Release the Bugs! Or Not?
Now that it’s Spring, one of our favorite activities in the garden is a ladybug release. The girls will watch for hours as ladybugs crawl over the plants. They’re enthralled by the tiny bright bodies and paper-thin wings. And they simply love the tickly feeling of ladybugs pattering across their skin.
We purchase a box of ladybugs from the store, and the girls take turns holding it all the way home. They lay on their bellies and peer inside, watching the little box crawling with life.
We eagerly wait until dusk and then it’s time. We sprinkle water all over the plants with the worst aphid infestations. (This activity takes quite some time, as any adventure with a spray bottle is just massively fun.)
Then, we crack the box. Because it’s getting dark, the ladybugs are tranquil. They begin to crawl out warily, but once they hit a leaf they move faster. As soon as they locate even the tiniest droplet of water they freeze, apparently taking huge “lady-gulps” of water. If you’ve water on your finger, they’ll freeze there and drink for so long you think they’re hibernating.
Once the bravest ladybugs escape, my daughters have a wonderful time transferring the more passive ladybugs from sawdust in the box to plants in the garden, carefully carrying each bug to a “perfect” spot.
Ladybugs awaken my daughters’ senses, their curiosity, and their enthusiasm for living creatures. But, I do have a moral question: Is it right to purchase living creatures mass transported in boxes around the country, even if they are released into freedom? Somehow, part of me has a twinge of worry. What if the ladybugs in my box were captured from the wild? What if a large percentage of them die during their transport? Am I supporting an industry that harms wildlife?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m curious what others think. In parenting, I’ve noticed that sometimes, an innocent creature falls victim to an eager fist. But it’s a child eager for nature, a child that desperately loves animals-just a little too much.
Of course I try to lead by example and gentleness, I lay out guidelines (no pinching, only gathering on sticks) but I don’t have the heart to save every pillbug from a toddler’s finger pinch. I worry that reacting too strongly, or preventing the contact at all, could be far worse – a child distanced from nature, one that feels scolded and timid will fail to feel the great openness and wildness that make nature so important to the soul.