several that literally flew down my throat. On several occasions, after I have frantically swatted my sweaty face with dirty hands, my wife has inquired about the smudges.

I can live with flies, mosquitoes and gnats, whose brand of annoyance has grown tolerable over the years.

But Japanese beetles, a relative newcomer in my neck of the woods, are too repugnant and destructive for peaceful co-existence.

For me, insecticide is not an option, since the plants they are intent upon defoliating — raspberries, green beans, sweet corn, to name a few — are sources of food for me and my family. Nor would I spray my wild roses or milkweed, plants often visited by good bugs.

Traps capture Japanese beetles, but critics say they attract as many as they catch.

That leaves hand-picking them off the leaves of plants I intend to protect and dropping them into a soap and water solution — a ritual I’m practicing at least three times a day during July, the month of their greatest prevalence.

You can tell a lot about a bug from its mating rituals. Monarchs, which cavort in flight before the actual connection, and lightning bugs, which find each other through flashing taillights, seem romantic compared with the Japanese beetle.

The female beetle secretes a pheromone, a sex hormone, that often attracts enough mates for a bug pile that, while disgusting, can at times facilitate the capture of a dozen bugs in one fell swoop.

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