Is Something Bugging You? By Don Urbanus
What would we do
without the lowly bug, insect, arthropod, spider and what not? Most of the time
we think of bugs as something to stomp on or spray with Raid. Grown people
can totally freak out by one little tiny bug.
While earning my
B.S. Degree (that’s Bachelor of Science to you who should know better) I had to
take Entomology – the study of bugs. Little did I know how I would benefit from
that one class.
attractive girl I dated after college went with me on a hike in the foothills of
the bay area. After the hike I felt a tick under my shirt. Horrified, she
began peeling off layers of clothes and insisting that I check her everywhere
for ticks. OK, she didn’t take off ALL her clothes. Being a gentleman, I
naturally obliged her and made very certain that she didn’t have a tick
anywhere. Anywhere I could see anyway. However, if she had known that a tick
has to be attached to their victim at least 36 hours before it can transmit Lyme
disease, maybe she wouldn’t have been so frantic.
Another time I
was eating breakfast in a restaurant. I happened to notice that there was a
Syrphid fly maggot on my lettuce decoration on the side of the plate. Anyone
who knows anything about beneficial insects will know that Syrphid or Hover
flies eat only aphids. You see them silently hovering around plants imitating a
bee while searching for aphids to lay their eggs. My brother was upset by this
(but he hadn’t taken Entomology). I calmly ate my French toast and then called
the waitress to explain that there was a maggot on my breakfast plate. Aghast,
she grabbed my plate and brought me another serving of French toast – which I
ate, and then gave me the breakfast at no charge.
been around for 400 million years. Before insects pollinated plants, the wind
did all the work. It still does for many plants. That is why we all suffer
from pollen in the spring. Pine trees, Mulberries, Oaks and grasses all use the
wind. Wind is not a very efficient method of pollination and massive amounts of
pollen have to be produced to make sure that the job is done right. About 60
million years ago, flowering plants somehow worked out a deal with insects.
They gave pollen and nectar to the insect and the insect did the work that the
wind used to do.
we wouldn’t have any plants with the flowers that we are so used to. We also
wouldn’t have a lot of the fruit and vegetables that we are used to. I am not
sure I would have a nursery job without bugs, although I could always sell
chemicals to kill them I suppose.
Now that you are
starting to get comfortable with bugs, just thought you ought to know that there
are 10 quintillion of them living on the planet this very moment. To be
honest, I didn’t know how many that was. Turns out it is about 200 million bugs
per person. You also don’t have to worry about them taking over the world.
They already have taken over the world.
You may be
relieved to find out that they can’t get as big as us. Entomology again. Bugs
don’t have lungs like we do. They have spiracles or air tubes that basically
let oxygen diffuse into their body. If they got too big, the air couldn’t get
into their bodies. They can contract their little buggy muscles to help a bit,
but it just isn’t the same as a lung. I can tell that you are relieved
especially if you’ve watched too many horror shows with irradiated bugs taking
over the earth.
It is always
possible that on some other planet some insect-like creatures have developed
enough intelligence to invade our planet with very small spaceships. Not a
problem. Of course, if they invaded with 100 billion spaceships we might have a
little more of a problem – but not in the United State where we have enough guns
to outfit every man, woman and child. On the other hand, if they came all that
way, they might be awfully fast. Well, maybe guns wouldn’t be too effective but
better hang onto them just in case.
Anyway, bugs get
a bad rap. They aren’t the ones causing diseases like the plague and malaria.
They just carry the disease just like we carry the flu or the common cold.
Sure, some bugs are poisonous, but they usually don’t kill you. There are lots
of good bugs too. Think of the Praying Mantis, the Ladybug, the Lacewing, and
of course, the spider. All of them chewing and sucking and chomping away at
their buggy brothers. And then we have the pollinators. What would we do
without them? No honeybee? No honey? Of course, if you knew how honey was
made, you might not want to eat it.
And to my mother
who always wails “What are they good for? Why do we need them?” I have tried to
explain that it is just part of life on our planet. To that she wails, “But why
do we have to have mosquitoes?” I ask her if she realizes how many fish and
birds and other insects eat mosquitoes. Then she loops around again and asks,
“But what are they good for?” I get nowhere. It’s like trying to explain why
we have rain or wind.
I never asked my
mother to explain what bedbugs were when she tucked me into bed. ‘Sleep tight.
Don’t let the bedbugs bite.’ I should have had nightmares – but I didn’t. I
am not sure why. Maybe they sounded kind of cute.
By the way, if
you don’t know what a bedbug looks like, you might look it up. There has been
an explosion of bedbugs across the United States. They are very difficult to
eradicate and can live up to a year without eating although they like to gorge
themselves about every ten days.
Ah well. Some
things you really don’t need to know.