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Insects - Friends or Foes?

Are insects friends or foes when we are trying to enjoy the outdoors? The answer is that they are both. Some bugs chew up our lawns and plants, others are gross-looking enough to make you run, and still more have an ingenious ability to get into places where we don't want them, such as bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

Most of us think insects are annoying and we try to rid ourselves of them. Of course no one wants an infestation in their house and those that can carry disease, excrete toxins, or inflict pain are dangerous. However, the way we deal with them is far more damaging to our environment and ultimately to us.

For some background, provided below are some interesting facts about insects (courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute):

  • Recent figures indicate that there are more than 200 million insects for each human on the planet! A recent article in The New York Times claimed that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans. (

  • 900 thousand different kinds of living insects are known. This approximates 80 percent of the world's species.

  • At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive.

Humans need insects in order to live, and so do plants and animals. It all has to with the circle of life, the planet's food chain, and the reproduction of plants through pollination.

We need insects for our ecosystem to survive. We all know that there is a hierarchical chain of predation for food. The tiniest insects may be food for birds and other insects or animals. In turn, the larger insects and birds are food for larger bird predators such as hawks and eagles. So, for the most part, we need to protect the insects and pesky critters so that humans don’t alter the natural order of the global food chain.

On the other hand, insects such as flies, ants, bees, gnats, ticks, beetles, and mosquitos are annoying and can be destructive or disease carriers, making it a battle of the species.

The goal is to protect the insects/bugs/birds while distracting them from attacking us.

For the good of our health, and that of our planet, scientists say we need to reconsider our dependence on synthetic pesticides. Since they came into widespread use after World War II, these toxic chemicals have seeped into 90 percent of our streams and rivers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans now have an average of 43 different pesticides in their bloodstreams. These are chemicals that can trigger all kinds of medical problems (, 2016).

A better solution whenever possible is called IPM or Integrated Pest Management. Most insects are harmless and can be left alone outside. Insects that bother us in summer are still important to our ecosystems, e.g. flies and bees so IPM should be used to manage them in your space but do not kill them or apply pesticides. See

Below is a list of Do’s and Don’ts to discourage insects from bothering you.

DO these things when you are outside in an area where you will be competing with insects:

1. Turn off lights where you are sitting.

2. Eliminate standing water in the area and make sure your gutters are clean.

3. Cover your trash and recycling containers and move them away from your yard’s prime entertaining spots.

4. Use a box or other portable fan to create moving air where you are sitting.

5. Attract birds with bird feeders.

6. Burn incense nearby, or carry it when hiking or walking.

7. Spray peppermint, cinnamon, and other herbs/oils , where you are sitting.

8. Plant peppermint, spearmint, basil, or citronella herb plants. Also consider planting bug-repellent plants in your garden. Lavender, marigold, chrysanthemum, and lemongrass, among others, are all known to repel a host of insects from mosquitoes to aphids.

9. Wear long-sleeved tops and pants.

10. Keep food out of the area or tightly covered.

11. Wear Insect netting over a cap or brimmed hat, and over shirts, shorts/pants.

12. Enlist an army of beneficial bugs. It all starts with encouraging the good guys to stick around, even in the off-season, by putting up an Insect Hotel.

DON’T do these things when you are outside and competing with insects:

1. Light a citronella candle which, when burned, is toxic to animals when inhaled or eaten by accident. It is widely reported that citronella candles do not produce enough citronella to repel mosquitoes effectively.

2. Use pesticides.

3. Kill the native insects such as bees and wasps. We need them. Learn to coexist with them if they are not directly impinging on your area. If you don’t threaten them, they won’t sting you.

Enjoy nature whenever you can. It is precious and we can all work to protect it.

Did you know butterflies' are part of the Lepioptera Species of which there are 11,500 species! Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy, Timberpress, 2020.

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