We Care - Earth Care!
Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
May 2021
The Insects Issue
— Monarch Butterflies, Michoacan, Mexico
 
“If you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, and they shall cover the face of the land”
                                                 —God to Pharoah (Genesis 10:4-5)
 
We ain’t afraida no cicada!
         —service station signboard (College Hill OH 2004)
From the Editors

By any measure, insects are awesome. They perform all kinds of vital ecosystem services, including pollination, scavenging, serving as food, and carrying disease. They play a huge role in human history and everyday life, and when spring arrives, so do they. As we come off a pandemic that has felt like a long hibernation, we may feel some kinship with the kinds of transformation and emergence that insects exemplify. In this issue our writers share their stories of insect encounters from honeybees to periodical cicadas and beyond. As you will find, people experience a range of responses to these creatures, from fear to delight. That should not come as a surprise, when we consider the enormous number that inhabit our planet, as Bill Stiver describes. But for a taste of awe and delight, please watch Linda Ford’s video of her family’s encounter with cicada brood X, which last emerged in 2004 and will return again this month. And be sure to check out Prof. Gene Kritsky’s web site for complete information on this month’s emergence (cicadasafari.org).

In This Issue
 
Speaking of Faith: John Tallmadge finds inspiration in monarchs and locusts;
Know Your Neighbors: Linda Ford films cicadas; Bill Stiver eats them; Rebekah Nolt reflects on the stink bug; Kathy Downey is awed by insects; Sara Renner keeps a tarantula; Dale Myers keeps bees
Walking the Talk: Dan Stiver investigates pollinators; Judy Lindblad shares tips for befriending them; Bill Stiver reports on global insect decline; Julie Malkin reports on controlling vector-borne diseases.
Speaking of Faith
Beetles, Locusts and Butterflies
John Tallmadge writes:
 
What can bugs possibly teach us about faith? That depends. When asked by some theologians what his studies had revealed about God, the biologist J.B.S. Haldane replied that the Creator appeared to have “an inordinate fondness for beetles.” Leviticus 11 forbade the Hebrews from eating “winged insects that go upon all fours” (though Haldane might have quibbled that insects have six). Luckily for John the Baptist, Leviticus did make an exception for locusts. But overall, except for bees, insects get bad press in scripture, where they are associated with plagues, corruption, and suffering—gnats, moths, maggots, that sort of thing. Jesus himself had little to say and seems to have overlooked the link between insect pollinators and the lilies of the field.
 
When St. Paul defined faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” he introduced ideas of time, desire, and fulfillment that are pertinent to our theme. Living by faith means dealing with time, change, and the unpredictable by entertaining the “certain expectation of future glory.” It’s like navigating by the stars toward a land you cannot see. It’s a way of going with the flow, riding a process with a clear direction but no certainty of arrival, a trust that everything will work out in the fullness of time.

Insects, it turns out have been doing this for ages. They deal with time and change through metamorphosis and migration. Two dramatic examples come to mind. When Pam and I moved to Cincinnati in the summer of 1987, we just missed the periodical cicadas. The next emergence came when our daughters were fourteen and seventeen. We had never seen such an abundance of energetic, extravagant life! It was a biological storm, an explosion of buzzing wings and grasping bodies obsessed with sex. After a few weeks they had all vanished, the adults into fulfillment and death, the larvae into the ground where they would feed on tree roots for seventeen years—out of sight, out of mind, but quietly working and growing the whole time. Say what you like about being buried alive, cicadas live longer than all but a handful of other insects. And seventeen years is old for a dog or a cat. It is almost a human generation!
 
Another inspiring example comes from the monarch butterflies, who migrate from the northern US and southern Canada thousands of miles to winter and breed in the ayumel firs that grow on the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. Years ago I was privileged to visit the monarch sanctuary with a group of writers and scientists. We watched in wonder as they fluttered in orange clouds, clustering on every twig, branch, and limb of the stately firs. Their numbers protected them from dryness and cold as they fulfilled their biological destiny. It was amazing to witness so many butterflies gathered in one place—such a profusion of beautiful, abundant life—but also to realize, with a catch in the throat, that these were all there were. And none of these butterflies had ever made the journey before—their lives were too short for that. Somehow they had known just where to go. And the return trip would take two or three generations of their descendants to complete, following the milkweed north as it sprouted and bloomed. Theirs indeed was an immense journey of faith. 
Know your Neighbors
CICADAS: Do Not Be Afraid! Celebrate with Family!

Linda Ford writes:

There are many ecological reasons to celebrate the arrival of the cicadas during May. According to Gene Kritsky, dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University and Cincinnati’s local cicada expert, “They are an integral component of the Eastern Deciduous Forest. They're not a keystone species, in that if the cicadas go extinct the whole forest won’t collapse, but they do provide a lot of benefits to the eastern forests.”
Kritsky says periodical cicadas are important to a region’s ecology for many reasons. “For example,” he adds, “when they emerge from the holes in the ground, those holes are like a natural aeration. So, when it gets warmer in the summer and rains, instead of that rain draining off the surface, it actually goes down those holes and waters the trees.” The insects also provide a nutrient boost for opportunistic feeders such as cats, birds, raccoons, mice and sometimes even humans. They lay their eggs in trees, which prompts a “natural pruning” that increases the amount of flowers and fruit in the following years. After their deaths, their bodies decay and contribute a substantial amount of nutrients to the soil.

The cicada emergence provides another and more intimate opportunity to celebrate. Think about this for a moment. In our modern society, it is said that the average person can recognize 1000 corporate logos but is hard put to properly name 50 wild things. Back in 1987, I decided to introduce my young sons (ages 9, 7, and 5) to the amazing cicada cycle with naturalist talks in Burnet Woods, cicada cooking classes, and cicada art that included figure paints, large sheets of butcher paper, and cooperative cicada adults.

From the naturalists, the boys learned some new scientific terms and ways to tell the males from the females. They rejected the cooking lessons as too complicated and decided to try them uncooked and seasoned with Hershey chocolate sauce. (If you decide to try this, their recommendation would be to remove the wings before popping them into your mouth.)

By 2004, the boys had grown into college men, and I was teaching environmental science. I decided to borrow a small video camera from school and film the emergence as both a family remembrance and also as a teaching resource in for my classroom. I welcome you to watch my film Cicadas 2004 on the Mount Auburn YouTube channel. I encourage you to make this current emergence an opportunity to record your own experiences with this natural cycle and create a way to store family memories. My plan is to make another movie that features the four grandsons and make sure to preserve it for their viewing in 2038. (Their dads and uncles will have to wait until July 2061 to open their Halley’s comet time capsule made in 1986.)
Cicadas and Me

Bill Stiver writes:
 
Cicadas and I go back a long way. In 1970, I can remember driving along Columbia Parkway watching them bounce off my windshield and pile up in the gutters. Many of you may remember such driving experiences from 51 years ago
 
In 1987, another cicada year, Kathy and I had an outdoor wedding in our yard. Luckily, the wedding was in mid-September, so we could hear the musicians playing as we walked down the aisle in our grove. Not sure we would have heard them if the wedding had been held in May or June, and besides, no one would have come anyway. By mid-September all that was left of the cicadas were the dead leaves and twigs that littered our yard. As you may know, the female cicadas lay their eggs in the twigs, which the larvae commence to chew. The twigs die and then fall to the ground, where the larva tunnel down to feed on tree roots for another 17 years. I still consider cicada years as something of a wedding anniversary.
In 2004, I was an assistant scoutmaster helping to lead a survival campout. I had agreed to give a talk on survival foods. But what should I say if the kids asked about eating cicadas? I threw two cicadas into a boiling pot of water (which kills them instantly), but I didn’t want them to taste like overcooked shrimp. So after about five minutes, I took them out, pulled off the wings (thinking maybe I could use them later to floss), and ate them both. Sure enough, they tasted like something that had sucked on a tree root for 17 years, vaguely like asparagus. Crayfish would taste much better in gumbo. In short, cicadas are edible as a survival food, but I’m not planning on eating any this year. 
 
One bit of culinary advice, if you have never eaten something from the wild before, only try a small amount to make sure that you are not allergic to it. Remember, some people are even allergic to strawberries, peanuts or shrimp. And don’t worry if your dog or cat eats cicadas. They are harmless to pets unless they over eat them. Also, when you sweep them off your driveway and porch, put the cicadas in your compost pile. They make good fertilizer. The adult cicadas are harmless to your flowers and vegetables. They like woody plants only.  
Reflections on the Stink Bug

Rebekah Nolt writes:
At 32 years old, I cannot remember a time without brown marmorated stink bugs. One might smack into the side of my head while I am sitting at the kitchen table writing. Or I might reach into a coat pocket only to feel one, or a handful, seeking a winter hiding spot. How quickly we accept things! Halyomorpha halys was first spotted in the United States in 1998, but has since spread across more than 40 states.

 I must admit I don’t mind the flighted armored creatures or their cilantro-like smell. A crowd of them kept me company in the camper I called home for almost four years, and we learned to coexist quite well. However, these insects are also unwelcome guests in orchards, taking more than their fill of the ripening fruit and leaving the trees susceptible to infection.
There is a lot of speculation about how these bugs made their way to orchards some 6,000 miles from their home. It is probably safe to say that global trade and cargo ships helped, as they have with many other alien species, some of which have become invasive while others have integrated into new their place without devastating effects. However, lack of nefarious intent has not lessened their impact on the livelihood of growers across the country. 
 
A couple of years back, a friend in another state needed firewood and I had accumulated more than I needed that winter, so, with all good intentions, I offered to deliver some on my next trip north. But then I heard that you should never transport firewood across state lines because of the risk of spreading disease and pests. I am so thankful that someone pointed this out, because in the end, even though I was trying to help, I could have ended up doing a lot of damage. 
 
I started thinking about this the other day when a stink bug flew right into my face as I was drinking my morning coffee. We are all connected, whether we are aware or not, and the things we do can have lasting impact that do not always align with our intent. I am sure the farmers, who lost a season of crops, were not consoled by the fact it was carelessness rather than evil intent that brought this invasive species here. It is always a good reminder that we do not get to decide our impact.  Ignorance is not bliss. And sometimes we cause harm and we have to own up to it, whether or not we meant to.  
Awed by Insects
 
Kathy Downey writes:

I grew up in a family that taught us to be awed by insects. My mother would work in her flower bed and bring us outside to marvel at the caterpillar that was eating her plant, just before she would kill it. My father would bring out a magnifying glass for us to look at flies up close.
We lived in a new subdivision built for baby boomers. Every house was the same; the only difference was if the garage was on the left or the right. Mrs. Williams lived next door, and we called her our third grandmother.  She and Mr. Williams would sit and listen to Pirates and Dodgers games long after my bedtime. Mrs. Williams was also known for her roses. Every summer she hoodwinked us into picking the shiny Japanese beetles off her bushes and when we filled a jar full, she would pay us. Not much, but we thought we were rich. We would compete to get there first to pick the beetles. Organic gardening at its best!
Between our house and the elementary school was old farm property now owned by the utility company. There was a cinder path that cut through the property and we all took it to get to school. Peggy Klaus and I would bring our skates on Saturdays and skate around the building. We had our keys around our necks, but no helmets, knee pads or wrist protectors. In the late summer we would take jars with us, and when we had tired of skating, we would collect huge grasshoppers that flourished in the high grass. It was always a thrill to find grasshoppers that were over an inch long. We would bring them home, count them and let them go.
When my brother was 8 years old, he brought home a praying mantis egg case. My father worked with several men who had large vegetable gardens and they would buy the cases to put in their gardens to control insect pests. My father saw this as an opportunity for my brother to make money.
So my brother returned to the old farm property and brought back several cases. The plan was for my father to take them to work the next day. However overnight, the eggs hatched and next morning we had hundreds of tiny fully formed praying mantises flying about.

Every other Sunday we would go to my grandparents’ home for dinner, and after a rave-worthy dinner, we would all go out to the porch, where my grandfather would smoke his pipe and my grandmother would crochet.
I so loved the smell of his pipe. Late spring would bring out the lightning bugs and we would run around trying to catch them. However, we did not know them as lighting bugs. My grandfather told us they were called Marties. His name was Martin, you see. All the grandchildren knew lightning bugs as Marties as did the next generation. Such a joy those flashing bugs gave us.

When I was in junior high school, our church youth group took a train from Pittsburgh to the middle of Pennsylvania near Harrisburg to work at a camp. This camp had been used to house German prisoners during the Second World War. We went there to paint the buildings so that it could be used as a church camp in the future. You would see German writing on the window panes when you opened them to paint. 
Allison Mayer, Susan Beatty and I were assigned to paint the outdoor shower area that was some distance from where other people were painting. We had our grey paint and painted the privacy wooden fencing. When we grew tired of that, we would lie down on the cement in our underwear and get a suntan, as no one could see us. That had also been a year of abundant cicadas and their empty skeletons were everywhere. The three of us found beauty in them and strung them up into necklaces and bracelets. We returned to camp sunburned and beautifully adorned with cicada jewelry which we wore the rest of the time at camp.
 
Oh, aren’t insects grand!
Tarantulas?! 

Sarah Renner writes:

Tarantulas are in fact not insects but members of the arachnid family. This means that they have eight jointed legs instead of six, and their bodies are constructed of two distinct parts, or tagmata: the cephalothorax (the head) and the abdomen. The word “arachnid” is derived from the Greek myth of Arachne, a skilled mortal who challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest. Athena, who could find no faults in Arachne’s work, became enraged and turned her into a spider.
 
You can hear a sonic representation of this story from the work Myths by Stacey Berk, which I performed this past November:
Arachne begins at 7:23.

When my brother and I were kids, we REALLY wanted a pet snake. Of course, Mom would not allow it by any means. For some reason, we ended up compromising… on a pet tarantula. 
When I was growing up in Central Texas, wild tarantulas were quite common. Naturally, my dad, brother, and I decided we would take a trip into the woods to go catch one. Hours later, bringing home nothing but dirty clothes and poison ivy, we settled for the more practical approach and purchased one for $12 at the local pet store. 

We were so excited to bring home Ed the tarantula. Despite the name, we discovered that Ed was a female, based on her size and the hooks on her legs. 
Ed ended up being the size of my hand, and only escaped her aquarium a couple of times in her fruitful, 14 years of life.
 
It must be something in the Renner genes, as my niece and nephew have a pet tarantula of their own—Fuzzy. 
A Beekeeper’s Perspective

Dale Myers writes:
 
A warm, sunny afternoon with little breeze is a good time to inspect a hive of honeybees (Apis mellifera). To calm the bees, I lift off the wooden lid and squeeze a few puffs of smoke into the open hive. I look into a fascinating, well-organized commune where each type of bee has a specific job and carries it out instinctively.
I look closely around the inside to determine the health and strength of the various types of bees as well as that of the colony as a whole. My first priority is to find the queen. If she dies, either a new queen will emerge from the existing eggs she has laid, or the hive will die off without a leader. A queen lives longer than other bees, from 1-3 years and in a strong hive with 30,000-50,000 bees, she may lay up to 1,500 eggs a day!
 
Most bees are worker bees. When young, they build and clean cells, feed the larvae and new adults, process and cure incoming nectar, and guard the hive. They are well named. When older, worker bees become field bees, collecting nectar and pollen until the end of their 5-6 week lifespan. 
Finally, each hive contains a hundred or so male drones, whose only job is to mate a new queen whenever she emerges from this or a nearby hive. Drones are allowed to live in the colony through the summer, but they don’t get to stay and coast through the winter. As cold weather approaches, they will be expelled to starve or freeze, for in a bee colony, the good of the whole is paramount.
 
Each fall when I check hives for honey, the amount directly reflects how rich or spare the wildflowers have been that year. Leaving the bees plenty of honey to get them through a long winter is critical. Often I don’t take any honey at all, erring on the side of compassion. 

Many people assume honeybees in the U.S. are native, but in fact they were brought here from Europe by early colonists. Apis mellifra is only one of over 20,000 known species of bees on Earth, with approximately 4,000 native species in the U.S. alone. 
Beekeeping itself is a comparatively recent occupation. For much of history, humans obtained honey simply by stealing it from wild bee colonies found in trees or caves. Eventually, bees were housed in straw containers called skeps or in hollow logs. But as before, there was no thought to leaving enough honey to ensure the colony made it through the winter. So throughout history, beekeeping was simply stealing honey and thereby killing colonies. Modern, sustainable beekeeping became possible in 1852 with the invention of the standardized Langstroth hive box, which allows beekeepers to remove part of the honey without killing the hive. 169 years later, it’s still the standard hive design in use.
Unfortunately, honeybees today are in trouble. Agricultural pesticides have had a devastating effect on bee populations. The entire Earth is dependent on bees and other insects to pollinate crops. Currently, 40 percent of managed honeybee hives in the U.S. die each year directly from pesticides or from weakened immune systems that make them susceptible to mites. Hobby beekeepers with two or three hives must commit to replacing one or two every year. The impact of bee devastation on our food supply is expected to increase. Chemical pesticides, climate change, loss of land, and loss of native and other plants render bees in constant need of replenishment.
 
I tend bees for many reasons. I enjoy the challenges of interacting with these mightily threatened, hardworking insects. Standing in the sunshine amid thousands of humming bees brings heightened awareness of both weather and nature. I want to contribute to sustainability of the Earth at least in a small way. And of course, I like to eat and share honey. Glad to discuss backyard beekeeping with anyone interested! 
Walking the Talk
How Insects Changed the World
 
Dan Stiver writes:
At the beginning of the Cretaceous Period around 125 million years ago, the few flowering plants that did exist were a rare and unusual sight. By the end of the Cretaceous, however, flowering plants had replaced conifers as the dominant trees on the planet.
 
Charles Darwin referred to the sudden appearance of large numbers of flowering plants in the Cretaceous with no clear ancestors an “abominable mystery” as it seemed to contradict the theory of evolution. Discoveries since Darwin’s time have helped shed some light on this, however the runaway success of flowering plants during the Cretaceous is still remarkable. 
 
All of today’s fruits and nearly all vegetables exist because of the success of flowering plants at capitalizing on the advantages given by pollinators. Basically, cross-pollination allowed for the genetic diversity that allows species to adapt more quickly. Before the development of the flower-pollinator dynamic, plants had to depend on the wind for pollination, which was less reliable at spreading genetic material. Wind pollination was also much more wasteful, with over 99% of pollen never reaching another plants reproductive tissue. More pollen required more energy, and thus flowering plants that could use pollinators to transport their pollen to other plants were more energy efficient. 
But attracting pollinators was essential, so flowering plants had to develop properties that would draw in as many pollinators as possible: sweet nectar, attractive smells, and colorful petals. Over millions of years over millions of years the race to gain pollinators’ attention has resulted in the vast diversity and beauty of modern flowering plants.

Most pollinators are insects, and while the best known are bees, a large amount of pollination is also done by flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Different flower species specialize in attracting different pollinators. Some have even evolved to smell like rotting meat to attract flies from long distances, including most of the largest flower species in the world. They may be repugnant to human noses, but to flies they are irresistible. The bee orchid evolved another unusual way to attract its pollinators: by imitating the color, shape, and scent of a female bee, to lure amorous males. 
The ancestors of bees were predatory wasps, who over time incorporated more and more pollen and nectar into their diets until those became their sole food. Harvesting these plant products instead of having to hunt for prey allowed for easier meals with less need to expend valuable energy. In return for becoming a sole food source, many flowering plants got more effective pollinators. 
The earliest known bee fossil dates to about 100 million years ago, and by the middle of the Cretaceous eusocial (colonial) bees had appeared, developing remarkable colonies rivaled only by ants and termites in their size.

So next time you observe a bee, a butterfly, or some other pollinator visiting your flowers, you will know a bit more about how this unique facet of nature arose, so much to our benefit. 
Have You Befriended a Pollinator Lately?
 
Judy Lindblad writes:
With all the worrisome news of pollinators in crisis, I wondered how the five potted pollinator plants in my 4x20 semi-urban garden could make a difference. So I did a Google search and learned there are a number of creative initiatives right here in River City that I can be a part of!
 
Did you know that there is a Queen City Pollinator Project and that the Cincinnati Art Museum has a Community Wellness Initiative focusing on bees where you can adopt one for a donation of $5 or $10? This is one of several ways to act locally and help reverse global pollinator extinctions. Much more information is available online at Queen City Pollinator Project and Cincinnati Art Museum, but I will share a few of the main points they suggest:
 
Don’t Spray- the broad use of pesticides and herbicides is deadly.
Leave Your Leaves- they provide a safe habitat for many beneficial insects.
Go Native! Plant native species of trees and perennial shrubs and remove invasive species...but don’t spray them!
Plant for Pollinators! Details online and at your garden store.
And they add...Put some of your favorite pollinator-friendly perennials like Milkweed, Bee Balm, and Lavender in pots so when you rotate your vegetable garden to a different spot each year, you can move pollinator attracting plants wherever they need to go. Or you can easily carry a pot to a friend’s house and spread a “little gangsta-gardener joy”! 
 
It seems like a Mount Auburn way to care for the Earth. What if each of us befriended pollinators this year in some way and shared our stories in 2022?  
Insect Decline
 
Bill Siver writes:
 
Insects dominate the terrestrial world with an estimated population of 10 quintillion. Eighty percent of animal species are insects. A million insect species have been scientifically named, but there are probably four million more that have not. Without insects, most flowering plants would die out. The prominent ecologist E. O. Wilson has said “if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
 
Insects have been around 400 million years and according to the fossil record, have had a relatively low extinction rate until recently. But in most areas now being researched, insect numbers are falling. In Germany, a 1989-2016 study has shown that flying insect biomass in protected areas has declined by 76 percent. In New Hampshire, a mid-1970s-present study of a protected forest has shown that the number of beetles has declined by 80 percent and the number of beetle species has declined by 40 percent. In the Netherlands, the butterfly population has plummeted by 85 percent since 1900. In the US, the mayfly population has declined by over 50 percent since 2012 in the upper Midwest. In the tropics, where 80 percent of insect species live, their numbers are also dropping.
If numbers and research don’t speak to you, consider something called the windshield effect. If you had driven your car at night for an hour during June in the early 1970s in a rural area, you would have had to clean your windshield to remove the smashed bugs off the glass the next day. Now, a similar trip generally results in much less of a mess.
 
Populations of nearly all animal groups (except humans) are falling, but insects are declining faster than other groups. For example, the North American bird population has declined by a third since 1970, but this is less than the insect decreases cited above.
 
The causes of this massive insect decline include pesticides, climate change, habitat destruction, and introduced non-native insect species—in other words, people. One class of insecticides called neonicotinoids (related to nicotine) is blamed for the decline of bee populations and insects in general. Although they are less harmful to birds and mammals than previous insecticides, they have extreme negative effects on insects, and they break down into compounds that also are fatal to insects. The herbicide glyphosate (found in Round-Up) eliminates key plants that insects depend on and may even disrupt insect immune systems. The European Union has banned most neonicotinoids, and several U. S. states have also banned some types. Germany is phasing out glyphosate.
What are some ways you can help stem the insect demise?
1)   Eat organic foods. Organic pesticides are not as strong or long lasting as non-organic pesticides. 
2)   Use only organic pesticides in your own garden and yard.
3)   Limit your use of Round-up type herbicides.
4)   Pressure the government to ban neonicotinoids and glyphosate.
5)   Preserve more land
6)   Work to limit human population growth.
These are the kinds of issues politicians don’t like to know about or talk about. But you can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
 
(Most of this information comes from an article entitled “Where Have All the Insects Gone?” in the May 2020 issue of National Geographic, although I have read similar articles in other publications).  


Insects and Disease Control
 
Julie Malkin writes:

When I was a young adult living in Maine, my then-boyfriend and I went for a hike during black fly season. He had read that vitamin B-6 was an effective natural insect repellant, so we took a couple of vitamin pills and headed into the woods without bug spray. I came home that afternoon covered in bites. Although I didn’t worry about severe illness (such as malaria), I suffered the unpleasant effects of that experiment for several days. So much for my “natural” approach to insect protection. 
In the 1980s I lived on Long Island (NY) where Lyme Disease was endemic. I feared the possibility of tertiary (stage 3) Lyme which is a serious, persistent inflammatory illness. I had friends and family who suffered from significant long-term neurologic and musculoskeletal effects of this illness. I took a more aggressive approach to insect control than I had while living in the Maine woods. I did not sit on the grass; I used topical insect repellant when I went on hikes; I performed regular tick checks on myself and my children; I performed regular skin checks, looking for the tell-tale “bulls-eye” rash. But I never considered spraying my yard.
Dr. Kathleen Downey recently hosted an excellent adult forum on health problems associated with climate change. She addressed vector borne diseases, such as malaria, Zika, and chicungunya. For those of us living in temperate regions of the United States it’s hard to imagine the toll these diseases take globally. In 2019, 274,000 people (67% of them children) died in the world from malaria. In the face of such a deadly disease, one can almost understand the Army’s enthusiastic embrace of DDT during World War II. But, we now know about the environmental hazards of widespread use of chemical pesticides. Alarmingly, the recent emergence of Zika has caused some to suggest that the world ramp up its use of DDT.
 
If we travel to malaria endemic areas for short periods of time, we can protect ourselves with prophylactic medications, topical insect repellent, and bednets. But what about people living in these areas? Even in areas with a high incidence of malaria, widespread insecticidal spraying is not recommended. The World Health Organization Guidelines for Malaria (2021) address the persistent global burden of illness and death from malaria. Their primary recommendation is the distribution of insecticide (pyrethrin) treated nets (ITN) as well as periodic (1-2 times per year) indoor residual spraying (IRS). Application of biological or chemical larvicides should be limited, and “supplemental” to ITN and IRS. They advise against “space spraying” and “airborne repellents”.  
So what about Mosquito Joe? If the World Health Organization does not recommend spraying in malaria endemic areas, why spray in Ohio? There are vector borne diseases in Ohio, including West Nile virus, Lyme disease, Lacrosse encephalitis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis.
In my search to better understand spraying in Ohio, I was surprised to learn to how widespread the practice is, and that it is done not only by home owners, but many counties and municipalities. This seems shocking when we know that many insecticides kill pollinators. Discussion of this is beyond the scope of this piece, but I recommend the website “Beyond Pesticides”.

Human beings have had a mixed relationship with insects throughout history. We venerate bees, ladybugs and praying mantises. But, in the Old Testament, God sent a plague of locusts over Egypt. Farmers continue to battle “pests” that damage crops. And, vector borne pathogens can cause serious and fatal illness. As with many choices in health care, the risk/benefit calculation is complex.

Our strategies to minimize disease without harm to the environment may conflict. But, as a beginning, there are simple, basic measures we can take to protect ourselves that don’t rely on chemical spraying.
What's Next
Upcoming Issues:

June: Flowers
July: Walking
Thanks to all our contributors for this issue! If you’d like to write for us, please contact your faithful editors, Julie Malkin (mlkjulia458@gmail.com) and John Tallmadge (jatallmadge@gmail.com).