I have never been particularly fond of insects. But, if one opts to settle in for the long haul here in the Sunshine State, as I did many years ago, one must develop at least a working relationship with these creatures.
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As I may have mentioned in earlier writings, our critters down here in Florida can become unnervingly healthy, since they are not normally killed off by winter freezes. For example, we are famous for our palmetto bugs. These guys can grow up to an inch long and love kitchens. They also seem to live forever. Years ago, I resided for a time in a house where our palmetto bugs had been around for so long we gave them names. (“Jeez, Brad, you need to leave some of that pear for the rest of us!”)
Some of the Florida bug population is controlled with the help of another critter with which the state is also teeming – the gecko. These little guys look a lot like the one in the Geico ad, although I have yet to encounter one that speaks with an Australian accent (Australian, right?). Of course, if you are not particularly comfortable with lizards, your problem is probably compounded. I think geckos probably eat about 15% or more of all the smaller bugs around here. Not sure where I got that idea.
But the standouts among the state’s plethora of undesirable cohabitants are those with eight legs and as many matching eyes – the arachnids. I won’t bore you with a list of the various species indigenous to the region, but the one that will always get a person’s attention, the standout among standouts, if you will, is the banana spider. The female banana spider, when in full bloom, has a body diameter about the size of one’s pinky finger and a leg span equal to something a tad wider than the diameter of a baseball. And the manner in which she gets your attention is two-fold: First of all, she can spin a five-foot, classic web with sticky strands as strong as sewing thread overnight; secondly, she tends to build these things at face-height for some reason. Many years ago when my lovely wife and I first moved into our new home located on a heavily wooded lot here in Jacksonville, I quickly learned to make a full visual inspection of the back porch from behind the safety of the sliding glass door before stepping out in the morning to enjoy some fresh air. This was because it was not unusual to find a massive web just beyond the door with the spinster, after a hard nights work, resting quietly, and precisely, in the middle – which was usually precisely face-high. A person who may unwittingly stumble into one of these works of art will instantly find himself madly clawing at the sticky silk in sheer panic while wondering where, exactly, did she go?! – she’s in there with you, all right. Somewhere. I did this exactly one time before becoming 100% trained not to do it again.
The good news, I guess, is that a bite from one of these ladies is not as venomous as certain other biters (probably won’t kill you – just make you wish you were dead). No matter. Avoidance is key.
Years ago, also in that same house, I was in a half-sleep, half-wake state one morning as the first light of the day began creeping into our bedroom. Resting on my side, I felt something plop onto my naked shoulder. Without thinking, I simply reached up with my hand and brushed it off. I immediately noticed that whatever I had brushed off my shoulder was cool and silky to the touch. And then I sat bolt upright. On the floor next to the bed was a dazed, but veeery healthy wolf spider about the size of a silver dollar. Apparently she had experienced a caribiner malfunction while making her way across the ceiling above our bed. That is the first and only time I have ever touched a spider.
By the way, please don’t let the Florida Chamber of Commerce know that I told you about this.