Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It Really Bugs Me

Growing up in Virginia, I have many memories of bugs. I’m pretty sure I single handedly sustained the local mosquito population. The summers were full of lightning bugs, gnats, and flies. Dad’s house had plenty of crickets and Mom’s had these weird little creatures that I have never identified. Driving down the highway, we regularly provided insect population controls with our windshields.

When we moved to the Northwest, we were astonished that our first apartment didn’t even have screens on the windows. Think of all the bugs that would come in! Actually, there really aren’t many bugs out here. You can drive from Canada to the California line and never have to clean your windshield – or even have it cross your mind. Mosquitos exist, but they don’t seem as blood thirsty here as they are in other locations. Sadly, we have no lightning bugs at all, and I don’t recall hearing any crickets. We must have something, though, because we still have plenty of spiders. It’s a quandary.

Let’s return to the East Coast now, this time in Southern Maryland. Our home is a safe haven for any creepy crawly that desires it. If they wander outside, they risk being eaten by birds, bats, frogs, snakes, or probably a variety of other animals. Inside is another story. While our window screens keep out all the predators, they have holes large enough to welcome the prey. We have extended families of bees, wasps, those weird bugs that Mom used to have, centipedes, silver fish, and spiders.

Word got out that we were insect-friendly, so now we also have our own stink bug hostel. They’re everywhere, but they seem to especially appreciate the family room in the late afternoon. That’s the one room that most consistently has warmth and light. Personally, I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the best a stink bug has to offer, but I hear it’s a real treat! They don’t bite or sting or do any unfriendly activities that creep out many people, but they do tend to land in freshly picked grapes. Word on the street is that you don’t want to drink wine made with crushed stink bugs.

And have you heard the hype about bed bugs? Some people are terribly allergic to them. Some of those people spend a lot of time in our house. That’s when we had to draw the line. After working one summer in the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticides, Hazard Evaluation Division, Toxicology Branch, I decided that pesticide use was tenuous at best. I don’t trust a single safety claim that any company asserts about its products. I’ve seen the raw data and also seen how it can be twisted to appear safe. (That was probably when I started morphing into a liberal.) So you can imagine my dismay when I was faced with the idea of spraying lots of pesticides into the air in our house. While it may be effective at killing the beasts, it also coats everything else and intentionally leaves a toxic residue. No, thank you.

Have you heard we own a pool? Did you know that pools use a lot of diatomaceous earth (DE)? Did you know that DE is a physical pesticide that insects don’t tend to become resistant to and humans can safely live around (if they don’t inhale it)? It turns out that DE is a bed bug’s worst enemy. It creates microscopic tears in the bug’s exoskeleton (or your lungs) causing the bug to dry out from the inside. Yuck. But yippee! We believe that we have largely (entirely?) eliminated the bed bug issue in our house by raiding our pool supply of DE and generously sprinkling it on all carpets, crevices, window sills, and anywhere else we could think of.

If only someone would go back through the house and vacuum up all the dead bugs.

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