The little blue bugs commenced their annual invasion some time back, and my corneas continue to cower in horror.
In common with many flying insects these seem, at a casual glance, to flutter about in random fashion, as unpredictable in their direction as dust motes.
But I know better.
The tiny kamikazes go right for my eyes.
I went for a walk the other day on one of those preternaturally beautiful October afternoons that dominated the month’s final week or so. I hadn’t even reached the end of the block before a bug crash landed on the inside corner of my left eye. After a few minutes of ineffectual scratching I managed to scrape away the diminutive carcass. To an observer it must have looked as though I had gone temporarily insane and decided to pluck out one of my eyes without the benefit of anesthesia or surgical instruments.
At least I thought I had dislodged the bug. The next morning while I was inserting my contact lenses, a procedure which requires a certain attention to the eyeball, I noticed two blue-tinted scraps stuck to the slit of skin at the edge of my eyelid. It was of course decaying bits of bug.
I don’t mind ingesting a few of these pests while I’m out strolling the streets or raking the leaves. They have no discernible flavor as far as I can tell, and they’re so puny that there’s none of the unpleasant crunching of the exoskeleton that would go along with, say, a stray grasshopper.
Or so I imagine — I’ve never chewed, or swallowed, a grasshopper, at least none that I can remember.
But I poke around my eyes enough dealing with contact lens-related issues that I don’t much appreciate these insects adding to my troubles.
Among the entomological resources I’ve consulted there is a reassuring unanimity in identifying the blue bugs as woolly aphids, and most probably the smoky-winged ash aphid in particular (Prociphilus americanus if you’re brushing up on your Latin or merely enjoy a surplus of syllables).
I was disturbed to learn that most likely my own property, as far as the aphids are concerned, serves as what a detective story from the 1940s or ’50s might refer to as a “love nest.”
Aphids, it seems, typically rely on two types of plants, one during summer, the other during the fall, winter and much of the spring.
In the case of ash aphids, their primary host, as you might have surmised even if you haven’t studied bugs extensively, is the ash tree.
A fine specimen of which happens to anchor the southwest corner of my place. It is a wonderful tree, and if I were to lose it to a gale or a lightning bolt I expect I would weep. The ash tree, even after OTEC’s contractors had a go at the limbs near the power lines a couple years ago, casts shade over a goodly part of our yard for most of a summer’s day.
But I feel a trifle guilty, knowing that my foliage preferences (although I didn’t plant the ash tree so my guilt is more of the accessory after the fact variety) might be contributing to the insectile scourage in my neighborhood.
According to the experts, female ash aphids — aphids are decidedly matriarchal — spend the summer burrowing around the roots of fir trees and sucking on sap, as aphids of all types are wont to do.
(This apparently doesn’t much bother the fir trees.)
In early fall, though, male aphids hatch and mate with the females, which then fly to their primary host and lay eggs to complete the yearly cycle.
I feel as though I ought to put a speaker outside and play some Al Green, or maybe Luther Vandross.
Although considering how prolific the aphids are — among their tactics is the obviously helpful one of being born pregnant — I doubt they need any procreation aids.
Which is to say, the little blue bugs don’t need the equivalent of the little blue pill you’ve probably read about.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.