Saturday, October 2, 2010

Battle of the Bugs

Alright, so I started a blog entry about this topic a week ago, but I didn't find it to be very inspiring in its original layout, so I have ditched that article and started afresh.  Hopefully this will work out better.

This past week has been a bit of a rough one for me and my overall sense of well-being.  On Wednesday, I had a small car accident in which no people or animals were hurt.  Basically, I rear-ended someone at the breakneck speed of less than 5 mph.  You would think that this would not be a big deal, and for the other car, it wasn't.  His minivan had nary a scratch on its back bumper.

Sadly, the same could NOT be said for my car.  When we pulled over to examine the damage, I think that the other driver actually felt sorry for me when he saw the HUGE crack in my front fender.  After refusing several times to take any of my insurance information, he left me to begin the long process of phone calls that eventually led me to missing a day of work while I filed an insurance claim, brought my car to the repair shop and obtained a rental vehicle.  I could go into more depressing details, but as this incident is not to be the focus of today's entry, I will hold off on that for now.

As everyone is well aware, the fall season is fully upon us.  Leaves are changing color and the need for air conditioning has ceased.  As far as I know, we here in the Twin Cities area have yet to experience a full overnight freeze, which explains why my allergies have not yet fully abated.  It also explains another troubling yet unsurprising phenomenon:  boxelder bugs.

If you are familiar with these insects, you may be able to tell where this entry is going.  Boxelder bugs are a common insect in MN, especially during autumn.  Technically speaking, these creatures fall under the category of "True Bugs" and have the scientific name, Boisea trivittata (see this Wikipedia article for a mini-description: Here is my artists rendering:

I have been familiar with Boxelder Bugs for a very long time, most memorably dating back to my childhood visits to my grandpa's farm.  Images of entire walls and floors covered in these nasty little creatures come to mind quite vividly to this day.

After my childhood farm traumas, I actually saw very few Boxelder Bugs in my lifetime.  Until I became a homeowner and was reintroduced to their creepiness.

One of the amazing skills of the Boxelder Bug is their ability to creep through small spaces or cracks in window sills or siding to enter indoor living areas.  For some strange reason, in my small townhouse, the primary place of entry appears to be my upstairs bathroom.  My first experience with this came about several years ago in a very memorable fashion.  I was actually using my toilet, which is situated right next to the window, when one of these guys came crawling out from behind my window shade.

Being surprised by the presence of an insect is never a pleasant experience.  If this happens to you while seated on a toilet, it is even worse.  Unless you have planned ahead, you will likely not have a swatting utensil within easy reach.  Thankfully, I survived this encounter and was able to use it to formulate a disaster plan for the future.  I now keep a single flip flop shoe in the cabinet next to the toilet in my bathroom.  It is a decision that has paid off numerous times in the years since this first encounter.

While I have been able to successfully address the presence of Boxelder Bugs in my home environment, I have not always been able to dominate them as well in other places.  For instance, the workplace.  For some reason, this year has been terrible for insects in the office.  I work in a open space with plenty of windows and other surfaces for insects to hide and land.  Although I have made a valiant effort to seek and destroy as many Boxelder Bugs as possible, there always seem to be three more for every one I kill.

I should perhaps pause for a moment to explain something about the structure of a Boxelder Bug.  If you have never had the unfortunate duty of disposing of one of these creatures, you may not understand the magnitude of the exercise.

Although they have been gifted with wings to fly, they are not very quick to escape which makes the hunt rather simple.  Unfortunately, the simplicity of the squishing does not continue from that point.  Boxelder Bugs are apparently filled with a yellowish and stinky fluid that is immediately released upon squishing.  I am guessing here, but I surmise that this fluid also causes a noticeable popping or cracking noise upon squishing as well.

Therefore, while you may rejoice in the fact that you have successfully eliminated another one from your living or work space, you must also face the prospect of a messy and smelly cleanup effort.  Trust me when I say that it is nothing like cleaning up a smashed spider, fly or wasp.  It is way juicier.

You may be asking at this point whether or not it is worth it to destroy Boxelder Bugs.  Are they really that much of a nuisance?  I mean, they don't bite and they aren't highly destructive.  Seriously, can't we live and let live?

The answers are as follows:  yes they are, and no we can't.

Here is why - if you let one go, you will soon find that the situation is out of control.  These things like to congregate.  If you need an example, I will give you one.

Several years ago, I found myself back in my hometown for the wedding of one of my best friends at the end of September.  It was a wonderful weekend and everything with the wedding went almost completely as planned.  The only snag was a $5 parking ticket that I received from leaving my car parked in one spot for more than two hours in downtown while we were getting our hair and nails done.

I wasn't too upset about the ticket, and I followed the instructions for payment.  To make sure that this was taken care of before I left town, I enclosed my money in the provided envelope and went to the city administration building to drop it off.  As it was a Sunday, the offices were closed, but they did have  drop slot located on the south side of the building.

If you read the Wikipedia article, you may have noticed that Boxelder Bugs, you may remember that they like to gather in sunny areas on the sides of buildings.  It should now be obvious where this example is leading.  I parked my car and approached the building, envelope in hand.  As I neared the drop slot, it became quite obvious that the Boxelder Bugs of Willmar had come together in order to make my drop-off as traumatic and dramatic as possible.

As I stared in fear at the black and orange-red wall covering on the brick of the building, I eyed up the small slot in the wall and planned my strategy.  I opted for the quickest method of running, dropping and running again.  Screaming a little as I ran, I completed this mission as quickly as possible and spent the next few minutes outside my car carefully inspecting my clothing for any stowaways that could potentially surprise and accost me on my two hour drive home.

Maybe you think that this wasn't a scary example.  Trust me, if you had to do it, you would understand.  Just pray that you never have to experience it.

So, to conclude, I continue to anxiously await the first freeze of the season.  Not only will it cause great relief to my allergies, but it usually significantly decimates the Boxelder Bug population for the season.  In the meantime, I shall continue my private crusade to remove them from my home and workspace.  There really are some things work fighting for.

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