Friday, September 23, 2011

Island Bugs

The term “bugs” can relate to mechanical things meaning trouble with an object that must be attended to. On the island, the word “bugs” means discomfort, destruction or death.

We have bugs, there is no doubt about it. The planet is covered in bugs and in large cities/communities, efforts are taken to keep them under control and render them, at least temporarily, less destructive. Well, here on the island, we have no little VW Bug (a Volkswagen) with a rat or roach mock-up on the top which goes around advertising that they can rid you of pesky insects. No, here, you are on your own.

We have ants of several varieties: large black ants, microscopic ants, termites, flying ants, red ants; you name it, we have it. We have no-seeums, potato lice (akin to, I believe, red bugs), mosquitoes, flies; both green flies, black flies, and fruit flies. We have scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, spiders big and small; tarantulas which can be as large as your hand and some spiders that are so small one can barely see them with the naked eye. We have wasps, lightning bugs, bees, rhinoceros beetles and palm beetles, stick bugs, caterpillars of many descriptions, katydids, and bugs that defy description.

For the most part those bugs that reside on the island can be found the world over, so we are not unique. The difference is that in a third-world country, generally, bugs must be tolerated and the only areas where they are attacked chemically are on large farms/plantations.

On Guanaja our biggest irritation are the no-seeums which are pesky bugs one can barely see (hence the name) which are found, generally, close to beach areas. Some people would have you think that if you are located more than 30 feet away from the beach or at least 20 feet off the ground, they are not present. HA! These bugs are found at higher elevations and not just on the beach. For the most part, people here build up an immunity to these flying creatures and even though we are susceptible to their bites, when bitten the effect lasts only 5-10 minutes. However, people visiting the island who have not been exposed to them can suffer for 2-3 weeks after being bitten. There are a small minority of people that are allergic to the bites of these tiny creatures and develop large, pus filled welts leaving the person scratching constantly. Luckily most people are not affected in this manner and, with the help of a good insect spray, the irritation of these bites is minimal. Some people believe that baby oil or Skin-So-Soft oil will protect them. While it does work, its effect is temporary (say about 10 minutes) and once it is absorbed by the skin, the slick coating of oil disappears. This oil, in effect, suffocates the bugs so once it is gone they are free to feast. While some people disparage the use of inspect sprays with DEET citing the possibility of cancer, etc., we have used a 100% DEET spray twice a day for 13 years with no ill effects. Of course one does not apply this chemical to any open sores and, therefore, I feel, with caution this product causes us no harm.

As a side note, my research on DEET shows that from 1961 to 2002 only 8 DEET-related deaths occurred. Three were from deliberate ingestion (foolish people), two from dermal (skin) exposure (quite possibly oversensitivity to the product and/or an open wound) and three were children receiving heavy and frequent applications of DEET. People believe that DEET causes cancer, ideas which may partly be due to the fact that people confuse DEET with DDT. Scientists have not established a direct link between DEET and cancer. The EPA does show DEET as slightly toxic to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates but virtually nontoxic to mammals. The current rate of toxicity for DEET today is a Category III, the second lowest of four categories.

While the no-seeums are one of the most irritating bugs we have here, THE most irritating, I believe, are ants. We have microscopic ants and ants up to almost 2 mm long! When certain species of these ants bite the effect is longer lasting than the no-seeum bite (for those who have built up a tolerance to no-seeums that is) and the itch is a burning, painful thing. And ants are all over. If one has ever paid attention at all to Nature anywhere, one will see ants.

For 12 years we have not had ants or roaches in our home. We do apply a poison frequently under the house and around the pilings of chlorodano or chlordane. This chemical is dangerous and once used for the control of termites in the U.S. was banned in 1988. It continues to be used in a powdered form in Honduras and I do not know if the chemical we buy here is a watered-down version of the original. Either way, we use great care when applying it, protecting our mouth and nose again inhalation and washing our hands thoroughly after using. The original chemical did cause many types of cancer but in those cases the use of the chemical had been heavy and over an long periods of time. Because of ignorance or non-information, the inhalation of this chemical was not a concern at the time.

Either way, it is about the only way one can effectively kill mounds of ants that one discovers on the island, but we use caution in applying it.

The last two years we have noticed an influx of ants in the house. First there were miniscule creatures scurrying around the counters. Then we noticed a roach or two. Where there is one there are bound to be hundreds so we used an injected goo targeted specifically at roaches and that seemed to clear up that problem. The ants, however, were another problem. We kept them “under control” so to speak until this past springs when we were suddenly invaded by huge black ants. These ants are strong and determined. We found them entering the hummingbird feeders literally swimming across the small cups of water we have hanging up the feeder to prevent ants from crawling down the cord from which they are suspended. They were everywhere and especially came out at night. One would find dozens on the kitchen counter and a simple slap would not kill them. I would have to literally pound them with my closed fist several times to disable them and still, bent and broken, they still managed to crawl away.

After several nights of searching outside our home, my husband discovered a huge nest at the base of a dead tree stump. Apparently they like to make their nest in rotting wood. He applied the chlordane and that seemed to cut down their numbers in the house. Several weeks later they were back and he was, once again, searching the yard at night aided by his flashlight determined to find their new home. We found them in an old log that had been cut from a tree about 2 years ago. A second nest was found near a hibiscus bush and he again treated their nests heavily. We have seen about 1 or 2 ants in the house since then but are still keeping an eye out.

As to spiders. In July I put on a dress and felt a sting on my hip. I found nothing so I passed it off. The next morning, when I arose out of bed, I could hardly walk I was so dizzy. This condition continued all day and I laid down quite frequently because navigating was difficult. I was also slightly nauseous. I then checked my skin surface on my hip and sure enough found a small, red bite. It think I was bit by a spider and when I showed it to a friend they said that their relative had a bite similar to that several years ago and she became sick and was badly infected. The whole week I was dizzy with the dizziness subsiding somewhat and by the end of the week both the dizziness and the bite had gone.

However, last week I received another bite and had similar symptoms. So, it was either the little ants that are still crawling around in our bedroom or another spider. This time the consequences weren’t as severe but I was still dizzy for a couple of days.

All in all, we have not had a lot of trouble with insects. We keep our yard fairly clean along with the beach area and the number of birds, lizards and iguanas help keep the population in check around our house. I just wish we had an ant eater!

Now we have to address a new problem on our hibiscus: white powdery mold/mildew! It never stops!


  1. Oh heavens!
    After reading about your trials and tribulations with all those bugs you got us.

    "I just wish we had an ant eater!"

    That struck as hilarious.

    Good thing you haven't lost your sense of humor!

    Jeanette and Myron

  2. Enjoyed the blog. Your ant story reminds me of one of mine.

    I came home to the house on the Island after being away for 6 months or so and arriving before dusk. I got everything squared away took a warm shower and I went to bed. I had a reciprocating fan blowing to beet the band and was covered up with a sheet to my nose for added protection against an errant flies.

    Just before turning in I had noticed one of those inch long black ants with the mandibles that could sever a child’s finger. I crushed him with a water bottle. As a little preventive measure I sprayed a little shot of the poison into a crack at the base of the kitchen cabinet and with lights off I slide into bed

    Not long thereafter, as I lay fading into deep sleep, I began to notice a very faint clicking all around me. Then in dim light I began to make out movement on the sheet and floor, a kind of soft boiling.

    When the light came on I discovered an ocean of large black ants surrounded me. The big menacing mandibles clicking as they attacked.

    For hours I rested standing in a Rubbermaid tub between crushing missions and sweeping up two gallons of their little hard bodies.

    K. Kirkconnell