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Shane Brown

Shane Brown

It's been a rough spring.

Record precipitation has ravaged the heartland with unspeakable flooding. We've seen neighborhoods evacuated, businesses shuttered, roads closed, and farmland devastated. I still have friends wading through toxic muck just to get to their front doors. They say there's "no such thing as bad press," but I'd reckon the folks who work at HESCO might have a different opinion. It's been (and continues to be) a big mess.

I'm lucky enough to reside on higher ground with a dry basement (knock on wood and/or concrete.) I haven't been completely unaffected by the floods of 2019, but once you see submerged cars and basements underwater, it's hard to complain about the extra eight minutes it currently takes me to get to work.

But I think we can all agree on the worst part of this year's flooding: THE STUPID GNATS.

When nature rained on us for a month straight, it seemed cruel. But when the sun finally emerged you still don't want to leave the house because of gnat swarms? Well, that's just sadistic. I can't open my back door without a half dozen of those wicked winged wonders making it inside, and I don't need my geriatric cats attempting triple salchows trying to catch the microscopic monsters.

We'll beat the flood and we can beat gnats, too. I'm thinking of either a DEET airdrop or a mass deployal of whatever creatures feast on gnats unless said creatures are grosser than gnats (i.e. spiders need not apply.)

At great personal expense, I can proudly report that I've single-handedly lowered the local gnat population by five. That's the number I've accidentally inhaled and/or swallowed this week. That's 0.03 needless calories I've consumed in the name of gnat-destroying heroics. Remember that when you see me. I'm not chubby — I'm a hero.

Unfortunately, gnats haven't been my only insect problem this year. Nature is coming at me a full bore.

It was only days after I moved into my house that I first noticed the wee little volunteer evergreen sprouting up beside my house. I couldn't bring myself to pull it. I was trying to make a home, and so was this tree. A decade later, it's tall and proud. It's too close to the house, so I have trim it back every year, but it's part of my life. I was even excited to see little pine cones on it this winter.

Until that is, a friend corrected me. "Dude, those are cocoons." Eww. Kinda gross, but maybe I helped bring a few more butterflies into the world. This spring, I spent a boring rainy day researching cocoons on the internet, and I'm glad I did. Turns out I wasn't making butterflies after all. I was making something way more disgusting. Eww, indeed.

If your life has been torn asunder by the floods of 2019, be thankful for one thing. No matter how bad things are, you're not an evergreen bagworm. It turns out my lucky tree's been infested by freeloading squatters with about the worst existence imaginable.

They start life as little wormy caterpillars who seek out delicious trees. Once a home, aka the victim, has been found, they eat the tree up, all the while crafting and lugging around a little bag made from tree bark, dirt, and silk. With bellies full, they hang the bag on the tree and crawl inside. If you're lucky enough to be a male bagworm, you emerge as a mouth-less moth with little time and one goal. I'll give you one hint -  it involves the music of Barry White. You might not have a mouth, but you DO have an "appendage" so impressive that you can land on another bag and impregnate the female without even stepping inside. You are what James Brown wrote "Sex Machine" about. But you have no mouth, so then you die.

Female bagworms don't get to be moths. They just chill inside the bag hoping for a gentleman caller before they die. If they were lucky enough to get lucky, their dead bodies could harbor up to 4,000 babies who eventually emerge and begin the process anew.

So if you're feeling down from the flood, at least be grateful you're not walking around the building and carrying your own coffin before sealing yourself inside and hoping you get sexually violated so that one day your children will eat their way out of your carcass. That's horror-movie level terrifying, and this demented miracle of nature has been playing out some four feet away from where I watch bad TV every night.

The best way to curb a bagworm infestation is to pluck the bags from the tree before the next generation comes out to say hello. I went into immediate action — specifically, the action of telling my lawn guy to get a-plucking. Hopefully, we got them in time, but I need to monitor the tree for further signs of infestation.

That's what I was doing last week when I happened to look up into the face of pure evil. This was followed by me making a noise like "Gahhhhhk," turning pale white, and almost cold fainting. More on that next week, as Shane's Fun With Nature continues.

Shane Brown is a columnist for the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com. Email him at sbrown@qconline.com or visit his blog at shanebrown.blogspot.com.

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