Columns

2010.07.14 The visitors with six legs

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

How do these brown beetles find their way into our kitchen sink in the morning? There are often two or three trying to climb up the slick surface, or if there was a pan left with water, there are two or three swimming around or, perhaps, drowned.

Of course they’re drawn to the light above the sink, but I don’t see an easy way in. Land on the screen, climb up until reaching a small gap betwixt screen and upper window, squeeze through, take a swim.

They look like June bugs, although they seem a little small. My wife and I might have witnessed a June bug uprising a few weeks ago.

We were walking around the school track when we noticed a lot of insects in the air and a huge collection of them at the top of the scoreboard. We thought they were bees and hurried on by, dodging and wincing.

We thought we might be turning around at the next lap and avoiding the scoreboard end, but I got a close-up look at one of the “bees” that landed on Colleen’s shirt. It was a beetle. They seemed to be buzzing us and sometimes landing. June bugs, perhaps, and I think of the words from poet Anne Sexton who wrote about the June bug at her window:

“June bug came on the first of June,

plucking his guitar at the west window,

telling his whole green story, telling—

little buzzard who is all heart who

wants us to know how expensive it is

to keep the stars in their grainy places,

to keep the moles burning underground,

for the roots are stealing all the water,

and so he pulses at each window, a presence,

a huge hairy question who sees our light

and thinks of it:

            You are the food,

you are the tooth, you are the husband,

light, light, sieving through the screen

whereon I bounce my big body at you

like shoes after a wedding car.”

No, these guys aren’t big enough for June bugs. They’re more like Japanese beetles in a plain brown wrapper.

In my wife’s eyes, none of our six and eight-legged visitors are welcome. Oddly enough, she doesn’t even want the spiders that eat the insects. Imagine that.

We have a new visitor this year that I don’t recall ever seeing before. It’s not easy to see them this time, either. I think they must be the grease ant, also known as the thief ant.

They’re the same size as the pharaoh ant, but the pharaoh has 12 antenna segments to the grease ant’s 10. Maybe I’ll count them later.

These are the tiniest ants I’ve ever encountered. A pest, indeed, but so impressive. They form a line of coming and going workers heading to and from the nest.

I’ve read that a positive identification for grease ants is to see if they curl up into a ball when they’re sprayed with ant poison. Ours are sprayed with vinegar and they die quite rapidly, but not into balls. I think the acid just immobilizes them right in place.

We have an ant trap that isn’t effective with grease ants even though the product indicates it is. I even added a little peanut butter around the opening. We’ll have to get another kind eventually when we tire of spraying vinegar every two or three days. The vinegar probably drives the fruit flies absolutely wild.

I remember visiting my Grandmother Green many years ago when she discovered tiny ants around her sink. She pointed an index finger and started poking at them one by one. I think they were the next size up from grease ants. With grease ants you could poke them five by five, if you were so inclined.

There’s a screen that needs repairing and that might be the source of the lightning bug that surprised me in the living room the other night. The rare visit by one of them inside the house is a novelty and perhaps enjoyed by both Colleen and me.

The beetles have been the primary visitors lately, but occasionally there’s something else of interest swimming or hiding out—another kind of beetle or the sleek, black flier that reminds me of the old X-15 jet airplane.

This is a secret—don’t tell my wife—but there’s a spider in our bedroom. It’s in a cage of its own making and won’t come out to bite her in the night. It’s our hairy black little friend.

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