Apr 29 2005
It occurred to me this morning as I awoke, desperate for a column idea and the deadline-clock ticking away, that all these thousands of people moving to Florida everyday have no idea what wonderful bugs we have. That Florida could easily be the bug capital of the world.
We breed ‘em big, we grow ‘em ugly, and we make sure there are plenty to go around. “Twenty bugs for every man, woman and child,” goes the state motto, “and double on Sunday.”
This “occurred” to me as I walked into the kitchen to put the kettle on the stove. I was greeted by a silverfish the size of an engorged tuna. He emerged from the shadows and asked if I could spare any cottage cheese.
I hate silverfish — I don’t think they’re fish at all — and I put a lickin’ on him. For a third generation Floridian, it’s a typical morning: Throw a bagel in the toaster, start the coffee and do battle with the arthropods. It’s a way of life, and many a song have chronicled these great crusades.
I’ve never lived in any other states, but I don’t think there’s anywhere else where bugs are as par for the course. So accepted, not fashionably, but just as something we have to put up with. There’s your Uncle Eddy, and the cockroach. You invite both to Christmas, and you endure the bad jokes and how they creep up on you in the middle of the night when you’re using the bathroom.
Fact is, Florida has bugs like no other state. And I don’t think most people moving down here know that.
Most aren’t pretty bugs — palmetto bugs, cicadas, predatory stink bugs, fruit flys, cabbage loopers, fungus gnats, chinch bugs, leaf miners, no-see-ums, Southern pine beetles, brown recluse spiders, spittlebugs. Spittlebugs?
Some of these insects you might find in other states, but I bet they don’t have the same spunk as our Florida variety. Everything here has more character. They’re redneck bugs. They speak with a twang. They’re Jimmy Buffet bugs, in surfer shorts and drinking margaritas. Bugs in pickup trucks. Bugs with attitude. Bugs that would scare a lady’s hair straight and send a dog up a tree.
Ever seen a banana spider? It’s the kind of creature that will make you give up eyesight. Long legs like skeletal fingers. More hair than I have, and I’m Cuban/Sicilian! And always in locations that keep them hidden until you’re pressing through the bushes, turning your head and then, “Hell-o!”
Close encounter of the arachnid kind. Nothing like a little nose nuzzle on the fuzzy belly of a banana spider.
This is a state where cockroaches are the size of minivans and where they leave breakfast orders in the kitchen. The cockroach is so plentiful, they have their own representative in Tallahassee.
There are of course termites, an insect uncommon up north where wood lasts for centuries, not just 20 minutes. Once, I had a termite eat a hole straight through one of my books. It was a good book, so I flipped through the pages until I found him. He’s no longer among us.
I consider myself a Grade A mosquito killer, which means if I get bitten, I get so consumed with hunting the offending insect, I will track it for days and then torture it for hours.
Let’s be fare: There are also a lot of good bugs out there. My wife came home from the nursery the other day with a package that held more than 1,500 lady bugs. We watered the yard — they come out of their slumber mighty thirsty — and spent the early evening carefully releasing them into the world. It was actually a pretty enjoyable, and even wonderful time. “Go in peace,” I told them.
It could have gone on all night. Then the clicking and swarming and buzzing returned, and we retreated to the bedroom. I needed my rest so I could do battle again in the morning.