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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.

            A rather 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. 

            Yes, knowledge is power.

            Insects have 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.

            Without insects 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.

 

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