Outdoors

Not all bugs are created - or treated - equally

Wildside: There are pests and beautiful creatures

Monarch butterfly caterpillars soak up sun last week on the leaves of a swamp milkweed plant in Quasqueton. (Orlan Love/
Monarch butterfly caterpillars soak up sun last week on the leaves of a swamp milkweed plant in Quasqueton. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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The bugs in my world are a mixed blessing.

Some can be annoying and destructive, while others are beneficial and beautiful.

Among the most annoying now are the clouds of gnats that swarm around my face almost every time I visit a riverbank or my vegetable garden.

They don’t bite me like they do some people, but they buzz in my ears and try to drink the fluid from other facial orifices.

Since I avoid applying chemicals to my skin, swatting is my only defense, and it’s not much of a deterrent.

When I am fishing, the gnats often provoke me into removing my left hand from the reel handle to take a swat, thus interrupting the retrieve, with the result that I miss a strike or my suddenly stopped lure settles into a snag.

Around my vegetable patch, the gnats are thick enough to deprive me of my favorite garden pastime, resting in the shade of the bur oak.

While the gnats seem invulnerable to swatting, they do fall prey to the squadrons of barn swallows that gulp them during their periodic aerobatic flights over my garden. Witnessing those agile turns, dives and climbs almost compensates for the misery the bugs inflict.

Another unwelcome garden visitor, the yellow-and-black-striped cucumber beetle, showed up in strength one recent morning and ate half the leaves off my cucumber, squash, melon and gourd vines before I noticed and counter-attacked.

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From the edible plants I picked them off and crushed them by hand, and I sprayed insecticide on the gourd vines. As far as I can tell, none of the pests escaped, and the grateful plants have since more than replaced their devoured foliage.

Among welcome visitors, bumblebees have been wallowing in the bright yellow wild rose pollen and flitting among the raspberry blossoms, ensuring an ample winter supply of jam for my English muffins.

In late May, the first of a few monarch butterflies beautified the garden, some stopping long enough to lay eggs on the lush milkweed leaves.

By the second week of June, their green and yellow caterpillars had eaten holes in the leaves large enough to be noticed, and the two dozen I have since collected will soon transform into jewel-like chrysalises attached to the top of a finishing tent.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I have yet to be harassed by a mosquito this year, despite many May forays into the mushroom woods. But with the excessive standing water left behind by the recent Cristobal-related deluges, reproduction of the buzzing, biting and bloodsucking pests should soon flourish.

Even worse — much worse — hordes of the loathsome Japanese beetle will soon descend upon my raspberry patches, trying to undo all the good work of the bumblebees. Sometimes I almost think I can hear their creepy little jaws crunching leaves.

They are many and, to judge from their reluctance to run or hide, don’t mind dying.

Though but one, I am stubborn with time to spare, and I will have my raspberry jam.

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