By Bob Dailey
If you thought the wildly frigid temperatures of Winter Storm Uri were going to reduce insect populations, think again. Just go outside. They’re everywhere!
Some are nasty bugs, destroying your vegetables and many of your ornamentals. But many more wear white hats (which is a somewhat incongruous idea, if you think about it). There are about 1,000 times as many good bugs as bad bugs.
Some good guys pollinate flowers of many fruit and vegetable crops, while others pollinate ornamental flowers. Some of the good bugs till the soil. Earthworms, though not a bug, and burrowing beetles both eat the organic material in the ground.
And some are predators, eating the pests as quickly as they arrive. These good-guy predators include ladybugs, lacewings, and lacewing larvae. These eat aphids and are beneficial to have around. Praying mantids eat other destructive insects, like grasshoppers. There are even parasitic insects that lay their eggs inside a host. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the host from inside out. (Aliens, anyone?) It’s gruesome but highly effective. One parasitic wasp preys entirely on fire ant colonies. Studies are currently being conducted in South Texas by Texas A&M on these wasp parasites.
Then there are the bees. Yes, there are honeybees, and they are highly beneficial. But there are at least 4,000 species of native bees in North American. Etymologists have identified over 800 of these species in Texas.
And some insects provide food for other wildlife. Take tent caterpillars, for instance. Although they’re unsightly, they cause no significant damage to the trees. However, these tent caterpillars provide essential food for the many migrating birds heading to Latin America for the winter.
A hard spray from a hose or a gentle spurt from a spray bottle filled with warm water and a little dishwashing liquid will dislodge aphids and other pests. Chinch bugs are tough to destroy. They love to infest lawns along curbs and driveways - mainly because they like the heat and dryness of those areas. Many times our sprinkler systems overshoot those little niches. Use a hose and spray around the curbs, driveways, and sidewalks once a week to discourage those pests.
Avoiding harmful pesticides is less expensive and healthier. Some pesticides remain in the soil, some leach out into storm sewers, streams, and waterways. Use your judgment, but only use harmful pesticides as a last-ditch effort.