Don’t mess with Mother Nature

Ed Rood

The newspaper headline ruined my day: “IOWA UNLEASHES STINGLESS WASPS.” A story below the headline tried to explain the rationale behind the bug war scientists are planning to wage here in the near future. It didn’t make me feel any better.

Seems the experts have come up with a plan to control the dreaded emerald ash borer. For those of you who have missed it, the emerald ash borer is the insect deemed responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees.

The emerald ash borer is an Asian insect that was brought into this country many years ago and has slowly spread across the United States until it has now taken up residency in Iowa. The ash borer has no natural enemies in the Hawkeye State, so the plan is to bring in another non-native insect (a parasitic wasp) to feed off the ash borer’s eggs and larvae.

Parasitic wasps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have no interest in people and therefore are harmless to humans. They are very small, about the size of a grain of rice, and will not sting. It’s a safe, natural method to rid us of a terrible pest.

My reaction. No, not again. Don’t we ever learn anything from the past?

Many years ago, someone (no one seems to take the credit) unleashed another non-native bug: the Asian beetle. The promise was that this cute little bug (closely resembling the lady bug) was the answer to farmers’ prayers. It would eradicate aphids in crops and at the same time was completely safe for the rest of us. “They were people-friendly.”

We all know how that’s worked out. The cute little bugs have invaded structures in unbelievable numbers and are a constant problem from fall until the next spring, when they once again will leave the warmth of our homes to return to the outdoors. Only to return again in the fall.

Contrary to assurances, they do bite and their bite is painful; but that isn’t their only defense. They also emit a yellow, foul-smelling liquid that can stain walls and clothing. They make it impossible to dine outside, and have become one of the most hated insects in Iowa, running close competition with mosquitoes, flies, wasps and ticks.

I have watched closely as non-native bugs, birds and plants have been introduced into Iowa. Some have worked out, many have not. Multiflora rose and non-native honeysuckle are two excellent examples of what not to do in the plant world, and let’s not forget the European starling and English sparrow. Did I mention fish? Gee, I wonder whose idea it was to introduce carp into our waters?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this latest venture. One thing’s for sure: if I was one of the scientists involved in this latest adventure, I wouldn’t want my name ever used.

But while we are at it, how about sending some of our headaches across the pond. I wonder … does Asia have dandelions or gnats?

Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.