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Please Don't Squash Me....Until You Read This!

A Short Story by the Leader of the Orthoptera, Victor the Voracious, the most humble of grasshoppers

Have you ever considered the habitats that each plant in your garden provides for us insects - almost as if we were being encouraged to move in and chew away to our heartís content, isnít it?

Starting at the bottom and mostly out of sight are those of us that live amongst the roots, including the rather pale grubs of the delightful Christmas beetle. If you dig around a bit, especially near the ant colony, youíll also meet the root coccids and mealy bugs that theyíve brought in. Ants are great socialisers as well as being very industrious.

Please donít rake those leaves that fell down last week. My friends, the spring-tails and cockroaches, have already moved in under there. Just make sure there is some moisture in the area and youíll have compost in no time.

Look closely at all the nooks and crannies in the trunks. If youíve got patience and good eyesight, youíll no doubt see some of my enemies, the Arachnids. I wonít join you while you do that, if you donít mind. However, Iím quite proud of the achievements of the Scribbly Gum Moths - the artists of the insect world.

Carefully lift up that loose piece of bark, gently, gently, if you donít mind. The baby webbing borers are asleep and the bark bugs are in school.

Weíre heading for the twigs and branches now. Donít worry about getting lost, just follow the chain scale and mealy bug. Watch out for those big bumps. They really hurt if you fall over them. Some of our flies and wasps are always trying to get that bit extra from their hosts. I believe you call them galls.

I wouldnít step on that branch if I were you, some of our moth and beetle borers have been contracted to supply a branch for the ground dwellers and, as you can see, they are nearly finished.

Do you have the feeling you are being watched by hundreds of eyes? Youíre just in time for the summer leaf fest - sorry, feast. Some of my brothers and sisters are already here and we are about to be joined by the caterpillars, beetles, ladybirds, weevils, stick insects, thrips, leafhoppers, aphids, scale, lerps and mites. Thatís one big party and I know Iíve forgotten some of the guests.

Do you know that some of them are so shy that they refuse to come out of the leaf? Itís also pretty clever really, as we do get a few gatecrashers, such as those hungry mantids and the parasites of the insect world, the tachnid flies and wasps. Those avaricious arachnids are always sending us into a spin, especially if weíve had too much of the sap that night.

Look - isnít that the most beautiful flower youíve ever seen? Wait, wait! Now youíve done it - a thrip AND a flower beetle up your nose. Youíve got to learn to search before you sniff.

Er - about those seeds you came to collect. Well, sorry to say this, but some friends dropped in and, well you know how it goes, itís a dog eat dog world, or in this case, grub eat seed.

But donít think we have it all our own way. No sir. Most of those plants have a way of getting back at you. First of all, they seem to know when we are not too big in numbers, and then its full flower ahead. By the time we get all the relations here for the flower feast, most of them are gone and the seeds are well and truly on their way. We get the seed eaters in then, but they sometimes have a long way to travel and are often too late. The wind has been playing games and the birds have been greedy and left only the runts for us.

I spotted some new growth the other day, but by the time I got the family over, the leaves had all gone hard and tasted dreadful. OK, I know the trees donít naturally produce leaves with portholes and lacy widows, but a fellow has to live somehow. I shouldnít have mentioned the holey leaves should I? I can sense the anger building up - BUT BEFORE YOU SQUASH ME, just consider what we can do.

The other day friends of mine defoliated a few trees, and you know what is happening now? There is so much light coming through the canopy that hundreds of seedlings are germinating. We ate so much the other day that those chemicals excreted through our system are now stopping the plants that would compete for nutrients with this tree, from growing in its root zone. And think of all the nutrients that are being recycled for the trees to use as fertiliser.

If you want to change any part of your favourite forest, just call some of us and weíll eat those plants right out of their home, and an entirely new group of species will emerge. We donít do that by ourselves very often though, and often call on Devastating Bushfire and Prolonged Drought for help.

So the next time you see us eating your favourite plants, remember, we are not doing it to annoy you, but to do your plants a favour and to provide them with some long term benefits.

If youíll excuse me, Iíll be off now. I donít think Iíve quite convinced you not to squash me and I donít like that look in your eye. Bye!

This story was written by Helen Moody and is reproduced from the April 1994 issue of the SGAP Cairns Branch (Queensland) Newsletter.

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