Dr. William Johnson never met a bug he didn’t like.
Well, maybe one or two.
Johnson, our county agent in charge of horticulture in Galveston County, doesn’t call them bugs, but insects, and he knows more about them than most of us.
Speaking to members of the Texas City Civic Club, he urged everyone present to go out in their backyards and look and listen. The local landscape is just as interesting as anything you might see in Natural Geographic, he said.
And with pages and pages of photos he has taken, all around Galveston County, he described the contribution insects make to our world.
His topic was “beneficial insects,” but it turns out many we think of as pests are also beneficials.
Wasps, for instance. He said we are welcome to kill the ones near our doorsteps and in places where we have to mow the grass. But tall nests well away from harming people should be left alone. The babies of all those wasps, when they hatch and before they become fliers, eat up all the aphids and thrips that are eating your plants.
There are all kinds of insects who, in their baby stages, are consumers of many evil garden enemies.
He also confirmed a member’s comment about wasps and tissue paper. If you put out strips of colored tissue paper, your resident wasps will build colored nests. Amazing.
Wasps sting and their stings hurt, but are not dangerous. Dirt dobbers are also capable of stinging, but usually don’t, he said.
“There are 10 quintillion insects in the world,” he said. “For every person on earth, that is 1.4 billion insects, and there are seven billion people on our planet.”
He said we should all grow plants that provide nectar and pollen so the insects will have food.
“Some people say never to use insecticides, but I don’t agree with that,” he said. “You can use less and more carefully.”
Johnson showed photos of the Green Anole lizards and the Geckos that we all see in our yards. They eat crickets, cockroaches, moths, grubs, beetles, flies and grasshoppers. He showed a picture of an anole swallowing a cockroach whole.
Among other favorites he illustrated were spiders, which are not insects, but arachnids. They trap insects in their webs and dine on them at leisure.
Every year, he said, he gets calls about a webbing that appears on the trunks of trees and every year he once again explains, to a new audience of his newspaper column, that what they are seeing is bark lice, which are very helpful in cleaning pests off a tree.
Following his talk and the sharing of refreshments, Johnson packed up his PowerPoint paraphernalia and went out the door of the library.
But he was soon back for a drinking glass, rushing back outside. When I realized he was probably hunting a bug, I went out to watch as he paced surreptitiously along the library flower bed. Soon others in the group came to watch. But his search turned out to be in vain and we were all a little disappointed.
He hadn’t brought his camera, which would have captured his prey.