I am afraid that many people believe that the only good insect is a dead insect. Yes, it is true that many insects are destructive and can cause extensive, rapid damage in the home and garden. It is understandable that our first instinct is too condemn all insects as undesirable. However, we must remember that insects are the largest group of animals on earth, and they occur just about everywhere on the planet. Of the many, many different insect species in the world, most have no direct impact on man. In fact, many insects actually help us! Wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, various spiders, praying mantis as well as chameleons, lizards, frogs and many insect-eating birds are very helpful to have in one’s garden, as they keep insect pests under control. They should be protected from poisons to enable populations to build up. Remember too, that if you kill all the ‘bad’ insects in the garden, these ‘good’ insects will die of starvation! We would encourage you to aim for BALANCE in your gardens. Other essential insects are the pollinators including bees, some species of flies, wasps, butterflies and moths. They are vital to many species of plant. Another role that insects play is that of recycling… in the garden they break down (into compost) leaf litter, dead wood etc, as well as assisting in the break down of carrion (dead birds, insects, etc). If it weren’t for dung beetles the planet would be in an unimaginableposition!!! Insects are also used to some degree in medicineand some species (of maggot for instance) assist the police in determining time of death etc.
We have chosen the African Monarch butterfly as our logo because it captures the enigma of good insect / bad insect. Caterpillars are a garden nuisance, but butterflies are beautiful, useful pollinators that play an important role in any garden. The irony is that if you kill all your caterpillars you won’t have the butterflies. This captures our philosophy on insects – they are an essential part of the eco-system and without them life would be very different. We tend to want to pick and chose what forms of life to ‘allow’ in our gardens, but there are so many roles evident in a dynamic ecosystem that are linked – even dependant on each other – that eliminating one part of the system would have a devastating effect on the others. Every single plant and creature depends on others for life, and we would like to encourage you to create a balance. By preventing too much insect damage before infestations build up too severely you will be able to use softer products that will allow your beneficial populations to build up.
It is interesting to think about how plants have evolved through the ages to deal with the question of insects and other herbivores. They have developed many strategies to protect themselves, e.g. thorns and prickles on leaves and stems deter browsers. Certain grasses contain silica deposits making them too tough to eat. Plant hairs offer protection from some types of insect. Another common technique of protection used by plants is to manufacture chemicals that are either toxic to most herbivores or might upset their metabolism to make them lose their ability to complete normal development. The Neem tree, indigenous to North Africa and India, has Azadirachtin in its seeds, leaves and bark that deters insects, and if consumed will affect the insects hormone system, resulting in disruption of the mating cycle. (This makes Bioneem a very good product to use preventatively… it will not harm you beneficial insects.) The mustard Family (Brassicaceae) are characterized by mustard oils, which have a strong taste and aroma enjoyed by man, but signal the presence of toxic chemicals to many insects. The dogbane and milkweed families produce a milky sap (containing cardiac glycosides) making them harmful to herbivores. Of course, some insects have adapted to this, caterpillars of the monarch family are able to consume dogbane and milkweed plants, and cabbage caterpillars feed extensively on plants of the mustard family.
Insects also have to protect themselves, and here the plot thickens… an interesting tactic developed by the caterpillars of the monarch family that feed on milkweed plants is the ability they have evolved to not break down the cardiac glycosides that they consume; they are able to store these molecules in fat cells, and pass them on through the chrysalis stage to the adult and even to the eggs of the next generation. This integration of cardiac glycosides protects all stages of the monarch life cycle from predators! But… there is a variety of bird that has learnt to tolerate these chemicals, and thus does eat monarchs. I wonder if this bird is able to utilize these compounds too, or if it might possibly evolve a way in the future!
Organisms that are poisonous often announce this fact by displaying bright colors to warn predators, the opposite of non-poison organisms that are usually colored so as to blend in with their surroundings. Animals also produce a surprising range of substances used in self-defense. Bees, wasps, predatory bugs, scorpions, spiders, some frogs and snakes use these chemicals as a defense mechanism as well as to kill their prey.
Let us try and notice the good work that insects do, the beauty that many of them add to the garden as well as the enjoyment and interest we can get from observing their often very strange but brilliant habits. Try looking at the insects in your garden in a new light. We must assist our plants in protecting themselves with an awareness of the effects, not only on the targeted pests, but also on the wider environment as a whole. The problems with conventional chemicals are a) they do not break down quickly, and thus persist in the environment and b) they are designed to kill, which do very well, unfortunately not limiting their killing power to the targeted pest, but killing beneficial life forms and food sources (as well as resulting in secondary poisoning) of birds and garden creatures like frogs, lizards and chameleons. Continued use of our Biogrow range of products will put you in a good position to observe a variety of organisms living together in balanced harmony, with the beneficial insects doing a lot of the maintenance work for you!
And next time you look at a monarch butterfly or caterpillar I hope you will remember the wonderful chain of goings-on, of which we are all too often unaware!