Connections: Don’t Bug Me

I’m a lot less blasé about bugs today than I was when I was 8 or 9

As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the country, where no one was afraid of bugs. When I say country, I mean a part of the world with more fields and farms and cows and chickens than summer residents, rather than “country” with quotations around the word, the way the East End is often misidentified. A quilted barn jacket and pair of Wellington boots don’t make you a farmer.

We would hang around outdoors all day and certainly didn’t worry about creatures with four — or more — legs. (My mother and other female adults were frightened of bats, but that is another story.)

I think when I was a kid we would have expected only a city person to get upset by creepy-crawly things, but I’m a lot less blasé about bugs today than I was when I was 8 or 9. No, I don’t mind spiders: The grandchildren like spiders, and in any event they eat flies and mosquitos. But lately the insect invasion seems to have gotten out of hand. Here we are, in the beautiful Hamptons, and we have to be constantly mindful of the presence of ticks. Now, too, we are plagued with a newer arrival . . . oh my heavens, stink bugs! 

Ticks are hideous whether inching along in search of a host or lying about looking nastily full. And, of course, ticks carry serious diseases. It’s no joke. As far as I’m concerned, though, there is nothing good about stink bugs, either. They don’t have to do anything to be hateful. They don’t even have to crawl. 

I find stink bugs so offensive that I turned the pages of a New Yorker magazine article about them as quickly as possible after reading the headline. The New Yorker feature, in its March 12 issue, tells the story of a couple dealing with a massive stink-bug invasion: “Will we ever be able to get rid of them?” they ask, perhaps futilely.

The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) is an invasive species “that can upset customers and frustrate technicians,” the New Yorker article says. The number of the little stinkers in the house in question had reached 26,000 at the time the magazine went to press. 

Where did these pests come from? They were unknown hereabouts 10 or 15 years ago. Apparently, stink bugs creep inside in the fall looking for warm places to spend the winter. According to the National Pest Management Association’s fall 2017 “Bug Barometer,” they have been flourishing in the Northeast because the region has consistent rainfall and enough warmth. “Invasive species may start off making headlines, but often level off in a few years,” said Mark Sheperdigian, in a column for an interesting journal titled Pest Management Professional.

Such professional assessments don’t help very much if you find a few stink bugs at home and decide you have to squish them, however. I don’t advise that you squish them. It might release the famous bad odor, and it really won’t do anything to reduce their numbers. 

Before I disgust all my readers by writing about other unpleasant pests hereabouts, like silverfish, roaches, and termites, let’s hear it for centipedes and caterpillars. Those are sweet insects. And how about another wonderful member of the arthropod world, the cricket, who chirps so delightfully? And butterflies, and dragonflies!

I’m concerned about the numbers of these pleasant insects. Has anyone seen a grasshopper lately? Where have the grasshoppers gone? It feels like the world and the ecosystem are out of whack, when ticks and stink bugs are omnipresent, but you rarely see a monarch butterfly.