CRAWLOWEEN
PHOTO PROVIDED BY AUDUBON NATURE INSTITUTE

New Orleans residents share their city with lots of bugs, as The Advocate’s recent article notes.

It’s true, these insects represent a force to be reckoned with, and we’ll continue dealing with termites, cockroaches and other species whose interests are not necessarily aligned with our own. But there’s a vast world of bugs in New Orleans that either don’t bother humans or directly benefit us, and some of them are downright fascinating and beautiful.

Let’s first remember the insects most folks are fond of — butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs and fireflies. Beyond mesmerizing colors, there are fascinating behaviors (ever watch a praying mantis hunt?) and amazing lifestyles (did you know that some insects reproduce without having to mate?) that will entertain the mind of a bug fanatic for a lifetime.

At Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, we’ve had the hard but fun job, for the past 9½ years, of reminding guests about all the good that insects do for the environment and humankind.

Insects aerate soil and prevent compacting so roots have the space and air they need; they decompose organic material and recycle nutrients back into the soil; they are primary pollinators of the world’s flowering plants. These activities, carried out daily on a scale that’s hard to fathom, create healthy plant life. Thus, we benefit from oxygen and foods that simply would not be available or as abundant if not for insects.

There is so much biomass (sheer weight) in insects that they are critical to food chains. Maybe you’re not a fan of bugs, but it’s a safe bet you like something that eats bugs, whether it’s songbirds, lizards, frogs, opossums or anything in between. In almost any habitat, insects are a necessary part of complex interactions that include the business of keeping everything fed — even if that’s not the best news for an insect.

We hope visitors leave the insectarium understanding that insects have value. One person may come away with a better understanding of their ecological importance, another with a sense of wonder about their diversity, another with the urge to plant a butterfly garden. All of this advances our goal of celebrating the wonders of nature. These “little things that run the world,” as they are called by bug lovers, need as many supporters as possible. Given how much they support, it seems like a fair perspective.

As we approach Halloween, which highlights, among other things, fear of spiders, maybe a visit to your town’s “bug house” is a good way to address less-than-comfortable feelings about spiders and their kin. Changing one’s view from creepy to captivating may seem a stretch, but it wouldn’t be first time we’ve done it. Much maligned? True. But even more marvelous? Truer still.

Zack Lemann

curator of animal collections, Audubon Butterfly Garden Insectarium

New Orleans