A few days ago, I was reading my news on Twitter and noticed a tweet by Alex Wild of Myrmecos.net. He provided a link to a page on a Terminix website. Normally I don’t bother looking at pest control company websites because they just make me mad, but the tweet mentioned extermination services for dragonflies. Sure enough, the page discussed services Terminix can provide to rid your yard of any pesky dragonflies that might be bothering you.
Normally I try to keep my blog as cheery and positive as possible, but as an entomologist and someone who really, really loves dragonflies, I am outraged that Terminix provides this service! I openly admit that am opposed to pest control companies in general due to some run ins with some terribly misinformed pest control people. I have a strong bias against these companies, so feel free to take what I say here with a grain of salt if you disagree with me – or just stop reading here. I do begrudgingly see the utility of calling in a control company when your house is being overrun with ants or termites or some other insect that causes damage, so I’m not entirely anti-pest control company. But dragonflies? Seriously? If I ever needed another reason to convince me I should never hire Terminix, this is it!
I hope no one ever uses the Terminix dragonfly extermination service. There are so many reasons why it’s great to have dragonflies around! Thus, I’m devoting today’s post to several reasons why you shouldn’t exterminate the dragonflies in your yards. Give me a second to climb up on my soapbox… :)
Reason Not to Exterminate #1: Dragonflies are beautiful!
This is the most touchy feely of my reasons, but let’s face it: as far as insects go, most people think that dragonflies fall way over toward the beautiful side of the ugly-beautiful continuum of insects! Countless people love dragonflies solely for their looks. If that’s the only reason you hesitate to exterminate the dragonflies in your yard, it’s good enough! People often attract butterflies to their yards, so why not let some equally stunning insects fly around with them?
Reason Not to Exterminate #2: Dragonflies are harmless to people
I’m frequently asked if dragonflies bite. Yes, it IS possible to be bitten by a dragonfly. I’ve been bitten myself. However, getting bitten by a dragonfly is next to impossible! You have to catch the dragonfly first, and anyone who’s ever tried to catch a dragonfly knows how very difficult this can be. Then you have to grab the head of the dragonfly. If you’re not paying sufficient attention to what you’re doing that you grab the head instead of the wings, well… I think you just might deserve to be bitten. I certainly deserved to be bitten the one time I found myself in that situation! Rest assured: Flying dragonflies will not bite. They do not attack people. They do not sting. If you sit in the middle of a swarm of thousands of dragonflies, there’s probably something like a one in a trillion chance you’ll be bitten. Dragonflies also cause no damage to your home or your garden or your lawn. They thus present ABSOLUTELY NO risk to you if they’re just flying around in your yard! Why pay to remove something that is completely harmless?
Reason Not to Exterminate #3: Dragonflies are very beneficial insects!
Dragonflies are superb predators of small, flying insects. Those small, flying insects are often A) very annoying and B) carry diseases. Most people don’t like having mosquitoes and gnats in their yards. Dragonflies will help eliminate many of these little pests! They’re nature’s flying pest exterminators (they’re sometimes called mosquito hawks for their mosquito chomping prowess!) so they’re great insects to have in your yard. Why would you want to eliminate insects that prevent you from being bitten or annoyed so badly by flies that you no longer want to go into your yard?
Reason Not to Exterminate #4: You might kill an endangered species
This is the most flimsy reason as there aren’t very many dragonflies on the endangered species list yet, but there are some and in various places around the world so I’m going with it. I put this question to you: do you honestly trust a pest control employee to know the difference between, say, an endangered Hine’s emerald and any other large, mostly black American dragonfly? I certainly wouldn’t! The last time I talked to a pest control “expert” outside of my entomology department, the guy all but told me I was stupid because I disagreed with him when he said that all termites are completely white and wingless like the one in his photo. He even argued with me when I insisted he was wrong, gave him the name of a species that was not entirely white, and reminded him of the winged stage of termites. If a pest control expert doesn’t even understand the life cycle of one of the extermination industry’s biggest money-making pest species, I wouldn’t dare let one kill dragonflies if I lived in an area that had an endangered species flying around.
Reason Not to Exterminate #5: Do you really want pesticides all over your yard?
Most pesticides really aren’t that good for you. While the makers will insist up and down that they don’t threaten human life (and some of them really don’t!), we don’t fully understand the effects of chronic, long-term exposure to many pesticides or how exposure may impact our future health. If you call in a pest control company, you can be sure they’ll bring along a big vat of pesticide to spray your yard with. Why take the risk? The dragonflies aren’t doing anything to harm you or your property, so you might as well keep your money and minimize your exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.
Reason Not to Exterminate #6: Dragonflies aren’t the problem anyway…
If you have a lot of dragonflies in your yard, they are likely there for one of two reasons: 1) you have water in your yard, either a pond or a stream, or 2) you have enough gnats, mosquitoes, or other small flying insects to meet the nutritional needs of the dragonflies in your yard. If you have water in your yard, there’s not much you can do to get rid of your dragonflies. You might as well move if you don’t like them because they’ll keep coming back. If you don’t have water in your yard, something else is drawing them there – and that something else is likely going to be a bunch of little insects you don’t like having around. Imagine a scenario: You have a lot of dragonflies in your yard. You call Terminix and have them removed. A few days later, your yard is overrun with mosquitoes. Then you call the Terminix people again to have them take care of the new problem. Maybe I’m overly cynical, but I can’t help but think this is the motivation behind the dragonfly extermination service. Why have your customers pay you only once when you can eliminate a beneficial insect from their yards and make a second visit (cha ching!) to take care of the problem that removing the dragonflies created? Besides, if you only kill the dragonflies and fail to eliminate the insects that are attracting the dragonflies to your yard in the first place, you’re going to get more dragonflies coming in eventually. If you must kill something, kill the insects the dragonflies are feeding on, not the dragonflies themselves!
I’m at a loss to understand why any pest control company would want to offer a dragonfly extermination service. Dragonflies are not pests. If you read my blog, you know that large swarms do sometimes form over yards on occasion, but dragonflies rarely congregate in an area without a pond or stream for more than a week. If you wait a few days, they’ll probably move along on their own! And even if they don’t, they can’t do anything to you or your property. There’s just no reason to spend your hard earned money to have a pest control company kill the dragonflies in your yard – and several reasons why you should save the dragonflies instead. I can’t help but think that this service preys on people who know little about dragonflies and sensationalizes a “problem” that isn’t a problem at all. And why would any pest control company want to kill a beneficial insect? I think it all comes down to making money. What a great little scam it is to convince people to pay you kill your competition that provides its pest extermination services for free…
And now I’ll climb down from my soapbox. I apologize if I have offended anyone and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled, less cynical, cheery posts next time!
Great news! Since I wrote this post a few days ago, the odonate community took action! Several odonate researchers/enthusiasts teamed up, started calling people and writing e mails, and convinced the company to take down the ad for the dragonfly extermination service. Apparently the service was offered by a Terminix subcontractor and NOT Terminix itself (though they were obviously not keeping tabs on the people they affiliate with…). Terminix claims that they have never offered dragonfly extermination and do not intend to. Hooray!
I’m going to leave this post up in case any other companies decide to offer this shortsighted service in the future and to address the concerns of the many people who write to me asking how to get rid of the dragonflies in their yards. However, for now it looks like our dragonflies are safe. Go odonates!
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