I do like spiders and snakes
They are just what it takes
To stop insect pests
— with apologies to Jim Stafford
When I talk to my students about pest control in their gardens, I always mention that one of the best ways to get rid of the insect and animal garden marauders is to encourage their predators. Yet when I mention helpful pest control animals such as spiders, snakes, bats, frogs, and toads, these same students (especially the women) look at me as though I’m one cucumber short of a cornucopia. People have an unnecessary fear of these creatures, thanks to literature and cinema. So before I go any further, let’s get a few things straight.
- Bats will NOT get caught in your hair! Their natural radar or echolocation lets them know of an object in their way before they get near it, enabling them to veer off from any object they might collide with or become entangled.
- Bats will not bite you, suck your blood, and stamp your membership card in the undead club. On the other hand, none of them are going to save your life with their utility belts either.
- Although bats can be infected with rabies, this is a rare occurrence. The vast majority of them are fine.
- Snakes are not evil, loathsome, slimy creatures. Nor do you have to worry about one tempting you to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. That ship sailed a long time ago.
- There are only four species of poisonous snakes in the United States – the rattlesnake, the copperhead, the cottonmouth or water moccasin, and the coral snake. Unless you live where these species are prominent, you probably will never encounter them. Furthermore, you will not be squeezed to death by a snake. The only two snakes capable of doing that – the python and the boa constrictor – are not native to the United States. Although the reticulated python is an invasive species in the Florida Everglades, unless you live there, you are unlikely to encounter one.
- Spiders may be scary looking, but I seriously doubt that any of them have a personal vendetta against you. There are only three species of spider – the black widow, the brown recluse, and the hobo spider — that are venomous enough to do serious damage to a human being. Yet once again, unless you live in an area where these species are prominent, you are unlikely to encounter them.
- Frogs and toads will NOT, I repeat, NOT give you warts!
Now, everyone repeat after me. Spiders are our friends. Snakes are our friends. Bats are our friends. Frogs are our friends. Toads are our friends. These are not just feel-good, new-age mantras. These are the facts. Spiders entangle many an insect pest in their webs. Snakes eat mice, voles, moles, and other rodents that might otherwise feast on your fruits and vegetables. Bats are voracious eaters of moths and mosquitoes. And unlike bats, mosquitoes really do suck your blood, and can also carry disease. Frogs and toads will eat just about any kind of insect pest they happen to encounter in your garden. These predators should be welcomed into your garden, not driven away. And for God’s sake, stop screaming when you encounter one of them! Save your screaming for something worthwhile – like seeing that Japanese beetles have destroyed your grapevines, or discovering that squirrels have eaten all your corn. I know I want to scream when I see that.