Guest Commentary

Leave the bugs alone: They're an important part of our world

It is summer here in Tucson, and the wimps have left, so you'd think the real desert rats would dominate. You would think. Instead, I hear: It's too hot, dry, no rain, too much rain.

And then there are the bugs. Every negative word in the book and then some gets tossed around when life in the desert really takes hold.

I want to share some thoughts and perspective, a little knowledge that might help take away the anger and put a little joy into your hearts when these wonderful little animals appear on your roof, on your doorstep, in the house, wherever.

First off, are you letting small animals dictate your mental health, your moods, your life? Why is the first thought about them kill the suckers? Bugs are alive and extremely important to the health of our ecosystem, yet everyone wants to kill them. Nice attitude.

Have you become outraged at all those damn flying ants and termites lately?

How horrible is it to have all those lovely aerial marvels flying above your house or yard? Why must there be so many individuals out there to make a mess of that lovely yard? Well, here's some biology to help you understand. I hope.

Ants and termites are social insects, with societies as complex (or more so) as human societies. Termite societies boggle my mind, and ant societies are a close second. In their societies, work is divided among many types of individuals, from queens who lay eggs their entire lives, to youngster caretakers, food crews, protectors, garbage haulers and others. A colony amazingly works together to have a successful group home. Humans could learn from the cooperation that occurs.

Where is all this activity typically occurring? Underground. And would you believe these two groups of insects are the most--I reiterate the most--important soil builders we have in the desert.? And what in the world do most of you want to do? You want to kill them, because you don't appreciate the real activities of these animals. They bother you. You've been told they'll make your house fall down. You're angry, and you don't really know why, but you are willing to destroy life that you never stop to think about.

It is summer, and most of us have been fortunate to get rain--and then we get to see all those flying creatures. Millions, even billions of them, enough to make your head explode with fear and anger, because you don't really understand nature's ways. Why are there so many? In the life of bugs, it is an eat-or-be-eaten world, and of those millions of individuals you notice, if a couple survive and start a new colony, the species continues. Most of the bugs don't make it; instead, they're food for hungry lizards, birds, rodents and other animals that have become active much to our delight. Of the ants, half or so are males, and after mating, they die. The queens set out to start that new colony, first by removing the wings, then digging.

Termites, on the other hand, are not great flyers. Seeing termites in your yard, at the lights or even inside, is no reason for panic--and you surely don't want to go poison your yard because the termites that have lived there a long time are now flying about. "What good are termites?" one asks. Termites break down dead plant material. We all love the plants that germinate and grow to make one's life pleasant here. But they die, and little is available to recycle cellulose, so out come the termites. They, too, have been aerating your soil, making it richer, and now they're recycling, too.

Inside a termite colony, you can find the king and queen, taken care of by doting subjects, feeding, grooming and eventually taking care of the offspring. You will find workers dealing with food resources, and as with most civilized societies, soldiers are on hand for battles.

Yes, nature puts up large numbers of these bugs to keep all species going strong, but then allows the excess to be culled. Heartless? No; it's just the way life manages to keep a balance and bring joy in many different ways to many different individuals. It pays to diversify.

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