No bug is safe within a hundred yard radius of my home. There are 50 red hens patrolling the grounds and not even the rooster can get their attention. I sat on the rock by the creek today and watched my bug busters ridding the world of red ants, unlucky flies and anything else that was shiny and moved. The hens walked with their eyes on the ground, stopped to stare cross-eyed for a moment then, SNAP, they clicked their beaks down and swallowed. I believe the lack of bugs in my garden this year was partly due to their appetite.
There are other critters helping out, as well. Yesterday, I caught a praying mantis climbing up the wall of the outbuilding. I usually see at least one or two each fall. This one was a female. The girls are much bigger than the males, which makes romance truly dangerous for the guy. Generally, he is eaten by his wife as soon as the marriage is consumated. Then, still hungry, she starts stalking crickets, spiders, grasshoppers and the occasional moth or butterfly. I have kept mantids as pets in my classroom and it is fun to watch them chow down on grasshoppers. They eat the hoppers the same way that we eat an ear of corn, but they eat their husbands by pulling them over their backs and eating them from stem to stern.
At night, just when the sky is pale pewter, the bats start to flap and flutter above my yard. If I throw a small gravel up in the air, they will dive at it. I guess for a moment their bat sonar is fooled into thinking each pebble is a big bug feast. Bats catch bugs by scooping them up with their wings and popping them into their mouths. I’ve never seen a bat do this to a rock. The bats always swerve away at the last minute to continue their pursuit of mosquitos and mayflies. I didn’t see as many bats this summer and worry that White Nose Disease has been at work. A single brown nose bat can catch and eat over 600 mosquitos an hour. I hate to think how itchy our world would be without them.
Three years ago, I walked out into my yard and was surprised to find a network of tunnels zigzagging around from pine tree to porch. Moles or voles, I'm not sure which, had taken up residence. They lived in the yard for two years and then this summer they were gone. So were all the Japanese beetles. I know Japanese beetles pupate underground, because one amazing moonlit night, Scott and I witnessed a whole fleet of them popping out of the ground and taking to the air. I’m fairly certain that when the voles had eaten every last grub, they left for better pickings.
Several years ago, I read that a big clear plastic Ziploc bag full of water would repel flies. The theory was that the bags of water looked like wasps’ nests to the flies and since wasps eat flies, the buzzy black pests stay away. I went one better. I have a string of round lanterns that really do look like wasps’ nests. I hung them on my front porch and it does seem that the flies have moved away. At least for the last two summers we haven’t spent each evening on the porch waving like beauty queens on parade.
In spite of all these miraculous, organic bug control methods, my house is still the target of one bug pilgrimage. Ladybugs, the imported nuisance kind, love to winter in every corner of every room of my house and studio. I tried sticky traps on the tops of my windows, but there were so many little ladies crowding the strips that they ended up falling to the sills covered in sticky goop, making it that much harder to remove them. I was going through two traps per window, per day and still ladybugs were doing low level flybys from my reading lamp to my hair and back. I tried vacuuming them up with a hand vac, but the smell of a thousand lady bugs wafting out the back end of the machine was nauseating. In spite of their name, ladybugs, stink. So, the bug guy is coming to spray next week. Since he started dousing my house with poison, the ladybugs have resorted to dying by the bushel on the front porch. The first big wind of winter sweeps them away. I believe in taking care of the earth and I have been known to carefully juggle a wasp or spider on paper until I could toss it outside. But, sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes the hens, the bats, the preying mantises , the decoys and relocations don't work. Sometimes, you have to defend your home against invaders.