Coming Soon to Philly: More Mosquitoes, Ticks and Bees Than You’ve Ever Seen
As our mild winter officially wraps up, it seems a wild summer is imminent. And by wild, I mean buggy. Last week I wrote about the possibility of zombies invading Center City; this week my more immediate concern is bees invading Center City. And mosquitos. And those things with antennae and lots of legs. Just weeks into spring, there’s already been multiple TV news reports about how our lovely winter could lead to more pests (a “bumper crop of bug babies” as one newscaster put it); the Wall Street Journal recently detailed a horrifying prediction about ticks coming out early, for extra months of disease-spreading fun.
In my view, as plagues go, bugs are a particularly nightmarish one. I was an impressionable five-year-old when the 13-year cicadas came out for a season of torture, and it forever scarred me. How could it not? Your average 13-year cicada is about the size of a baby mouse, only much harder of body; when they fly into you—which is often, because they’re clumsy, evil things—it’s like being hit with a penny at warp-speed. They were out again when I was 18 and graduating from high school. I remember the exoskeletons of their dead crunching underfoot while walking to get my diploma, the live ones bouncing off our mortar boards like pinballs.
When I was 12, it wasn’t a cicada but a tick that gave me Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ruined my summer. I never did actually find the tick that laid me flat and fevered on the couch for more than a month, but I had enough other miserable found-tick experiences to last a lifetime, a childhood dotted with memories of someone tweezing or burning or pulling them off my flesh, then checking to make sure the little head came all the way out.
Bees and wasps have never been a picnic, obviously, but smaller insects were far sneakier, and therefore more threatening—a red-ant bite to the inner ear was one of the more uncomfortable circumstances I can remember, although chigger bites between toes weren’t a joy, either. I have lived in apartments with gnat problems, ant problems, silverfish problems, and suffered the occasional spider. (I’ve thus far been spared the indignity of cockroaches and the horror of bedbugs; many of my city-dwelling friends have not.) Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve become intimately acquainted with two new species: the insanity-inducing stinkbug and the oversized centipede, which obviously needs its many legs in order to scuttle here all the way from hell.
Question is, has this past winter been enough of a heaven—all that blissful sun and above-freezing temperatures—to make the impending bugginess bearable? I think it’s hard to say at this point, as all we really have to deal with so far is an early showing of fat and happy bees buzzing around the jonquils. Until the insects have swarmed in with cicada-like fervor (real cicadas apparently aren’t due in Philly for more than a decade, thank God), attacking our children and drinks and hair, it’s hard to say which is preferable: a cold, depressing winter or a swarming, crawling summer.
For now, I think, I’m just going to go get some industrial-strength bug spray and try to stay focused on the one positive bug experience of my life: those warm summer nights spent leaping around the grass, reaching for the fireflies that lit the yard like flickering twinkle lights. I think I even saw one the other night, in Rittenhouse, which pleased me … even though it is rather early for them to be out.