|A spider on the wall may frighten most people, but it’s not looking for trouble. Just catch it in a plastic bug box and place it outside, as the author always does.|
ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS © Marlene A. Condon
Why Look for Trouble?
My mother used to refuse to go to the doctor’s office for check-ups. If you asked her why she did not want to go, she would answer, “Why look for trouble?”
Her attitude (which I do not recommend that you adopt) perfectly explains the behavior of many kinds of wildlife that people fear intensely. Folks tend to believe that snakes, wasps, spiders, coyotes, cougars, and wolves, for example, would just love to attack them, but nothing could be further from the truth. As far as these animals are concerned, it’s truly a matter of “Why look for trouble?”
It’s essential to understand that the wildlife that finds its way into your home via unsealed openings is not looking to harm you. Critters wander around to search for food and/or nesting sites, and will enter gaps in manmade, as well as natural, structures.
Seeing one or even a few spiders or insects inside does not automatically denote an “infestation”. You should just catch them and put them outside. Our wildlife is disappearing, so none of it should be killed unnecessarily. Being nature-friendly also means you can avoid exposure to pesticides on your premises.
Some insects you might see in large numbers, such as nonnative roaches, alert you to the presence of food where it ought not to be. Eating snacks anywhere except the kitchen can result in crumbs throughout the premises. A line of ants to a spot on the floor or inside a cabinet is a sure sign that you have either spilled food (liquid or solid) or have not secured it well inside a container.
It is your responsibility to clean up spills and to use containers that keep food fresh and unavailable to insects. You should not kill the messengers that keep you on your toes. After all, if they don’t alert you to the food that is exposed to the air, molds will let you know instead.
Spiders wandering around inside are looking for insects to eat. They are not looking to bite you. Occasionally, however, a wayward spider may find its way into your bed and underneath your covers. If you roll over onto it or in some other way threaten its life, you can get bitten as it tries to protect itself. To minimize that possibility, it would help if you made your bed each morning! An arachnid would then be less likely to end up on the surface of the mattress.
Perhaps folks have a huge fear of spiders because of the notoriety of the black widow spider (there is more than one species) that typically resides in very dark locations. Nowadays you rarely get to see a black widow, but in years past, an unlit outhouse provided the perfect place for these shy and reclusive spiders to make a web to catch insects. Unwary people sitting down on the toilet seat—and the spider—would get bitten, an outcome that shouldn’t be surprising when you consider the situation of the spider!
(Despite the urban myth that we have Brown Recluse spiders in the north-eastern and mid-Atlantic United States, this species is not native to this area. You might come across one only inside a home where household goods were recently transported here from out west. Sadly, many spiders are misidentified as this species, which makes the killing of them all-the-more unjustified.)
Paper wasps are especially fearsome to most folks. However, these insects usually only interact when they feel that they must, and that is when they need to defend themselves or their young (presumably, you would protect your offspring, too). By being alert when you are outside, you can spot nests by noting where wasps are hanging around but not eating, or continuously coming and going as if following a route.
Wasps visiting flowers to feed should not be a threat. Remember, they do not want to look for trouble! I’ve taken many a close-up photo of many kinds of wasps when they are at plants and I have never been stung.
Wasp nests far away from areas of human activity should be left alone. These insects are “employed” to help keep in check spiders and various insect species by providing those animals as food for their young (how this is done depends upon the species).
Yellow jackets (there is more than one species) tend to make underground nests where there is a lot of aboveground plant cover. By preventing lush growth near walkways, you might keep them from nesting where they could frighten you.
However, yellow jackets are highly unlikely to sting anyone just walking by. You need to be threatening them by stepping into or otherwise bothering their nest. If you fuss with plants in the area, which is how I often discover them, they will, of course, buzz around you to try to scare you off. Immediately do as they wish!
Snakes and coyotes catch and feed upon rodents or other small animals. Coyotes (and human predators) could possibly go after unattended small pets and children, so you should never leave them alone outside. As for snakes, parents should teach their children (along with never sticking fingers into sockets) to never place hands and feet where they cannot see what might be out of sight.
Although mistakenly thought of as predators of mankind, cougars and wolves are inclined to run away from people. Wolves and cougars were killed off by the white man because they went after his livestock, which he should have watched over to protect them from predators, just as American Indians stayed up all night to protect their crops from plant-eating animals.
Wild animals routinely flee from unnecessary confrontations with other organisms. Otherwise, they risk injury or death, which is exactly why they practice my mother’s philosophy of, “Why look for trouble?”
NATURE ADVICE: You can prevent paper wasps from nesting around your home by looking for recently started nests in the spring. When early-morning temperatures are 50℉ or below, wasps are sluggish and unable to fly well. You can then knock down with a stick any small paper nests upon your house or other structures. Please note that if the nest is high up underneath an eave where the insects will not be coming and going close to people, you should leave it.