You have no idea what bugs are until you have lived in or near the jungle. If you are a bug aficionado, you are in heaven. If not, then my guess is you may not stay here long. In fact, bugs are the single most driving influence for most folks to pack up their bags and leave (the other big one is money or lack of it). To live here is to be ‘one with the bugs’. This has created its own set of trials, as we are organic gardeners. The first place we had a garden was in the hot zone, that was tough – but not impossible – to grow food in. Now we live IN the jungle, and our growing space was carved out of the jungle. Well as nature would have it, the jungle is always moving…into any unoccupied space, or inviting space, as the bugs might see it. Okay, bugs are necessary creatures, they all have their jobs. They are fascinating creatures, amazing in all of the variations that they exist in, especially here. I have never seen so many different kinds of walking sticks (these bugs look like twigs, sticks, small branches, petioles, what-have-you). They range in size from very very small to quite large, several inches. The same goes for the praying mantises, all sizes and shapes for them, as well. Some look like advanced stellar aircraft designs, some are so small you would miss them. Ants are another family that comes in many sizes, with many occupations, and they are everywhere. And they want to own everywhere. If they are not already there, they will move right in and make it their own in a heartbeat, as you watch. They are the cleanup committee for anything, and they will clean up everything – including your garden. I mean eliminate it, if you allow it. The ‘sugar’ ants are tiny little buggers and they love sugar, and they can invade any kind of container, through any kind of lid. We eat and drink a lot of them. Then you have a larger variety of ants whose purpose is to consume anything of an organic nature, be it food droppings or dead bugs on the floor, countertops or in your bed. They can smell and find those things so fast it is mind boggling! (Advice: never eat in bed.) And then there are the really big ants that are sometimes called army ants, but here they are called ‘The Cleaners’. They come in droves, like marching armies…in the hundreds and thousands, waves of them. They move through the jungle, across the roads and yards and through your house, covering every square fraction of an inch as they go. They consume every bug, alive or dead, in their path. They are good. When you see them coming, leave your house for a couple of hours and let them do their jobs, when you return your house will be bug free. And then there are the many kinds that live outside that bite, they pack powerful annoying itching venom. It is absolutely amazing how fast they will be all over your feet, your hands, your legs, whatever you happened to touch their space with, within seconds – biting all the way. They like to bury their little heads in your skin, preferably between your toes or fingers, and bite hard. They will plant themselves until they are physically removed. These ants live in the ground, and as soon as their earth is ‘rattled’, so to speak, they are out and attacking the cause. They especially like to live under rocks and wood. For me, it’s like here I am moving along weeding around the pineapples and in an instant my hands are covered with little black ants and stinging. Although I must say that I have become very adept at watching for these little buggers and escaping before more than one or two has done damage. Rule: do not stand in any one spot for more than thirty seconds – actually, that is pushing it. They would like to own the world. One of the most devastatingly destructive, yet amazing ants are the leaf-cutter ants. I can watch them for great lengths of time and respectfully they require a chapter all of their own. But for here and now, they live in huge colonies underground where their organization is amazing. They cultivate a fungus which feeds their colony, and the specifications to create this fungus are rigid. Cleanliness without any contamination and only certain plants are allowed. They have separate living quarters, eating quarters and refuse places in the colonies. So they have the scouts that are always looking for the perfect sources of plants, and then they have the workers that will travel great distances to retrieve the plants and bring them back to the workers in the colony that process it into the fungus. The parts of the plants are chewed into darn near exactly the same size pieces to haul back to the colony, and to watch the armies of leaf cutters carting their cargo back to the factory is quite a site. They have highways, one side those with cargo, the other side those heading back for more cargo. The down side is when their cargo happens to be your fruit orchard, or your greenhouse goods. That is serious, as a tree can disappear in short order. We had some fruiting trees on the road in full fruit that are now completely reduced to a skeleton. I am really not sure how anything survives with these dudes around, but there again, they all have their jobs and the jungle is thriving. However, gardens in the jungle do not thrive easily. On to more bugs, there are lots of nasty biting bugs like wasps, large and small, and unfortunately they can be quite aggressive when they want what you have, or if you are in their way. We avoid this, when possible. But let me talk about a couple of things that wipe out a garden or greenhouse pretty quick, and those critters are grasshoppers (worldwide agents of destruction), and here they get REALLY BIG, like some are ten inches long or more! And there are the green relatives that live in the foliage of your plants and one day, pretty quickly, your plants are not there anymore. Also, there are the wonderful and beautiful butterflies that lay their eggs in your garden and greenhouse, which then become worms which devour everything in site before they become cocoons and then beautiful butterflies. Where is my lettuce? All I see are bug poops! Where did those big beautiful tomato plants go??? Horn worms, really big ones, that deforest the tomato garden overnight. Oh, yesterday you found twenty-something of them, two to three inches long? Well guess what, you missed another twenty that finished off what the others didn’t. These are serious concerns for organic growers; we still do not have as many answers for this as we would like…still researching that one. And then there are the scorpions, centipedes and spiders. The scorpions like to live more in the hot areas, but we have them here in smaller numbers. Where it is hot you must always walk at night with a light so you don’t step on one, and always shake your clothes, sheets, hats and shoes before putting them on. Grab anything and everything carefully. Centipedes, also – they pack a bite that is far worse than a scorpion, which will sting like a you-know-what and make your tongue go numb for several hours (not to mention the head high, dizzy and foggy). Spiders – small and large, here and there, hanging around the eaves of the house in families, snacking on all of the other unwary bugs that get caught up in their snares. Some of these aranas get realllly big, and their webs are reallllly big. I have to tell them to move back and away when they are encroaching on my space, moving in too close to the house, but as long as they stay on the fringes and catch the other bugs they are okay. There are really big fuzzy spiders, relatives of tarantulas, that jump up and on you surprise like if you are not paying attention to what you are moving. These guys will make a grown man scream like a girl! They are lightning fast and quite intimidating. There are little fuzzy ones that live in the plants, and there are little tiny ones that are everywhere and in everything. They like to live in the house in the corners of the rooms, up high in the ceilings, and under the beds. They crawl over you during the night. Some will bite and leave a very itchy red welt at the bite. Did I mention butterflies? There are so many different kinds of beautiful butterflies here, and our favorite is the Blue Morph. These amazing creatures that float through the jungle, many sizes and types all in gorgeous patterns of blue and black iridescence, and they can disappear in an instant. However, their progeny – the caterpillars that become the morphs will make your arm go numb for a long time if you touch it. Flies. Yes, we have flies, small ones medium ones and bigger ones. There are these flies called ‘coffee’ flies, and yes – you find them in your coffee cup. Always look before you sip. They remind me of the flying dude in Star Wars, they have dangling fuzzy legs, move slowly and linger long, wherever they land. There are little black gnats that draw blood, they are so quick you almost never see them and they are hard to hit. But there are no irritating house flies like what we are used to. Having lived on a ranch for more than thirty years, we know what flies are of that nature and how annoying they are, as we pray for the first killing frost. And of course there are mosquitos here, which come in large and small. They do not live here with us in great numbers, and they show up with specific weather conditions, fortunately. But they are all here, nevertheless. So now that most who will read this are glad they are not living in the jungle, I must say that it isn’t as bad as it sounds. However, the bugs that are devouring my garden are not on my ‘favorites’ list at the moment. We learn to live with these critters; it is part of life here. Cleaning the house has a new meaning, it is not just dust. Walking barefoot is something you do with care. But they all have their jobs here, and who knows what the jungle would be like without them? We share this world with many critters and humans, and learn to adjust. I would not trade my jungle for the cement jungles of this planet EVER, each to their own. Next time I will talk about some of the other critters that share our world…like snakes. It’s all good.