Lomalinda was home to fascinating critters and creepy-crawlies—spiders, cockroaches, moths, flies, bees, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, fleas, scorpions, and creatures I’d never seen before and had no idea what their name was.
(Did you know all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs? And that millipedes, centipedes, scorpions, spiders, and ticks are neither bugs nor insects? That’s why I call them critters and creepy-crawlies. (Click on Bug vs.Insect: Is there a difference?)
God created them, and when we recognized that, we marvel at His handiwork—their beauty and strength and purposes and intricacy.
Lomalinda was also home to butterflies, and Matt and his friends enjoyed hunting them. Especially exquisite were Blue Morpho butterflies, with bright, shimmering blue wings spanning six or eight inches.
Their beauty always took my breath away and, looking back now, I’m sad the boys killed them so they could add them to their collections.
What can I say about fire ants? Yes, God created them, but it’s easy to question why He did.
Recently I discovered they can be beneficial: “Fire ants voraciously consume . . . fleas, ticks, termites, cockroaches, chinch bugs, mosquito eggs and larva, scorpions, etc.” reports Galveston Master Gardeners. In a place like Lomalinda, those are beneficial indeed!
They're “extremely effective in controlling plant-feeding insects and arthropods. . . . Under some conditions fire ants keep the pest populations below the level of economic loss. . . .
“Fire ants can benefit . . . crops . . . because they aerate and break up the soil, making more water and nutrients available.”
However, fire ants can inflict costly damage to agriculture, cattle, wildlife, and farm equipment. (Read more at Galveston Master Gardeners.)
They are tiny little red fellas—and aggressive! Before you knew what was happening, you could have dozens of them running up your legs and under your clothes and stinging you mercilessly—leaving you hopping around in misery, so desperate you might even strip off your clothes in public in order to swat them off your body. Fire ants have even been known to kill people and animals.
As anyone bitten by fire ants will attest to, “Fire ants interrupt our God-given right to walk barefoot in our grass,” say the Galveston Master Gardeners.
But in an attempt to see the glass half full instead of half empty, the gardeners also point out that “Humans are not at the top of the fire ant food pyramid as long as we keep moving.” So true!
And then there were leafcutter ants, critters with sharp instruments for mouths. They were a common sight—long lines of them traveling to their underground nests carrying big chunks of leaves in their mouths.
Leafcutter ants don’t eat the leaves, they bury them in order to grow a fungus, which they eat.
“After clipping out pieces of leaves in their jaws, the fragments are transported to an underground nest that can include over 1,000 chambers and house millions of individual ants,” according to Britannica.
“Deep within the nest, the ants physically and chemically cultivate subterranean ‘gardens’ of fungus that grow on the chewed leaves,” the article continues.
“The ants remove contaminants and produce amino acids and enzymes to aid fungal growth. They also secrete substances that suppress other fungal growth.”
Leafcutters can be beneficial for their surroundings. The Britannica article says “By pruning vegetation, they stimulate new plant growth, and, by gardening their fungal food, they enrich the soil. . . . A colony of A. sexdens leafcutters may turn over . . . 88,000 pounds . . . of soil in tropical moist forests, stimulating root growth of many plant species.”
However, leafcutter ants can also be destructive. According to the Britannica article, “The amount of vegetation cut from tropical forests by the Atta ants alone has been estimated at 12-17 percent of all leaf production.
“. . . One species, A. apiguara, reduces the commercial value of pasture land in Brazil and Paraguay by as much as 10 percent.”
In Lomalinda, we often experienced leafcutter ants’ voraciousness and swift damage to plant life.
Let me tell you about our first experience with them.
Beside our back door grew a shrub with delicate white flowers. One morning shortly after we arrived in Lomalinda, when I left for work the shrub stood five feet tall, but when I came home for lunch, I found only a few naked branches. Leafcutter ants had eaten all of that in four hours.
My friend Jon Arensen, working in the Colombian jungle for a few weeks, awoke one morning and found that leafcutter ants had invaded his duffle bag, chewing dime-size holes in his clothes—all his clothes—leaving them in shreds.
Jon said, “My underwear was so bad that I had to wear three pairs to be decent. For the rest of my trip, I looked like a badly dressed bum.
“Those ants even ate holes in my leather boots,” he said.
But on the positive side,
leafcutter ants made great mint-tasting snacks
for Lomalinda’s kids.
(from Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go:
A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir, Chapters 11 and 19)
God said, “Let there be critters and creepy-crawlies,”
and that is what happened,
and He saw that it was good.