Ants, Gnats, and Other Georgia Wildlife

            It’s lucky for my husband that the Georgia statutes against harassing wildlife don’t include any pest that might be exterminated or removed. Pat can’t seem to pass by a fire ant mound without shoving the toe of his boot, a stick, or whatever is handy, into the mound, just to watch the little devils boil out.

            And anytime he thinks someone is in need of punishment of some kind, he suggests staking them out on an anthill. If you’ve ever been bitten by a fire ant, you probably know why, and avoid getting bitten again just like I do.

            They don’t have fire ants where I come from, so after Pat and I were married, every time we went to visit his Georgia relatives he would give me the fire ant lecture.

            “See this?” he would ask, pointing out a fire ant mound. “Watch.” He’d kick the mound, and sure enough the ants would come boiling out of the hill. “They swarm all over you, and then, on signal, they all bite at once. Then the only thing you can do is take all your clothes off.”

            I didn’t really understand the part about taking all your clothes off, but that was the lecture I got, and it sure made me careful around fire ant mounds.

            Along with the demonstration, I was frequently treated to the story about the time Pat’s daddy and a friend were out rabbit hunting. The friend apparently was not from Georgia, and hadn’t heard the fire ant lecture. When Pat’s daddy stood on a tree stump to get a better view of the field and the beagles, his friend thought it was a good idea. However, instead of finding his own tree stump, he stepped up on a mound of earth that turned out to be a fire ant mound. You can probably guess what happened, and it wasn’t pretty. The poor guy did end up taking his pants off, to remove all the fire ants. Like I said, not pretty!

            Because of the warnings, I don’t think I ever actually got bit by a fire ant until I moved to Florida. The blister raised by an ant bite is excruciating, and lasts for several days. I very quickly appreciated all the warnings I’d received, and when I’m outdoors I’m careful about where I put my feet, and my hands when I’m gardening.

            Like Georgia, Florida has more than its share of bugs. The first time my parents came to visit me after I moved there, a large palmetto bug chose the occasion to saunter into my front hallway. My dad told me he didn’t know whether to squish it or put a saddle on it. The bugs do grow big in Florida.

            But back to Georgia. It’s not necessarily the size of the bug that matters. Little bitty fire ants and little bitty gnats can both be annoying, way out of proportion to their size. I hate gnats! They get in your eyes, nose, and ears. If you put insect repellant on all exposed parts of your body, they’ll mosey on over to the unexposed areas. If you cover all your bare skin with insect repellant, they’ll still crawl up on your head and bite you through your hair.

            I’m no entomologist. I suspect there are probably other bugs at work, and we blame the ones we can see. It’s just like goldenrod getting the blame for people’s ragweed allergies. The fact that fire ants and gnats travel in packs probably enhances their reputation for being annoying.

            Everyone seems to agree that this spring was especially bad for gnats. I happen to live south of the gnat line. If you don’t know what that means, click on over to Gnat Line 101. It’s written by a Southern Gal who knows whereof she speaks.

            Of course there are insects just about everywhere, not only in the south. The insects up north can be really vicious. Maybe they’re making up for the relatively shorter summers there.

            On one memorable June trip to Ontario, Canada, the black flies we encountered were especially persistent. Despite taping my pant cuffs to my socks, taping my sleeves to my gloves, and wearing a head net, there always seemed to be one pesky fly that got inside the head net with me. And black fly bites result in a bruise on me. At least I think it was the fly bite itself, and not me trying to squish the fly, that left the bruise.

            If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, that may explain why I like spiders. I know, spiders are not insects. But they eat insects, and are automatically my friends.

            I do have a lot of respect for spiders. Some kinds can really put a hurtin’ on you. But I love to see the big black and yellow ones that make huge webs on my front porch and outside my back door in late summer and early fall. When we turn on the floodlight that illuminates my back door, the entire web glows a dazzling white.

            Like I said, I’m no entomologist. I’ll just stick to complaining about bugs. A lot of the most effective ways to eliminate insects can end up hurting birds and other wildlife, and I don’t want to do that. I try my best to live and let live.

            But it sure ain’t easy!