Archive | October, 2012

Just Say Ahh…

Just Say Ahh…

by Taryn S. McColpin

Ahh, November…and it is officially Autumn, which in other areas of the country heralds multicolored leaves, the annual breaking-out-of sweaters-and-hoodies, and
frost-covered mornings. Fall in North Texas is multiple shades of green and it’s still shorts-and-flip flops weather, with none of that proverbial frost on the pumpkins.
In the northern states, the first light freeze is generally in September or October. But in Denton, we are well into November, and sometimes even December, before we see the “killing frost.” And what most of us are looking to see killed is the bugs.

Why, oh why, are there so many insects in North Texas? The beneficial ones, such as ladybugs, praying mantis, and honey bees, would be enough to tolerate on their own. But what purpose do fire ants, wasps, and mosquitoes serve, and why do they defy eradication and continue to mutate their way around all of our chemical efforts?

Sure, these annoying insects are good for our economy, at least for the pest control businesses and for over-the-counter repellent manufacturers. But doesn’t it seem that their only raison d’être is to plague us? We should have gotten a hint from the Old Testament; the Ten Plagues of Egypt included locusts and flies, and “kinnim,” a Hebrew word that could be translated as lice, gnats, or fleas, all of which we have in abundance here and are notoriously difficult to eliminate.

The Texas Cricket Invasion of 1998 was the stuff of horror films, with cricket drifts three feet high and people running out of gas because they were afraid to get out of
their cars at service stations, which seemed to be the critters’ favorite hangouts. That same year, coincidentally, the extra-large Texas cousins of the Great Southern Brood of 13-year cicadas surfaced by the billions, adding to an eerie Hitchcockian “The Bugs” atmosphere.

This year, our plagues have been the grasshopper in rural areas, some of which grew to the size of Transformer toys, and the West Nile Virus-carrying mosquito, which gave
rise to its own plague of Letters to the Editor and calls to talk shows by passionate anti-spraying citizens. Reportedly, that much-debated spraying was mostly ineffective,
which could have been foreseen by anyone who has battled other persistent pests, such as bed bugs.

Mosquitoes are not the only ones causing us problems. Tick-borne Lyme disease doesn’t get as much press as WNV, but is just as concerning and becoming an epidemic of its own. We certainly can’t forget the various itch-causing little buggers, such as mites and chiggers (who hasn’t walked around with splotches of nail polish covering their
ankles where the red bugs have held a feast?), or fire ants, which leave those pretty little blisters and have developed quite the relocation strategy, and seem to laugh at the
poisonous morsels we leave them like little gifts at their doorsteps.

Then there are cockroaches, which can transport microbes that are potentially dangerous to humans, perhaps as revenge for us invading their turf: they have been here since the Cretaceous period, long before man. It is popularly suggested that cockroaches will “inherit the earth” if humanity destroys itself in a nuclear war, but it turns out that those annoying little fruit flies are just as hardy and will be there to keep the roaches company. And spiders? (A collective “eeewwww” just arose from the readership.) Here in North Texas, we get to claim a couple of the less pleasant varieties: Black Widows and Brown Recluses. But who wants to get close enough to a spider to try and determine if it is the beneficial kind that eats the other pesty creepy-crawlies, or the kind with a red hourglass or brown violin on its back? The accepted solution is to scream for the nearest male, but that doesn’t always work if the nearest male shrinks back from the ugly thing with his own “eewwwww!”

Well, at least we don’t have it as bad as Houston, where the latest of their many problems is the Hairy Crazy Ant (and, yes, that is what it is called in Texas Entomology, although A&M Ag Research calls it the Raspberry Crazy Ant). It’s too crazy-scary to even write about. But there will be plenty of opportunity, since bugs love North Texas just as much as we do, and those South Texas pests probably have their little Crazy Ant suitcases already packed for the trip up here.

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