Sunday, July 07, 2013

stop bugging me

Something was different about the night life around my ficus tree.

On Friday night I was out on one of my usual crocodile and ant hunts when I noticed unusual movement on the tree.  There has long been a colony of large black nocturnal ants that use the trunk as a formicine highway.  They do not bother the plants, and I do not bother them.

But these were not ants.  The movement was slinky and the shape was all wrong.

You cannot imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to discover about 50 or so hairy black-bodied caterpillars doing their best to hide from my light.  It was almost like being four again -- when I filled my pockets with banded wooly bears from the creek that ran through our property.

But I did not gather up these baby moths.  I have learned that wildlife sporting bristles in the tropics are not to be touched.  (float like a butterfly, sting like a caterpillar).

A quick search on the internet did not tell me definitively what these beautiful babies were.  They appear to be the caterpillar stage of the giant leopard moth.  But none of the photographs I found sported that interesting bald red head.

My garden has turned into a fascinating parade of new nature discoveries.  While I was explaining my caterpillar discovery to Landlady Christine on Saturday morning, we both noticed a persistent flying object digging sand mere feet from us.

It turned out to be a beautiful green-eyed sand wasp.  She was digging a tube nest to lay her eggs and to subsequently kill some flies to entomb with her eggs as nourishment when her larvae hatch.

And it was taking her little time to get her job done.  With her feet and wind from her wings, sand was flying.

Looking at my ankles, I realized that the mosquitoes had been just as persistent while I was photographing the caterpillars.  I counted close to twenty bites on my feet and legs.

In a land where dengue fever is rather common, those bites can be more than irritating.  But dengue is not the only disease carried by insects.  There is also Chagas disease that I mentioned on Tuesday in dry fruit.  Coincidentally, my fellow blogger, Sparks, posted about the disease on Friday.

The topic arose because of the type of insects he has discovered each morning floating in his pool.  His neighbors warned him that one of the beetles he found had a deadly bite that caused a terrible disease.  We think they meant Chagas.

They were wrong about the beetle.  The disease is transmitted when a specific type of assassin bug bites a person. 

But the bite is not the problem.  Following the accounting method of first in/first out, when the bug sucks blood, it evacuates its bowels.

It is the excrement that creates the problem.  The bitten person will scratch the irritated area and smear the very small excrement (and the disease parasite) into the open sore.  I assure you, you do not want to know the rest.  You probably didn't want to know the earlier part, either.

Sparks's  (and my) neighbors are extremely cautious when it comes to spiders, snakes, and insects.  They attribute danger where there is none.

But there is good reason for that.  Some of the bugs in our gardens are deadly.  In the eight months I lived at the first house I rented (the one on the beach), I found five of the assassin bugs that carry Chagas.  They did not long survive their discovery.

The lesson to be learned is that I can enjoy my regression into boyhood in this insect wonderland.  But I also need to avoid being too cavalier about the dangers they afford.

The caterpillars can slink up and down my ficus.  I do not need to stuff any of them in my pockets.  After all, my mother is not here to scoop them out.

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