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home : columns : columns August 16, 2017

8/2/2017 10:22:00 AM
The bad boy bugs of a Minnesota summer

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

Our Minnesota seasons could actually be divided into seasons based on bug irruptions. They happen gradually and change a bit from year to year, but you can usually count on them to happen.
The first to hit us is the wood tick event. It usually commences in April, greatly enhanced by our first warm spell after a nice rain. Now if you stay comfortably in your own backyard or don't venture beyond parking lots and sidewalks, no problem. But if you are like me, my dog and plenty of others that walk the woods, you will note the creepy, crawly feeling of a tick traveling your body, or worse, attaching for an hour or a day. They inject a local anesthetic so you can't even feel them.
My record, 18 ticks. I got to them shortly after arriving at home and loved watching each and every one as it swirled down the shower drain.
Black gnats, mosquitoes
Soon after the wood tick threat goes into remission the black gnats arrive. Some call them buffalo gnats but it makes no difference, they are one and the same. They buzz, they bite, they get into your nose and hair, if you have some.
A "rash" of gnats, my term, is no fun and keeps us indoors way more than we should be. Count Memorial Day and a lilac bloom as the peak time for those rascals.
Not bad enough for you yet? Here cometh the mosquito. It seems to me the early hatch is more pesky than blood seeking. But by the Fourth of July you can expect to see our least favored insect of all resting on your arm with an abdomen filled with blood, yours. Intense itching will soon follow, and if you're lucky, it won't have been carrying one of the encephalitis viruses.
The buzzing in your ears? It's even worse when you are wearing a hearing aid, trust me on that.
Picnic bugs and flies
About county fair time our next insect invasion arrives, the picnic bug. Talk about a party ender, they sure can be. Those little black beetles with the small yellow spots, usually four, on their shell, seem to drop out of nowhere.
They settle on your head, arms, even into your potato salad and beverage. That's why another name for them is beer beetles. They are simply attracted to the smell of food and the nasty biting is simply little mouth parts gnawing for something to eat. Poor little devils.
Soon after that entry into our lives, flies begin to increase in numbers. The harmless house fly doesn't bite. They just hang around being a nuisance. But they caused the invention of one of the greatest tools of modern man, the fly swatter.
Along with the increase of house flies cometh a cousin called the stable fly that really bites and leaves a 72- hour itch. They aren't much of a city fly, but if you are near a stable or lakeshore with washed in vegetation, look out.
I've noticed our neighbors at the cabin have a very large colony of purple martins that fly nearly a half mile to feed on young flies that recently hatched from shorelines with accumulated lake vegetation.
Boxelder bugs,
Asian beetles
Finally we get to late summer and early fall, the best season of all for many of us. But the bad bugs of summer are not through with us just yet. One of the most annoying plagues of all awaits us, boxelder bugs and Asian beetles. How did that last nasty member of the ladybug family get here? Theories exist, but no doubt, the rapidly multiplying little rapscallion is the friend of few. It will bite also if given a chance.
Whoever is responsible for bringing them into this country, please come and get them. We don't like this by-product of globalization.
And then there is the boxelder bug. They have been an ongoing pest for years, seemingly mixing with that Asian beetle to cover the south and west outside walls of our homes on warm fall days.
I use lethal insecticides for them, but they are hard to kill. Some newer generations of beetle sprays work well and will also repel them, at least for a few days. Repeat spraying is almost always necessary.
Then comes freezing, snowfall and the bad boys of summer are finally gone! Right? Snow fleas anyone? I guess they are real.
The sprays of summer
It is no small industry surrounding the sprays we put on our bodies, gardens, homes and yards. They range from the old reliable Deet through the pyrethrins.
Permethrin is a second generation of the naturally occurring pyrethrin and does a great job of killing many unwanted insects. It is synthetically produced and is considered harmless to mammals and relatively speaking, inexpensive.
Now we have third generation pyrethrins such as cyfluthrin marketed under the brand name Tempo that is even safer and more long lasting.
Many organic mosquito repellents are also out there and some I have used are quite effective. Picaridin also works for me.
Our pets have it better than we do. There are many new products that control summer bugs on them. Seek them out from your veterinarian or a trusted supplier and use them. I remember well the many times severely fly bitten dog ears and even maggot infested long hair were brought to me as a two-legged doctor of four-legged patients.
If they are really our best friend, let's treat them as such.

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