Congratulates a groom and bride.
Then pats an antling on the head
And goes to check her gingerbread.
from Tiny Baker
written by Hayley Barrett
illustrated by Alison Jay
Barefoot Books, 2020
(accessed on YouTube 3/20/23)
Several summers ago I noticed an infestation of aphids devouring my yarrow. After a quick Google search, I learned that ladybugs would feast on them. At the time, a mail-order gardening supply store was located nearby. I had been there several times to purchase tomato plants, perennials, and potting soil. When I found out they sold ladybugs in sacks, I was there in a quick minute.
I could hardly wait to get back to my garden to save my yarrow, now in full bloom. I hopped out of the car holding high hopes for the squiggly contents in the tiny canvas bag, alive with hungry ladybugs. I undid the knotted string and welcomed my new garden helpers.
To my horror and great disappointment, those beautiful little bugs immediately spread both sets of their wings, turned up their tiny noses, and followed their antennae straight to my neighbor’s garden!
My yarrow suffered. I apologized to them, but the damage was done. I don’t remember what grew in their spot the next summer.
And now as the calendar turns its hopeful page to spring, I’m again on the lookout for garden destroyers. For the most part, I’m a live and let live kinda gal. I do what I can to encourage pollinators. I (okay, my husband) put out a birdfeeder, a beehouse, even a house for the chickadees. Last summer I planted milkweed and the little, pointy sprouts are pushing through the cold soil, hopeful for Monarchs.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac about 90% of our backyard insects are either helpful or harmless. We only need to worry about the other 10%.
I started wondering about the difference between bugs and insects.
Since scientists recognize both terms, the difference comes down to those basic biology classifications: kingdom, phylum, class, and order. Both insects and true bugs fall into class Insecta, but true bugs fall into order Hemiptera. So, all insects are bugs, but not all bugs are insects.
Most of what I call bugs are really insects: ladybugs, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes, to name a few. All insects have six segmented legs and exoskeletons. They have two antennae, and bodies segmented into a head, a thorax, and an abdomen.
True bugs, on the other hand, belong to the subset of insects called Hemiptera. While also mostly benign, they include stinkbugs, bedbugs, cicadas, and aphids.
Worldwide, about 75,000 different bugs are classified as Hemiptera. These true bugs have a straw-shaped mouth, or stylet, they use to mostly sap juice from plants or occasionally blood from animals. They also have long, segmented antennae. Their wings are tough and dark where they meet their bodies and are thin and translucent at the ends.
You can find the major difference between insects and true bugs by studying their mouths. A bug’s stylet is fixed in place. So even though a mosquito sucks our blood, it uses its proboscis while feeding then retracts it when it’s finished.
Even though I (and probably many others) call most little creepy-crawlies bugs, millipedes, centipedes, and spiders also find their way to my garden. Along with scorpions and ticks, they are classified as arachnids because they have eight legs. To distinguish them further, you need to study how their feet and legs are arranged.
Arachnids are named for the Greek goddess, Arachne. A common version of the myth introduces Arachne as an extraordinary weaver with the hubris to claim she is more skilled and has more artistry than Athena, herself. Of course, Athena could not leave that boast unchallenged. Athena wove a four-paneled tapestry depicting the arrogance of humans. Arachne’s weaving showed how the gods' cruelty afflicted humans. Even though Arachne’s weaving was judged superior, Athena cursed her. She turned Arachne into a spider and forced her to weave for all eternity.
Around 1750, Carolus Linnaeus devised a system to organize life on earth. He first separated plants from animals. That worked pretty well, at least until 1959, when Robert Whittaker added three new categories including algae, mosses, and fungi and many of their relations. When modern scientists considered the molecular structure of living things, five categories became too general.
Seems like the more we learn about ourselves and our Earthmates, the blurrier the separation lines become.
And since we’re getting a little scientific, we need to mention computers. The first computer bug was a real bug. A moth to be specific. On September 9, 1947, Grace Hopper, a former US Navy Rear Admiral and computer scientist, discovered why an error kept occurring on the Mark II machine she and her team were working on. An actual moth with a 2-inch wingspan flew into the workings of the machine and got stuck. Grace extracted the critter, taped it into the log book, and identified it as a computer bug. I guess you could say her term has gone viral.
From computers to compost, we find bugs, insects, and arachnids everywhere. Some are prey, a few are predators, but most just like to hang out and smell the roses. Oh, no! Aphids love roses!
I’m reading another book by Kate Quinn, The Rose Code (HarperCollins, 2021). It’s also historical fiction and tells of three young women recruited to work at Bletchley Park as code-breakers. Quinn’s use of language helps her readers feel like we’re in scene with these strong women. Her characters feel so real, I think, because Quinn shows off her thorough research by writing plausible relationships, and situations in a setting that feels like a character in its own right.
Bletchley Park, the WWII top-secret facility housed in an English country mansion close to the center of England is now a museum.