The world is crawling with bugs. Some of them I get along just fine with. Butterflies are lovely, and I’m quite fond of spiders. Woolly bears are fuzzy and cute.
But there are a lot of bugs I could do without. Last summer, I was driving home from work when I felt a tickle on my forehead. I glanced in the rearview mirror to discover I had a tick strolling around on my face. Good thing I was able to pull over in a hurry.
I had a small garden this year. My heirloom tomatoes didn’t do all that well (which was my fault), but I had enough cherry tomatoes to feed an army. Know what else I had? Tomato hornworms. There weren’t that many, but they were an unpleasant surprise the day I discovered them. If I ever saw hornworms in my parents’ garden as a child, I must have suppressed the memory.
I may have squawked a bit when I reached for a ripe cherry tomato and noticed a pale green caterpillar as big around as my forearm (that’s only a slight exaggeration). I darted into the house to do some research. The Internet advised me to put the worms into a solution of water and dish soap. Back out I went, armed with a jar of soapy water and a big spoon. The spoon was for prying the hornworms off the tomato plants. Even now, the mere thought of touching one of them with my bare hands makes my skin crawl. Wielding the spoon was bad enough. And don’t get me started on the green stuff they emitted when they plopped into my jar of death.
Not grossed out by hornworms like I am? My dad likes to tell a story about a man he used to work with who would bring tomatoes for his lunch and eat them like apples. One day, after taking a huge bite of his tomato, he saw something fat and green sticking out of it. I’m sure you can guess where the missing half of the hornworm was.
I admit I’m a wimp about hornworms. I’m also a wimp about things with stingers. I’ve only been stung twice that I recall, and I never even saw my tormentors, but I’m afraid of bees and wasps and things.
Which is why I was dismayed to find there was a hornet’s nest on my propane tank, under the dome-shaped lid you lift to check the gauge. I managed to spray hornet killer under the lid without raising it enough to alarm my victims or getting too much on myself.
The next night I went out to check the nest. Victory was mine! On my way into the house, something under the back steps caught my eye. I went back down and discovered there was a hornet’s nest underneath the top step. And since I’d stepped on it three times at that point, the inhabitants were angrily emerging to investigate. I beat a hasty retreat to the front door so I’d live to fight another day.
I did conquer the nest under the back steps, though I decided to leave the wasp’s nest on the front porch alone. Hornets have their place in the ecosystem, though I’m not sure what it is beyond terrorizing me. However, I do know that bees (and some of them friendly varieties, without stingers) play a very important role in crop pollination. That’s something that concerns us all, from those who grow the crops to those who consume them. Turn to page 6 to read more about pollinators, and remember to always keep a big spoon handy.