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The worst we've ever seen

By golly, Miss Molly, there have sure been a lot of bugs this summer. Usually there is only one prominent insect each summer. Years ago, the September air above the yard was filled with minute fluffs of blue—aphids in flight. That, of course, had been the summer of the aphid. This summer has been the season of multiple insect infestations.

In late May and June, friends complained that mosquitoes kept them out of their yards and gardens. The worst they had ever seen. We were smug in our oddly mosquito-free zone until the slow sticky flies showed up by the thousands. The worst we had ever seen. The flies were annoying and then the bald face hornets came hunting flies and gave you something else to think about. “Is that a fly or a bald face under my shirt?” The bald face invasion was the worst we have ever seen.

The face flies are nearly as thick as sand on a beach. Stir them up while walking through grass and they seek to kamikaze themselves in your eyes. Mowing the lawn is only possible by wearing a saw helmet with safety screen. The worst we have ever seen.

Mid June thousands of yellow jackets suddenly began to aggressively protect their hidden hives.  While we merely stay out of the way of the slow-moving, spider-eating paper wasp, we immediately attack yellow jackets before they can bite again. Wasp and hornet spray is applied remorselessly into and around their homes. The worst we have ever seen.

 Yellow jacket attacks are serious stuff. Bees and bald faces won’t come after you, but those hell raising yellow jackets will chase you down. More Forest Service field work hours are lost to yellow jacket stings, than to bear, lion or moose encounters.

Just when we had decided this was the summer of the stings, grasshoppers showed up in Heron. Their squashed bodies defined car tracks in the post office parking lot. The un-smashed were a moving blanket of brown. Local hay producers were seeing the hungry horde decimate their fields. In five days some of the multitude had travelled a mile and a quarter up creek. We hayed early and had the bales out of the small field a week before the hoppers arrived here at the junction of the creek. The worst we have ever seen.

County extension agents explain the dry spring helped promote the numbers, but no one has remembered so damn many grasshoppers. A National Debt of grasshoppers; and now the billions have developed wings and are feeling sexy.

Some folks sprayed insecticide around the perimeter of their vegetable garden hoping to keep the hoppers out. How could this have been effective against the billions? Using enough poison to kill all the grasshoppers would kill beneficial bugs including honey bees. We notice the hoppers are thickest in the drier portions of the field and yard. It could be that frequent watering of the garden has discouraged them, because the vegetables seem not to have been slowed down.

Fortunately, the well-spaced and welcomed rain storms give temporary relief from the flying bugs until the temperature climbs again. The swallows have been swooping over the shorn fields, raising a cloud of hoppers on each pass by. Since the bugs are too big for swallows to swallow, we wonder if they are doing it just for the hell of it. Our dog used to chase minnows down a shallow irrigation ditch with the same joyful abandon.

One cannot help but wonder if human activity has contributed to these ‘worst ever seen’ insect invasions. In the case of one insect invasion—Tegenaria agristis—humans definitely caused it. This spider, native to agricultural fields of Western Europe, first appeared in Seattle in the early ‘30s. Probably the egg sacks had been attached to wooden crates of veggies that were subsequently transported via the Pacific to the port of Seattle. In its native habitat, a larger house spider has kept it out of human habitation. On its new continent, there are no natural controls, and this very venomous spider is occurring in and around houses. The spider is expanding its range, and now reaches as far north as Prince Rupert B.C., south to Logan, Utah and west to the Continental Divide. The common name, chosen because of the spiders’ spread, is Hobo. Human deaths have been reported. A neighbor’s goat, being milked and well cared for died in a day from a Hobo bite.

 The brown creature would just about fit, legs and all, on a silver dollar. It is not its size that makes this spider dangerous, it is the dreadfulness of the quick acting and deadly venom. It would behoove you to become familiar with this spider’s appearance and habits.Google hobo spider or check it out here. Pumped with hormones, male Hobo spiders are on the move in September.

Considering the insect invasions experienced this summer, you might expect more to make an appearance before our killing frosts.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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