I is for Insects
The Southern States, being all warm and moist like a fresh-baked buttermilk pound cake, are a natural mecca for insects of all kinds.
While we have some really cool fancy insects (dragon flies, praying mantis, lightning bugs, butterflies, katydids,banana spiders, ladybugs, etc.) that no one really minds (in fact, most consider all the previous as “good luck bugs,”) we also have more than our fair share of biting, stinging and swarming little varmits that drive everyone nuts, most all spring and summer long.
As a matter of fact, just call me a walking chigger snack.
Mosquitoes, (/skētərz/) while a nightmare to most, don’t really mess with me, despite my light skin, hair and eyes (typically their preferred cuisine); but put me in 5 miles of a chigger, and damned if that rascal won’t catch an Uber and be gnawing on my ankles within a second of me stepping out on a patch of grass.
Chiggers are microscopic red spiders that love tall grass (and blonde girls named Kim). They leave mean little red blood blisters as bites, that once you touch them, itch like all flaming get out and take weeks to heal completely.
Ticks are another plague of heavily-wooded parts of the South.
I can remember being a child and pulling ticks off the dogs (and myself), with nothing but fingernails and an annoyed proficiency, dabbing a bit of nail polish on the bite to “kill the tick head.”
Now with all the horrors of tick-borne diseases making the news, the vicious suckers are taken much more seriously.
Most folks wear a hat and cover up when walking in the woods (I know many a case where a tick’s fallen from a tree and buried itself into the part of an unwary walker’s hair.) No more childhood days of careening around in the bushes barefoot and in shorts, hollerin’ just ‘cuz you see a patch of poison ivy – now ticks are the enemy. After a day of play in the great outdoors, kids’ll face a modern Southern Mom and thorough tick inspection with the tweezers, right down to the private bits, and the dog’ll get the same treatment as well.
Fire ants are the scourge of the front yard.
If their nest is disturbed, they will swarm and attack you with the impassioned intent of trained guerrillas. Fire ants aren’t actually native to the South – the black fire ant was a stow-a-way on a South American ship that docked in Mobile, Alabama, back in 1918. Its distribution is still limited to parts of Mississippi and Alabama.
However, red fire ants (/viSHəs hĕl dēmən’ fəkəhz/ ) snuck in from foreign (/fur-ən/) parts around the 1930’s and have infested more than 260 million acres of land in nine southeastern states, including all or portions of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. They are just about impossible to kill. People pour poison on them, they douse the mounds with gasoline and set fire to them; they dig them up, mow them down, disperse them to the very winds and the next day, they’ll be back, mound rebuilt bigger and higher, with a distinct miasma of vengeance weighing heavy in the air.
One of the best pieces of advice I can impart to anyone visiting the South:
If it’s a bug, JUST LET IT BE. If it bites, DON’T SCRATCH IT. If you see a fire ant mound on the lawn, for all that is holy, LEAVE IT ALONE.
“I’ve just been bitten on the neck by a vampire… mosquito. Does that mean that when the night comes I will rise and be annoying?”
― Vera Nazarian