OPINION: Wasps, beetles, hoppers can really bug you

·5 min read

Jul. 16—It's summer. That means, to paraphrase Donovan in a way he wouldn't appreciate, it must be the Season of the Wasp.

But before I go further, I'm adding a content warning, at the request of Keri Gordon, who edited this for me and apparently is as repulsed by bugs as I am. Some readers may be offended to the point of gagging. If you have a weak stomach, grab a bucket before venturing forward.

Red wasps serve no useful purpose. Some people defend them as pollinators, but they're not very good ones. They'd rather dive into humans and deliver nasty stings than dance about flowers. At least bees are valiant enough to sacrifice their own lives to land one sting. And wasps, with their angular metasomas and dangly legs, are hideous. I'm not sure whether I am more grossed out by horseflies or wasps. Horseflies deliver a painful bite, and even at their relatively small size — ours compare to a man's thumb — they're disgusting. I always imagine one the size of Jeff Goldblum, buzzing loud and low over the pool, gazing through its multi-faceted eyes with bad intent. But as I've confessed before, I'm entomophobic, and I also have a fear of pool drains. I recently learned there is a name for the latter phenomenon: aquamechanophobia. It's ironic, because I love to swim, and I love the ocean, and I've learned to live with the drain quirk. But I will never learn to live with wasps, horseflies, June bugs, and other critters that sting, get snarled in your hair, or squirt yellow or green fluid and other mooshy stuff when you step on them.

I have several people to blame for this quirk. When my I was 6, my family moved to Fort Gibson, but before that, we were in Choctaw. Coincidentally, the future (now former) District 4 State Rep. Mike Brown lived just up the block from us. Mike's younger sister Linda and I went to kindergarten together. Mike and a couple of his buddies used to ride their bikes around the neighborhood, and one day, Mike put a cicada skin in my pigtail. I screamed. I'm not sure how I got the thing out of my hair, but I wouldn't have touched it. Perhaps it's the fear of having a bug ensnared in hair that provides little girls with a natural aversion. June bugs are the worst of the lot, with their sticky legs and bodies. That angry, raspy sound they make when trying to dislodge themselves adds to the cacophony created by human shrieking.

Grasshoppers are among the worst offenders, and although I haven't seen many this season, I expect more as the heat wears on. Hoppers have voracious appetites; they'll eat anything they can sink their mandibles into. It's been a few years since we had a garden, but when we did, we had a population of cucumber beetles and grasshoppers in that small patch that would have rivaled the human element in China. What the beetles didn't get, the hoppers did.

Speaking of beetles, several years ago, a horde of the shiny, iridescent-green bugs of various sizes descended upon the TDP office like a biblical plague, and the attack lasted about two weeks. The encroachment of the army was not a welcome phenomenon. They scurried to and fro on the carpet, and on the linoleum, their legs make a crispy-fluttering sound. At any moment, about half of the troops were going about whatever business beetles have, and half of them had inexplicably expired. Those on their last gasps frantically waved their legs, spinning slowly on the floor on their backs, like incompetent break-dancers.

One morning, a 2-incher came around the corner at a brisk pace and entered my office. I tried to shoo it away, but it went around my waving foot and headed with a purpose toward my computer desk, where it crawled inside and began scrabbling in a stack of papers. I was wearing slip-on sandals, and I had slipped out of one of them. The bug must have noticed, because it suddenly emerged and skittered over the top of my bare foot. I suppressed a scream and jerked my foot back, then accidentally stepped on it as it continued on its path. I heard the soft but sickening crunch; the bug lurched drunkenly away, out the door, and into the newsroom, where it likely gave up the ghost under someone's desk. Another hefty one was in my office the next day. I heard the telltale sound of bug-legs scratching against the inside of a cardboard box containing plaques from various contests. I looked in, and there it was, desperately trying to extract itself. I withdrew to my work, but the intermittent scraping sound kept interrupting my concentration. It's humiliating to admit this, but I waited for one of my male co-workers to show up to dispatch it.

I'm not sure which is worse, an army of beetles or a swarm of wasps. The former don't sting, but they do crunch. The sound bothers me as much as what oozes out when they're stepped on. Too bad my son's calico cat is no longer around. She would lie in wait for a wasp until it dipped low enough for her to batten upon it. Then, she would quickly bite it until it was in at least two pieces, and leave the corpse as she wandered haughtily away, tail in the air. Although our current cat does eat moths and mice, he'll have little to do with stinging or large bugs. I have to wait for my husband to get out the spray. Tonight, he's got plans for the new wasp nest on the back porch. There will be laughter and celebration. And that's a good thing.