Monday, May 2, 2011


I was taught as a child, that the praying mantis is the Cadillac of bugs. In reality there is a split decision whether they are pests or beneficial garden guardians. Down through the years, I decided to keep my idealistic notions and maintain their nobility.


In my hometown (Canarsie), praying mantis sightings were an extreme rarity. So when one was spotted, word spread and we kids would be entertained...till the ice cream man came or something more unusual and spectacular happened, like a sewer dredging.

One time when I was nine, a mantis was spotted scaling the face of the second floor of my house. This became a great honor. I achieved rock star status because well beyond my peeps, all the kids on the street gravitated to my house. It was so cool to be the talk of the town. Days later, my name was still on everyone's lips.

If I had a little of the P. T. Barnum spirit in me or at least some entrepreneurial foresight, I could have made that event into a carnival and made a fortune selling tickets, lemonade, souvenirs etc.

In retrospect, I imagine the A-Listers could have stood inside my hedges and had the best view, from the lawn...FREE! Others would've had to pay. I could have gotten a velvet rope and split the driveway. Up front, the loge would have had a premium price. Behind the rope, the mezzanine would have been less expensive. Beyond the hedge, on the sidewalk, the general admission, nose-bleed section would have been the cheapest.

That wheeler-dealer fantasy didn't happen. Instead, surrounded by my friends, I was an ordinary, crushed spectator watching the elegant varmint inch higher, towards my parent's bedroom window. At the height of the show, I over heard someone say, "A praying mantis is rare and because they eat cooties, they are good-guy bugs." A girl added, "Yeah, that's why the cops arrest people for killing them."

My friends and I heard that exchange and had a Pavlovian response. We turned in unison, sifted our vision through the crowd and stared at the neighborhood sociopath, (I checked to see if he was holding any rocks). He was only ten but we already knew (and were proved to be correct by the time he was fourteen) that he would be a career criminal. However, on that day, the mantis was safe because even the devil's advocate recognized this beast's majesty.

Lately, I don't know why but it seems I have had insects on my mind a lot. Of course, it is springtime. But it also might be because of my spotty knowledge of the Bible's ten plagues placed on Egypt, to encourage the Pharaoh into releasing the Jews from slavery.EDWARD G. ROBINSON, IN ONE OF THE WORST CASES OF BEING MISCAST, PLAYS THE ROLE OF DATHAN IN THE MOVIE, "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS." ALL HE WAS MISSING WAS A BIG CIGAR BECAUSE HE PLAYED THE ROLE AS 1930's GANGSTER, LITTLE CAESAR WHEN HE SAID THIS FAMOUS QUOTE, "WHERE'S YOUR MOSES, NOW?"

The good book's ten plagues included; boils, frogs and the death of first borns. Unfortunately, I see no wiggle room for glibness there. Therefore, I will concentrate today's blitherings on, "MY BOTTOM TEN BRUSHES WITH INSECTS."

NUMBER TEN - TERMITES. Termites are disgusting vermin of the highest degree. In 1988, they ate through the joists that supported the floor of my dealer school. We brought in two teams of workmen who ripped, tore and restored around the clock during a three-day weekend, to avoid forcing us to cancel Monday classes.

In a much worse instance, I woke up one Sunday morning ten years ago and saw gazillions of airborne termites on a wall inside my house. The situation intensified because my son Andrew and I fled the scene in search of the proper spray...but it was Easter Sunday. The supermarkets were closed and so were most hardware stores. After a long but fruitful search, we came back to poison those bastards. They died for their cause but got the last laugh because it was costly to fix the structural damage.

NUMBER NINE - SILVERFISH. What the hell is a silverfish? A mild nuisance, silverfish are common nocturnal, household bugs. They are small, silver (gray) and wingless. Most prefer living in bathrooms because of the humidity but can be found anywhere. Their primary sustenance is protein. They especially like to eat starch, adhesives, paper, sugar, hair and carpet.

I was twenty when I saw my first silverfish, at my flea market partner's apartment. He informed me that they are destructive but do not transmit disease. The only time I experienced the wrath of silverfish was I lived in Las Vegas. That's when I found my prized, 1981 San Francisco Forty-Niner yearbook destroyed, chewed up around the edges.

NUMBER EIGHT - GREEN LADY BUGS. Yuck! During a spring cleaning a long time ago here in the garden state, I discovered twenty or so green-colored lady bugs...dead, on one window sill. Right-up Alfred Hitchcock's alley, no one has ever been able to rationalize to me why they were green? How so many got in my house? Or why they all chose to die in the same place? Freaky!

NUMBER SEVEN - SLUGS. Worms can not possibly compete with slugs in terms of sliminess. They are common enough that most of us should be familiar with them. If not, slugs can best be described as snails without a shell. Nevertheless, this gastropod molusc is different. While it's true most varieties have no shell, some have small ones or internal shells. If you've never seen one, you don't have to be a detective to know where they have been. Because, they leave behind a mucus trail that rubs off as they slither across the pavement or on walls.ONE TYPE IS THE BANANA SLUG. THESE BABIES REPRESENT TO ME A DOUBLE WHAMMY; MY LEAST FAVORITE FOOD AND A DISGUSTING MEMBER OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. PLUS, IN ADDITION TO THE YELLOW COLOR, SOME GET BROWN AND RESEMBLE AN OVER-RIPE VERSION OF THE FRUIT. AS IF WE NEED MORE OF THEM, THESE HORNY BUGGERS (above) ARE ABOUT TO GET "IT" ON!

A week ago, I touched a slug for the first time. It must have attached itself to someone's shoe because it was in the foyer of my house. At the exact second that I dropped the slippery imp into the potty, the phone rang. It was about an hour later that I remembered to come back and flush him to Hades. But alas, the sly, satanic slitherer had escaped.

In and around the toilet, I didn't see any chains, ropes or grappling hooks, so I guess this clever rascal had an accomplice. First, the local police put out an all points bulletin (APB). When that didn't work, the National Guard, US Marshall's and some bounty hunters were called in to widened the dragnet. It's been seven days now. Even though the slug is unarmed, it remains at large and is considered desperate and dangerous.

NUMBER SIX - FLEAS. Fleas are particularly nasty. Luckily with today's technology, there are products that protect our pets from such infestations. With that in mind, I am happy to announce that my dog Roxy, as itchy as she might get, has never had a flea problem.

My own shoot-out with fleas goes back twenty-five years. On that occasion while I won the war, I did lose a pair of socks and twenty minutes of my life in the battle.

In 1986, on a warm spring day at dusk, I drove to the recycling center. This waste management area had separate, elongated, metal containers for paper, glass, plastic etc. The set-up required recyclers to get out of their car and discard the reusable items into the proper bin.

Later when I got out of the car at home, I saw dozens of black dots on my white socks. When I noticed them move, I realized that I must have walked through a flea nest while recycling. I took off my socks and dropped them in a plastic bag along with the clinging bloodsuckers. I sealed their fate by tying an air-tight knot. Then I drove to the nearest convenience store and deposited the whole kit-n-caboodle in the trash can, (less than a mile away, that's why they're called convenience stores).

NUMBER FIVE - SPIDERS. One of my old poker buddies didn't have screens and kept his windows open. During a card game, it wasn't unusual for the entire insect universe to come in and visit. The only time it really was a distraction was when moths the size of 747's fluttered around the over head light. What I thought was most unusual was that our host would personally escort wayward spiders outside and delicately release them.

At my house, I smoosh spiders. I understand that they feed on other bugs but I can't stand them and their dirty webs. We get many species, in a wide variety of sizes and in strange colors too. I don't discriminate, I exterminate them all. My wife is funny because she'll scream when she sees one. Then I play the role of arachnoid hit man. After the daddy long legs in question gets liquidated, she gets upset that I executed a helpless being. That's when I mention my poker buddy and add, "If you want your spiders captured and rehabilitated, you should move in with Nature Boy."

NUMBER FOUR - CARPENTER ANTS. Similar to termites, these "ants on steroids" gnaw through wood. However, they don't eat it, they just like tunneling, to have paths to different parts of the colony.

I saw a bunch of these geniuses in my all-wood shed and got traps and insecticide. I still saw them for a while but soon forgot about them. The following spring when I used the lawn mower for the first time, the shed's floor was littered with hundreds of carpenter ant refreshing it is to know that the products work!

NUMBER THREE - TICS. Just thinking about tics makes my skin crawl. Here in South Jersey, tics come in two main flavors, little nymphal red ones and adult deer tics, (larger black). These parasites attach to a host and burrow into their skin.

My family and I routinely pull a few tics off every year. When we find one on the dog, it become a priority to wrench it off even if it takes a long time...complete with everyone involved crying. So far we have been lucky because we have been spared a tic's most dangerous weapon...transmission of tricky Lyme disease. SOME TICS ARE THE SIZE OF A POPPY SEED. IN ADDITION TO THEIR MINUTENESS, THEY SEEK WARM BODILY CREVICES WHICH MAKES THEM HARDER TO FIND.

The classic early symptoms of Lyme disease are: fever, headache, fatigue, depression and a bulls eye-shaped rash. If left untreated by antibiotics, the victim might suffer damage to their joints, heart and central nervous system. If treatment starts late, the healing process can be painful and lingering.

NUMBER TWO - LOCUSTS. Locusts, (grasshoppers) were one of the biblical plagues. When they swarm, they can eat their own weight every day. Locusts generally destroy crops and natural foliage but some even eat leather. NO SINGLE PHOTO CAN DO JUSTICE TO THE UBIQUITOUS PRESENCE OF LOCUSTS. A SWARM CAN COVER A HUNDRED SQUARE MILES AND INCLUDE BILLIONS OF THESE BADDIES.

When I bought my townhouse in Las Vegas, LTJEFF helped me roll an empty cable spool over the cinder block wall of my tiny backyard. On that patio, I raised peppers, tomatoes and squash and projected using the spool as a table.

On the TV news, just before the Easter Sunday weather report, we heard that locust infestations occur in seven-year cycles and this was the seventh year. The report said that parts of the valley, especially where there were gardens were being overrun. Being a cynical New Yorker, I gave the story no validity.

Later, I looked down at the yard and couldn't believe my eyes, the concrete slab and the flower beds were completely obscured by locusts. Even the top of the cable spool table was halfway covered with grasshoppers. I went down stairs to get a better look. But before I got to my sliding screen door, I saw that the shag carpet of my living room had been infiltrated with about thirty of them. I noticed more squeezing through a crack between the door's bent frame and the wall. I was so revolted that I thought I would lose my lunch. A can of Raid later, the interior of my condo was secure. But I NEVER sat on the floor of my living room again.

NUMBER ONE - TOMATO WORMS. What an accomplishment it was for a city boy to overcome the plague of freakin' locusts and have a flourishing garden in the desert. Well, to tell the truth, my bell peppers never got bigger than a fifty-cent piece and tasted sour. However, I grew huge delicious squash. The crop was so abundant that we ate it every possible way, every day, until we got tired of it. We gave tons to friends, neighbors and coworkers and still threw a lot away or used them as toys.

My garden's bugaboo (pun intended) was the beef steak tomatoes.


My tomatoes were plentiful, big and ripened to a perfect color. The few that were actually harvested were delicious but more than 90% had thick, ugly worms inside. My tomato crop was the focal point of the garden but the worms made the whole project a disaster. I couldn't understand how in the middle of the desert, this particular strain of worm knew to come to my house. Later, I learned that the plants I bought were already infected with them. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn't make me feel better.

At one point, I was so frustrated that I pulled fifteen of these weasels off my wholly tomatoes and piled them in my hibachi. Then I got lighter fluid and a match. Burn baby burn, a tomato worm inferno! Whatever slim degree of joy I got was lost when I was overcome by the stink. Burnt tomato worms had to be the worst smell ever! Even a sumo wrestler taking a dump on a burning tire would have smelled like roses compared to this.

My bottom ten brushes with insects isn't really comprehensive because I left out my many bee stories. I purposely omitted them because they have already been included in previous blogs.

More importantly, when you consider the bigger insect-world picture, you'll now have a deeper respect for the Cadillac of bugs, the praying mantis.


Anonymous said...

As a proud father of a Univ of California at Santa Cruz (Banana Slug) alumnus, and now Columbia Lion, we both thank you for the Banana Slug notoriety.

I'm also certain your silverfish ate the SF 49ers yearbook you bought at the game we went to. That was their first superbowl season. Too bad we lost, (at Candlestick Park) to the real Cleveland Browns, (Nov '81). --- SLW

Anonymous said...

Cool story about bugs. I like your site's outlook. I'm so glad I dropped by and will continue in the future. Thanks. --- Rufus Virginia Beach, VA

Anonymous said...

Any story that can make you laugh out loud after the first ten lines becomes a MUST read. Of course this blog is not for the squeamish. Especially the sewer dredging part which I remember well because I lived on the corner.

PS - Beware of Chinese stinkbugs! --- HJ

Anonymous said...

You make me laugh, this story is so funny. Although, I wasn't laughing when I turned my kitchen light on and saw a thousand legger racing around my kitchen floor. It had me dancing... MofM&T