Thursday, October 27, 2011

In a time of war

When our extension agent heard my plan, a wince of discomfort crossed his face.

“You know they’re beneficial,” he said.

Oh, I knew. Believe me, I knew about ladybugs and how they control aphids and other undesirable pests. I also knew that ladybugs as we know them—the American species—are disappearing under the onslaught of the introduced multicolored Asian lady beetle. I also knew that every autumn we’re inundated by masses of lady beetles swarming our house, creeping through the tiniest crevices and flooding our home.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. So when I asked the agent for recommended methods to alleviate the invasion, instead of a concrete answer I received a lecture on their benefits, their harmlessness and the short cycle of their nuisance. 

“It’ll be over soon,” he said.

But not soon enough.

Ideas for coating the exterior of the house with insecticides, of meeting the swarms with flamethrowers, or even calling in air strikes from Ft. Riley quickly went out the window. In the end I was reduced to the most low-tech solution available: the common fly swatter.

It’s admittedly a slow process and ultimately doomed to failure. But there is a certain grim satisfaction in destroying them by hand, perhaps even a psychological response harkening back to our Neolithic ancestors when we met the enemy face to face. 

Unfortunately, our fly swatter, a cheesy plastic paddle loosely connected to a thin metal handle, fell apart after the hundredth or so beetle. A second swatter suffered a similar fate. An online search found fly swatters of various sizes and shapes, most made of plastic and none suitable for longevity. I wanted something big and beefy, something with a handle that wouldn’t flex and bend like a willow switch and a head that could dish out as well as take abuse. I wanted something lethal. And then, almost by accident and not a little sleuthing, I found it.

Wal-Mart, late evening, we’re tired and want to get home but I’ve circumnavigated the store twice looking for fly swatters and still drew a blank. Finally, seconds before getting into the checkout line, Lori asks a clerk if they had any, and if so, where. 

“Aisle 12, end of row, in a box,” she said.

In other words, clear across the store. No problem, by that time I was determined to find them or die trying, so we wearily trudged past the produce, the frozen food, the baking and breakfast and candy and Halloween rows with their temptations and enticements, past the paper goods and cleaning supplies to an indeterminate row of various and sundry items including mouse traps, cockroach strips, wasp and hornet spray, where we found tucked into a narrow slot, unmarked and unidentifiable except for the black wire handle jutting out, the Black Flag Super Swatter.

“Flies don’t stand a chance,” the cardboard wrapper screamed in red block letters. “25% Bigger. Higher Hit Rate. Maximum Snap!”

They were beautiful. Black overall like a Glock or an M-16, with thick wire handles and a substantial head with an embossed black flag, they were the epitome of murderous efficiency. The product description was enough to make me drool. “The Black Flag Super Swatter is the ultimate tool in your arsenal of bug killing weapons,” it read. “No chemicals. No odors. Sheer power. The stout combination of metal construction and oversized head propels the Black Flag Super Swatter to crushing swatting speeds. No more miss-hits: flies don’t stand a chance! And it’s backed by Black Flag’s legendary money back guarantee. If you break your Super Swatter for any reason, any time, we will replace it for free.”

The image of the last fly swatter broken and dismembered on our porch came to mind. No more! And what was best, the icing on the cake, the pièce de résistance, was the price: 99 cents.

I grabbed six of them. 

“Why do you need so many?” Lori asked.

“You know how hard it is to find a good fly swatter? I’m stocking up while I can.”

A man browsing wasp sprays glanced at us and then studiously scrutinized a label. I could only imagine what he was thinking—what kind of pigpen do they live in that they need so many fly swatters? I smiled at him and said, “It’s a man thing. The more the merrier.” Instead of agreeing, nodding, smiling or acting in any way that he heard, he turned and wordlessly disappeared around the corner.

The following afternoon I slipped out the front door to flank the multihued beetles as they besieged the south-facing side of the house. Uncountable multitudes filled the air as they winged in from the fields, seething and boiling against the walls and windows as they probed for chinks in my defenses. Brandishing the Super Swatter I descended upon them unawares, taking them at their backs and hammering them into red splotches, the swatter rising and falling with deadly accuracy until my clothes and skin were speckled with entrails and viscous fluids. Their corpses piled up against the foundation and still more fell, until at last I retreated to rest my shoulder. 

The next day the assault renewed, the enemy’s numbers undiminished.

Or so it seemed. But I knew, and my swatter knew, that we’d slaughtered a veritable army of the interlopers, an army that would never again reproduce to bother humanity, and that each day, week after week, we’d continue the good fight, one foe at a time, until winter clamped down or one of us surrendered. 

This has been something of a Pyrrhic victory, I’m afraid. Outnumbered and alone, hampered by a torn rotator cuff and suffering from battle fatigue, the cost of triumph has been high. Nevertheless, I will not yield. The black flag is raised. No quarter will be given, no mercy shown.


shoreacres said...

This is just terrible. Well, the invasion probably was terrible, but - LADY BUGS?


Don't you realize you can capture them and sell them for big bucks to garden centers? I once gave 5,000 ladybugs to the father of a friend, for his birthday. He was an avid rose gardener, and I rose in his estimation with such a valuable gift. I paid big bucks for them, too.

Once you capture them, you put them in the fridge, and they go dormant. They stay that way until you're ready to release them into the garden. The advice that came with the 5,000 was to release them over a two-week period, about a thousand at a time.

Keep it in mind for next year.

Tom Parker said...

In theory, an excellent idea. In reality, I'd rather smite them high and smite them low. Mostly, just smite them. My refrigerator is reserved for beer.

Dede said...

I hear you Tom. We have had real trouble with those pests. The numbers are down this year in comparrison to the past couple years (large amount of spraying last fall). The asian beetle will not win! They spot up walls, windows, and drapes nit to mention they fly towards any lights that are on.... They also put out a smell and yellow fluid when you catch them. I have grown to HATE the so called lady bug--they are not ladies!

Dee Dee said...

Seriously, Tom? Ladybugs? Roaches, flies,spiders,moths,caterpillers (we survived a mind-boggling invasion of them in El Paso that even local news crews came out to film),those I could understand, but Ladybugs?? Drink another beer and relax a little!!!

Tom Parker said...

Dede -- The numbers so far do indeed seem to be down from last year's millions. The smell you mention seems concentrated to the point of nauseating when you vacuum them up, though a friend of mine told me he uses a hand-held vac for outdoors. Your comment about the bugs not being ladies is dead perfect. Which is why I call them, well, bitch bugs.

Tom Parker said...

These aren't the American species of lady bugs but a foreigner introduced by our friends at the USDA. Another example of the government trying to play God and being bit in the ass over it. (Can you say, rabbits in Australia? The European starling?) And any insect becomes a pest when thousands and thousands of them coat of the house, fly into your hair and clothes, sneak into your house and congregate by the droves.