MSUToday
Published: March 25, 2014

Don’t hate bugs

Contact(s): Layne Cameron Media Communications office: (517) 353-8819 cell: (765) 748-4827 Layne.Cameron@cabs.msu.edu, Gary Parsons Entomology office: (517) 353-1630 parsonsg@msu.edu

As spring (finally) breaks, many humans can’t wait to get outside. Some insects, on the other hand, can’t wait to get inside.

Entomologists at Michigan State University point out that insects don’t invade homes to bug people; they’re simply scouting for food and shelter. In many cases, they’ve been there all along.

“Insects don’t see houses; they see desirable caves protected from the elements, or they smell and see sources of food,” said Gary Parsons, MSU entomologist. “There isn’t a single house that doesn’t have bugs. They’re performing critical roles, but they’re perceived as nuisances once they begin interacting with humans.”

At MSU’s Bug House, all insects are welcome. (Even the lowly mosquito has a “Mosquito Crossing” sign.) One of the main goals of the Bug House is to alleviate misconceptions about bugs, he added.

To fulfill that charge, Parsons stands up for some of the most-prevalent bugs we’ll encounter this spring in our homes and out of doors.

  • Houseflies, like most flies, are nature’s garbage collectors, breaking down waste and decaying animals. They are quite adept at entering houses. They are looking for cooler, shady climes, and possibly, food. They don’t bite, but their lookalikes, stable flies, do. Colorful, metallic blowflies, typically avoid houses; they prefer dung and dead animals found outside.
  • Mosquitoes may be welcomed at the Bug House, but they’re rarely embraced as anyone’s houseguests; bugs that feast on blood rarely are. However, they do serve as excellent food sources for bats, swallows and more. Male mosquitoes don’t bite. Though not as efficient as bees, they also help spread pollen.
  • Bees are the world’s great pollinators. This title isn’t solely reserved for honey bees – the poster-bee of pollination. Michigan has more than 400 species of native bees, such as bumble bees, mason, leafcutter and mining bees, which can be attracted to gardens and crops to aid pollen exchange.
  • Fruit flies break down fruit that ripens and drops to the ground. They can enter houses as eggs – on apples, bananas, etc. – or they can be attracted to rotting fruit in trashcans.
  • Asian lady beetles, aka ladybugs, keep aphid populations in check and prefer to winter in cliff openings. In the absence of cliffs, houses suffice. They work their way into crevasses found in siding and come out when it’s warm. Sometimes they get lost in the walls of houses and are drawn inside to warm light fixtures.
  • Wasps are efficient predators that feast on other bugs. They can sting, of course, but having a wasp nest near a garden could be a sustainable pest-control option.
  • Cicada killers, part of the digger wasp family, are big and often buzz ominously in people’s faces. They are not attacking, though; they’re simply orienting themselves to a new landmark. They reserve stinging for cicadas, their main food source that they store underground. However, they can sting if people swat and swing at them.
  • Spiders and centipedes are predators. They wouldn’t be found in houses if no food – other bugs – were present. They both are skilled at feasting upon pill bugs, flies, moths and more. Centipedes also may indicate dampness in basements that need to be fixed.
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