You (probably) Don’t Need an Exterminator

Monarch Butterfly_DBG-CO_LAH_9197The neighborhood where I live seems to be a magnet for door-to-door salespeople selling services. One company in particular has been particularly persistent in their marketing attempts—an exterminator.

The first time they rang the doorbell, I politely but firmly told the guy I did not want my yard sprayed. I consider a diverse arthropod population to be a sign of a healthy landscape. I particularly want insects around to feed the birds I feed. Moreover, I had just planted a pollinator garden, designed to attract bees, butterflies, moths, and other fascinating creatures;. The last thing I wanted was to kill my invited guests.

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Garden Advice: Don’t Buy Ladybugs

Ladybug_XG-CoSpgsCO_LAH_9349Every gardener knows that ladybugs are “good” bugs because they eat “bad” bugs. Educated gardeners know that ladybugs are actually beetles, and that they eat aphids, scale insects, immature beetles and true bugs, and mites. The adults are efficient predators; the larvae are even more voracious. No wonder we want lady beetles in our gardens!

The simplest way to get lots of these colorful beetles is to buy them, and many people do just that. It’s a huge industry. However, buying ladybugs is largely a waste of money, and may even harm the environment! There are better ways to attract not only ladybugs but other beneficial insects as well.

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Hunting Wild Tigers

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle_LakePuebloSP-CO_LAH_5033Last Saturday, I participated in a tiger hunt. These tigers are fearsome predators, pursuing their hapless victims with incredible speed, and I was armed not with a gun, but with my camera. Happily, however, the only danger I was in was that of sunburn. The tigers we were hunting were the five local members of the large tiger beetle family, Cicindelinae.

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Garden Advice: Marigold Myths

Tagetes_Marigold_DBG_LAH_7897It sounds too good to be true. Not only are marigolds pretty, but growing in your vegetable garden will protect your harvest from nematodes, beetles, hornworms, whiteflies, squash bugs, thrips, hornworms, and even rabbits. I know it must be so, because I read it on the internet:

  • “French marigolds repel whiteflies and kill bad nematodes. Mexican marigolds are said to offend a host of destructive insects and wild rabbits as well.”
  • “Annual Marigolds can be used anywhere to deter Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, thrips, tomato hornworms, and whiteflies. They are also known to repel harmful root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) that attack tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries.”
  • “Marigolds also repel pests, including beetles and nematodes.”

Gee, if it’s that easy, why not? Marigolds are easy to start from seed, grow quickly, thrive almost anywhere, and produce tons of sunny yellow and orange blooms all summer long.

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To Spray or Not to Spray?

pcoccasional_invaders_clip_image035During a recent visit to a local business, a tiny little beetle was discovered making its way along the baseboard, laboriously climbing over each bump in the carpet. Alarmed, the owner rushed over and glowered at the intruder, commenting that it was the second one she’d seen in as many days. She promised to pick up an insecticidal “bomb” to set off that evening after closing. I rescued the pint-sized ground beetle and carried it outdoors before it got stepped on. I’m sure it was relieved to be deposited in the grass, where it could go back to preying on smaller insects.

With winter approaching, many insects are looking for a place to shelter until spring. They don’t know the difference between a bark crevice and a door frame, and they unwittingly end up in our houses. Most are completely harmless, and can be simply redirected back outside. Instead, we reach for the can of bug spray.

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