My son pays the price…

Those who know me well know that I care deeply about nature. I truly believe that we can (and should!) all play an important role in maintaining a bit of biodiversity close to home – in our own backyards. As you would expect from an ecological entomologist, my garden is a bit of a wild patch, where what once may have been a lawn, is now a ‘restoration grassland’ that I mow rarely – and where and if I do, not very short. As a result of my efforts (or lack thereof?) my garden is always buzzing with life, and I enjoy hanging out there very much.

This is what I hoped a child- and insect-friendly garden would look like. It’s what my garden looks like anyways. The ~50% left of the sandbox I only mow once after summer. The short bit I only mow after the dandelions, forget-me-nots and daisies have died off. I pull long grasses before they set seed in the other sections – to give flowering forbs a better chance.

You don’t have to know me very well to know that I have a son. You could have gotten that straight from the title. My boy Rafa also really likes hanging out in the garden. We bought him an ugly shell-shaped sandbox (the one we all had in our childhoods), which doubles as a swimming pool. It’s very ugly, but he loves it, and we spend a lot of time playing in or around this ugly center piece. Even though I do mow around his play area – mostly to minimize tick abundance – Rafa doesn’t mind longer grass, nettles, or the compost pile. Only two years old, but already an explorer.

Not the best picture of my highly abundant Myrmica rubra
This pretty-ass motherfucker was out for my son all day – a common deerfly (Chrysops caecutiens).

Now, my son is very lovely. Everyone that knows him will confirm. (Maybe just because they’re scared of me – but he’s lovely nonetheless, trust me) He is in fact so lovely, that all my buzzing insect friends love him too. He’s like a walking dinner buffet for mosquitoes, quite a bunch of horse flies lately, and unfortunately the local ticks feast on him too. In addition, he does not shy away from the bush, and he would fiercely conquer a nettle patch, or do a little dance in a European fire ant nest. “Piets, piets, piets” is all he says in response to the stings, but often without a single tear. He’s a tough one. He’s also extremely sensitive to all of the above, although the heavy response often kicks in after a couple of hours, or even the next day. He gets pretty intense reactions to the ants, mosquitoes and nettles, that often last for a week. Yesterday’s fire ant ritual caused his feet to swell up so much that he could barely walk this morning (it got better with meds, but still looked pretty painful). The mosquito bites he collected over the past couple of days look like little quail eggs on his body. Aside from saying “Aua, that” and pointing at it and asking for kisses to soothe the pain occasionally, he’s taking it like a champ.

Beetles seem to like my garden too, I bumped into this lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus) this morning.

Still. It is a high price to pay. I feel extra guilty because I taste bad. Insects don’t want me, even if I role naked through the grass. Any fellow insect-friendly parents have ideas of how to keep hateful tabanids at a distance, or a particular style of dancing that doesn’t cause Myrmica rubra to go into rage mode? Let me know. You will be rewarded with my eternal gratitude.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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