Insects and arachnids, bugs and beetles, spiders and lizards–yuck! All of them are gross and all of them are disgusting . . . and we would rather not see them.

At least that is the misconception or conception most of us have growing up. We have been bitten, stung and annoyed by these creatures of nature. Whether walking through the garden, taking out the garbage, or having a family picnic, they are everywhere in Galveston County. Who needs them?

We do! So let us get past our knee-jerk reactions and start appreciating them for what they are. When one takes time to really look at some of these insects, arachnids and lizards, they are very likely to discover many instances of remarkable beauty. More importantly, beneficial predators and parasitoids control and reduce real pest populations.

Beneficial predators and parasitoids are the most important biological means of controlling pests in and around our homes, yards, gardens and crops. For example, larvae of hover fly species can control 70 to 100 percent of an aphid area and are rivaled only by lady beetles and lacewings. (Some lady beetle larvae consume 200-500 aphids.)

Aphids alone cause tens of millions of dollars of damage annually to crops worldwide, so the aphid-feeding hover fly is now recognized as a potential agent for use in biological control. Other adult beneficials consume large quantities of flies, mosquitoes and moths, and some eat beetles and caterpillars. Their role in controlling insects far outweighs any qualms we may have about them.

Insects, monitored by their presence, are studied as bio-indicators of environmental quality, such as water flow, pollution, and vegetation. Some play a very important role in stream and pond ecosystems, often serving as a biological indicator of the quality of a water system.

The destruction and alteration of freshwater habitats are the greatest threats to certain species worldwide, for without clean water some insects are unable to breed. Other species have disappeared from many beaches due to off-road vehicles and human trampling. As we take away more of their native environment, the tiger beetle, for example, has fewer places to live and survive. We must also realize that any alteration of habitats through global warming poses a real threat to insects.

One way to conserve beneficials is by avoiding indiscriminate or improper use of pesticides. There are many ways of controlling insect pests. Before randomly killing an insect, try to identify it. If it is a beneficial insect, consider what conditions are attracting so many insects.

So the next time you want to slap, slaughter, smash, smother, squish, stamp or swat—think first. Think about what you are really doing. No one suggests you should love all bugs and spiders, but do you want to exterminate a good critter?

Relatively speaking, we are mere newcomers to the earth we inhabit. These creatures were here long before us and their system of checks and balances seemed to do a better job than has our own. Contemplate the long-term consequences of reaching for the pesticide sprayer as an automatic first response.

Insecticides play an important role in pest control but indiscriminate and improper use of pesticides also pose hazards to ourselves and our environment. Beneficials also play an important role in pest control. Beneficials should be thought of as valuable allies. We ask you to look upon them with gratitude, not dismay, as they are definitely among of our friends.

This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

All digital photographs are the property of the Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc. (GCMGA) © 2002-2008 GCMGA - All Rights Reserved.