They came in droves but no one knows where from. You find them in your homes and cars, scuttling across your windows. They line the sidewalks and entryways of every building.
They’re Asian Lady Beetles, and they’re back.
But it hasn’t always been this way. The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis, was first introduced to California in 1916 by the USDA to help control pecan aphid populations and have since popped up across the country, first sighted in Minnesota in 1994. Though they are often confused with our native ladybug, these beetles are most commonly orange, instead of red, a little bit larger, and have a characteristic “M” shaped marking behind their head.
If you live in Minnesota, odds are that you are well in the midst of a full autumn invasion of the festively colored Asian Lady Beetles, but why?
The truth is, the concept of a plant or animals purpose isn’t as cut and dry as many would like. This makes sense. People are always trying to determine their purpose, their deeper meaning, and trying to answer age old questions like “What’s the meaning of life?”. When we start looking outward, we start trying to apply that same thought logic, but that’s just not how life really works. This is a topic I will be sure to explore more in-depth in a future podcast episode devoted to this idea of purpose.
That being said, everything plays a role in its ecosystem. Yes, even ticks. So what are those roles? I’ll explain!
Many animals will eat ticks. Virtually any insect eating bird will eat ticks if they are available. Ground dwelling birds like turkeys, chickens, and other will also eat ticks. Fire ants, another notorious creature, can clear whole fields of ticks. But for every tick eaten, there are more that will hitchhike on those same birds, mammals, and even humans. The problem is that nothing eats ticks exclusively. If there was, that’d just be bad evolution. So, if ticks disappeared it is unlikely that any living creature would suddenly face a major starvation crisis. Even the possum, which can potentially eat 5,000 ticks per season, have little impact considering they only eat ticks which have made their way onto their bodies and the fact that a single tick can lay 2,000 to 18,000 eggs in a lifetime.
Don’t worry, ticks get a taste of their own medicine…sorta. Ticks may use bigger creatures as host, but ticks themselves are bigger creatures compared to some, serving as host to a diverse range of microorganisms. Yes, many of those bacteria, viruses, and other organisms are the very source of many tick-borne illnesses, but if we are going to try and look at the purpose of ticks then we need to look at purpose from all angles. To these microorganisms, a ticks purpose is a place to call home. Like all living things, we exist because we can. We exist to survive and to further our own species. Microorganisms use ticks as a home to survive and spread, just like ticks use host to survive and spread. Simple, right?
The truth is, research on this is difficult, impractical, and well, difficult. Ticks do spread diseases. They are what are known as a vector, an avenue for diseases to spread. Using what we know and a little bit of logic, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that ticks could play this role in a pretty straight forward way. Ticks require a host, meaning the higher the host population, the higher the possible tick population. With high tick populations comes higher incidence of tick-borne illnesses. Secondly, if there are a high number of host available, that means that ticks can spread more easily over a geographic range. Disease works this way in populations. The higher the population and the more contact between individuals, the more disease can spread. You could suggest then that higher host populations will eventually see higher levels of diseases which, in combination with other factors (predators, habitat, food availability) may help level off or reduce rising populations of some animals.
So, as far as purpose is concerned, the answer is that they don’t have any. As far as role is concerned, we have to not think about “role” in a human centered context because doing so won’t give you a good answer. At least not a satisfying one. Either way, ticks are here to stay.
Here is something to think about: ticks don’t necessarily want to bite you. Ticks rely on being able to pick a host, feed, drop off, and repeat. When a tick latches onto a human, odds are that they are going to be found, killed, or end up dropping off on some concrete or indoors where they can’t survive. As humans venture more and more into tick habitat, and as humans continue to spread our own habitat with residential developments, we will continue to have run-ins with ticks. That said, when you go hiking or into potential tick habitat, always be sure to have at least two forms of tick protection to prevent tick-borne illnesses. Use bug spray, where long socks with your pants fashionably tucked in, purchase tick-gaiters, or treat your clothing with permethrin to keep yourself protected and to keep ticks in the woods and grasses where they should, and want, to be.
Many people think of composting as something that you can only do with a big outdoor bin in your yard or garden, but truthfully you don’t need all of that space. For those just getting into composting, apartment dwellers, those who live in harsh environments, and those without a yard, indoor vermicomposting is the answer for you!
In one to four months, you can covert your kitchen scraps into highly nutritious fertilizer to be used, sold, donated, whatever! Plus, you are diverting all of that waste from landfills.
The first step to starting your new compost bin is to, well, pick your bin. You can purchase indoor composting bins commercially, use a wooden garden box, or use an opaque plastic storage bin. Personally, I prefer the plastic storage bin approach for its affordability and simplicity. Be sure that the container is opaque. Worms are not fans of the light.
No matter how many people will be using the bin, you’ll want to aim for a deep bin rather than shallow. More depth means more layering, which is key when composting. Start with a standard 25 gallon (4 cubic feet) storage bin. This will be just fine for 1 to 2 people. You’ll need about 1 to 2 additional cubic feet of space for each individual in your home.
Using a drill, screwdriver, or really anything that can make holes in the bin without causing larger cracks, start 4 inches from the bottom of the bin and make a hole every 2 to 4 inches along the sides and lid. The diameter of the holes should be small and no larger than about half the width of a pencil. Make a few holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage of the compost “tea” that can puddle in the bottom. This is what the boot tray is for. That will work to catch any drainage that does occur. Red worms thrive in a moist environment, the happy place between wet and dry. If you have a lot of drainage then you need to add more dry material to compensate.
Worms like to have nice bedding, too. In fact,the bedding is essential to the health of your worms and the effectiveness of the bin. The bedding needs to be a high carbon material such as shredded leaves, shredded newspaper, nutshells, moist peat moss, or something similar. Moisten the bedding and mix in a few scoops of soil, placing it in the bin until it is about 3/4 of the way full.
One of the species most commonly used is the Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida or Eisenia andrei). This is what I use personally and recommend for anyone living within the Great Lakes region. There are no native species of earthworm in the Great Lakes region. Any that are here are non-native, invasive, ecosystem damage causing pest. Red Wigglers are a safe choice because they can not tolerate below freezing temperatures and will not survive a winter. I recommend freezing compost you plan to use for about a week to ensure it kills any worms or eggs that may hitch a ride outdoors as an extra precautionary measure. I purchase mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm on Amazon. You should only need a pound of worms (250) for this sized bin.
Fruits, vegetables, peels, egg shells (crushed), tea and tea bags, coffee and filters, and leaves.
Meat, dairy, oils, plastic, animal waste, citrus, and bones.
Each time you add scraps, add a little bit more bedding or dirt. Speed along the process but cutting the food into smaller pieces before adding it to the bin.
Compost bins are all about balance. If there is an odor, there’s an imbalance. If it is too dry or too wet, there’s an imbalance. If it gets too dry, add more moist paper or scraps. If it’s too wet, add dry bedding.
When the compost looks brown, crumbly, and uniformly so, it’s ready to be harvested. This will take 1 to 4 months depending on how much it is used. Divide your bin in two by shifting the finished compost to one side and adding fresh new bedding to the other side. Wait a few days, continuing to add scraps as normal to the new bedding side. The worms will leave the finished compost side in search for food. Remove the lid for a few hours so that they will burrow deep and scoop out your ready-to-use compost. Use it to garden or give it to someone else who could use it. Then, the cycle starts over!
Have any composting tips you’d like to share? Comment below with your own tips and tricks.