Beating the Bugs that Bug

| June/July 2003

Controlling these pests is the key to success in the garden — for you and your plants.

Just as a weed is any plant growing where we don’t want it, a garden pest is a pest only by virtue of our opinion of it. If aphids preyed on parasitic wasps instead of vice versa, we would rush to order them from slick garden catalogs at an astronomical price per pound and give them the run of our greenhouses. If slugs suddenly became ravenous for dandelions in the lawn instead of lettuce in the garden, we would happily set up little beer busts for them every Friday afternoon instead of trying to drown them in the brew in the dark of night.

Nevertheless, this isn’t the case with many pesky garden bugs. Here’s some insight into the detailed nature of these organisms and some suggestions for getting what you want without giving them what they want!

Order Orthoptera
Family Acrididae

Of course, nature being what it is, it’s difficult to separate our feelings about other creatures from our own self-interest. If you’ve watched grasshoppers consume your entire crop of basil with the avidity of yuppies eating pesto, you might find it hard to care that their hopping ability is roughly equivalent to 6-foot-tall humans with very large thighs leaping 90 feet from a standing position.

On the other hand, if you expect to have to coexist with an extremely large number of grasshoppers this summer, understanding them better might make the relationship more tolerable. You might appreciate knowing that they have a brain in their head, albeit a wee one. It’s little more than a tiny tangle of nerves, with short optic nerves going to the two large, keen compound eyes and the three or so small simple eyes (which are for sensing very short-range images or simple light/dark shapes). A couple more nerves go to the antennae, with which they feel, and that’s about it. Like the proverbial chicken, a grasshopper can continue to breathe, walk and fly for quite some time without its head — because it has other “brains” in its thorax and abdomen to control those functions.

If you’ve ever tried to catch grasshoppers, for fish bait, vengeance or just fun, you might find it useful to know that some of the common garden varieties make themselves scarce by clamping their wings together and dropping straight to the ground in mid-flight while you, their clever predator, are watching the trajectory traced by their brightly colored underwings and positing a landing place several feet beyond where they have actually come to rest.

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