Sour flies, greenheads and ticks: Bug-eyed in South Jersey

There is a cricket in my dad’s house. Upstairs. I sleep upstairs. I had planned to sleep peacefully upstairs, but three or four times per night the critter tunes up: Eek-eek-eek.

My eyes fly open and my heart starts pounding. The noise isn’t scary, just unfamiliar – and unfamiliar sounds trigger the hyperarousal has been my companion ever since my daughter’s illness. It’s the one part of post-traumatic stress disorder that I haven’t been able to shake.

I’ll calm myself down, finally doze off and it happens again. Eek-eek-eek. My dad’s home has a nice big downstairs and a huge basement, but naturally Cri-Cri just had to choose the penthouse.

I’ve got nothing against crickets – outside.

I’m writing this from the porch swing on Saturday evening, listening to a veritable orchestra of crickets and other creepy-crawlies whose songs I can’t identify. They are astonishingly loud. Somehow the noises of North Seattle – buses, sirens, quarreling neighbors – don’t sound this loud.

It’s been more than 30 years since I lived here. I’d forgotten about the bugs. Now I can’t get them out of my mind — or my face.

Busby Berkeley and hippodamia corpses

Cicadas yowl from the trees. Mosquitoes sing in my ears. Gnats take an unpleasant interest in the corners of my eyes.

Tiny fruit flies, which we used to call “sour flies,” circle a bowl of peaches on the counter. I had to fight a trapezoidal-shaped insect for the tomato I wanted to pick.

The guest-room windowsill was littered with dead ladybugs. Apparently they hatch somewhere in the house and try to escape, battering themselves against the perceived blue sky that’s actually a windowpane. But before they commit insecticide they seem to find the time to lay eggs, because this happens every year.

Also on the windowsill was was a single bee. It should have spent its short life outside enabling flowers to have sex, not dying futilely amid a litter of Hippodamia corpses. Every bee was needed: Local gardeners blame this year’s horrible lima-bean crop on a shortage of pollinating insects.

Grasshoppers sail just ahead of me in roadside grasses, diving away one after the other like the girls in a Busby Berkeley pool scene. During this morning’s walk a butterfly flew directly into my face, bouncing off the left lens of my glasses and leaving a smear of bluish scales. I was also repeatedly buzzed by what I think was a horsefly; it sounded like a float plane coming in for a landing.

At least there’s been no sign of two local scourges known as strawberry flies and greenheads, both of which took big chunks out of me when I was a kid. Next time you meet someone who grew up near a Jersey salt marsh, say the word “greenhead” and watch him flinch. The fly’s bite feels like a hydraulic hole punch.

All insects, all the time

Of greater concern is the common tick. During my childhood ticks were no big deal. My brother and I pulled them off the dogs’ ears with pliers, and my mom checked our heads at night. These days it seems like everyone in the area has either had Lyme disease or knows someone who’s had it. Deer ticks are a preferred host for the bacterium that causes the illness, and this part of Cumberland County is lousy with deer.

It’s not that I’m afraid of insects. It’s that I’d forgotten how constant a presence they are here. About the only bugs I see regularly in Seattle is the common housefly plus the occasional bee in the blackberries. My neighborhood is pretty dry so there’s not a big mosquito problem, and thankfully the apartment building doesn’t have roaches.

Here in South Jersey it’s all insects, all the time. As daylight seeps away, unidentified flying objects approach to worry at my face and fling themselves against the laptop screen. An old friend suggested that I look for a USB bug zapper. I’m about ready for a DEET cocktail.

If the porch light were on, maybe the bugs would leave my Macbook and my nostrils alone. Then again, they’d be right by the door and they’d follow me into the house. At least the cricket would have company.

I’ll likely get used to that eek-eek-eek and it will no longer startle me. No doubt after living here for a while month I’ll have to get used to those sirens on Aurora Avenue all over again. On the other hand, I won’t be feeling imaginary ticks on my neck.


9 Comments

  1. I do not miss the Georgia bug life! I do have to dodge the nettles here which can itch and sting long after you think they would be just a memory. We get our revenge by rounding them up and turning them into soup. I’m guessing that’s a solution you’d appreciate since it’s free. I’m itching already from reading your post and based on what you describe, a DEET containing product would be an excellent investment for your visit home.

  2. Crickets are one reason we have cats. That doesn’t help so much with the ticks though.

  3. Donna Freedman

    @Nicole: Our cat used to chase and eat crickets, too. Then he would come over and try to breathe in my face. Evil.

  4. eek! bugs!! aaaaaaaaack!!!

    I’ve noticed a lot of beetles coming out to play nowadays…my young border collie couldn’t be happier with her new ‘playmates’

    Sad about the honey bee, too.

  5. I am from S.Jersey too… when I get bitten by a greenhead or pinefly I get welts usually 4 or 5 inches across!! And gnats outside at night..ahhhhh

  6. ICK, I hate bugs! By us its trains and car horns and its Heaven compared to the creepy crawlies!

  7. Fireflies? I don’t miss most of the insects of south Jersey, but I do miss the fireflies. They’re not noisy, though.

  8. Donna Freedman

    @H Lee D: You bring up a good point. I do love fireflies, which we called “lightning bugs.” I like catching them and holding them a moment in my cupped hands, watching my fingers light up.
    I also love the Mark Twain suggestion about writing: That the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
    Well said, Sam.

  9. Lifelong Jersey girl here. I never realized there were places without bugs until I spent a summer in Denver when I was a teen. But still, hordes of insects notwithstanding, I love South Jersey….even if I did have to fish a fruitfly out of my cocktail last night. :)

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