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Cori Brown: So, what's bugging you this summer?

Cori Brown: So, what's bugging you this summer?
A swallowtail butterfly feasts on the nectar of a swamp milkweed. (Cori Brown photo)

It’s that time of year — hot, humid, hazy and bugs are everywhere. Have I mentioned before that I am not very fond of bugs? I’m sure I have.

I got a stark reminder of my dislike of them when I got stung in the mouth by a wasp a few days ago. We had just finished up a yard sale with our neighbors at our house. I was hot and tired and not looking forward to cleaning up all the items that didn’t sell (I am swearing off yard sales after that grueling day).

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I had to put away a few things in the pool area when it happened. I sure didn’t see it coming. Zing, I got stung just inside my mouth!

I took off for the house and grabbed some ice to apply to an already swollen lip (I am always thankful that I’ve never had an allergic reaction to stings). Later I found three paper wasp nests in that same area.

Yes, you guessed it, they are all gone now.

Recently I read where wasps have an undeservedly bad reputation and we should be kinder to them. However, their villainous status is a common sentiment shared by people around the world according to a recent study done in the UK. Can we all be wrong? Are wasps being unfairly maligned?

Bees are far more popular than wasps, though both pollinate flowers.
Bees are far more popular than wasps, though both pollinate flowers. (Cori Brown photo)

Apparently so. For the most part, bees are held in much higher esteem because they are considered vital pollinators and they’re cute and fuzzy. Children’s literature treats bees with great kindness and Cheerios even has a honey bee mascot.

I have yet to read a book about sweet little wasps though (if you know of any, please tell me).

While bees enjoy a lofty reputation, poor wasps are in a perpetual state of termination by us humans. The truth is wasps are pollinators, too. I see them around flowers just as much as I see bees. In addition, they hunt down bad insects that ruin commercial crops and ornamental plants, including harmful caterpillars and white flies.

It’s a tough sell though for someone like me (and probably other people, too) to be friends with wasps. When I think of them (including yellow jackets), all I see is scrambling to get away from them, especially at picnics. Their more aggressive nature does not help their cause.

Sadly, wasps are just as much at risk as bees and insects in general.

An ebony jewelwing damselfly is aptly named with its jewel-like colors.
An ebony jewelwing damselfly is aptly named with its jewel-like colors. (Cori Brown photo)

Researchers are seeing steep declines in insect populations due to climate change, habitat loss and large-scale agriculture.

It’s even more challenging for wasps in that very little research has been done to measure just how valuable they are in our environment. It would be helpful if scientists did learn more about them, including how humans can interact safely with them without killing them.

In the same UK survey, it’s no surprise that butterflies were at the top of the list of most liked insects. Who doesn’t like butterflies?

Though I haven’t seen many up to this point in our yard, the pace should pick up soon. It helps that I added some new plants to attract them, including cardinal flowers, ironweed, several kinds of milkweed, St. John’s wort (a small shrub with bright yellow flowers), and windflowers.

I especially like native plants. Most of them are perennials, too. I love the idea of plant once, enjoy forever. It’s always gratifying to see the butterflies as well as caterpillars enjoying them year after year, too.

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The pond attracts its own set of insect characters. My favorites are the dragonflies and damselflies. I’ve seen a few already but they were moving so fast that I couldn’t identify them. Hopefully one or two will stay long enough on the lily pads to get added to my backyard photographic collection.

Finally, an intriguing bird imposter always brings a smile to my face. The clearwing moth or hummingbird moth as it is also known, is often confused with real hummingbirds. Though more diminutive in size, it has the same zip here, zip there, hover everywhere style that its avian counterpart is so well known for. It loves all the same flowers, too, so it pays to have a sharp eye to distinguish between the two.

As summer kicks into high gear, millions of insects will be out there with us as we enjoy the long, hot days and cooler nights. They may not all be our friends but they certainly have their place in nature.

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