Our little visitors

It’s been a busy week, little-visitorwise.

Firstly there were the ants milling around on the doorstep, and two days later mysteriously appearing in their hundreds on the pile of clean laundry on the bed.

Then there was the earwig that I found dozing on my pillow (!) two days ago.

Next I found a shield bug clinging to a lampshade.

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By Pudding4brains – Own work, Public Domain

And then there was the bee. It was lying on the floor in the hall looking very tired and barely able to keep itself upright. I administered first aid, first with sugar water, and then with honey, but it didn’t respond, so I put it outside near the rain-battered remains of the grape hyacinths. As soon as it scented the flowers the bee began hauling itself up the stem to try to reach them, but kept falling back. I picked it up and held it while it probed into the flowers. It took quite a long time before it started to be able to hold on for itself, moving from one bloom to another until it had its fill. I checked on it throughout the afternoon and it seemed to have regained some of its strength. Later in the evening when I went to look for it, it had disappeared.

Pity it’s not a better photo, but it does show it sticking its proboscis into the flower.

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That evening I undressed for bed, put my foot down and let out a yelp as what felt like a red hot needle went through my toe. There, on my sock, was the bee. I have always understood that once a bee stings, it will die, as the sting is attached to its stomach, so I was (a) cursing at the fire in my toe and (b) thinking how I had wasted most of an afternoon trying to rescue the bee, and ended up inadvertently killing it. I put the sock with the bee still attached outside the bedroom door.

Next morning, the bee was at the bottom of the stairs, still rather groggy, but definitely alive. So I repeated the grape hyacinth treatment, and the last I saw it was flying away. It left a souvenir behind it – my toe is still itching!

We’ve also been catching mice regularly in the humane trap beneath the sink. Whether it’s the same two who keep returning, or another group, I don’t know, but every day there are at least two.

I know that some people have a horror of insects, but they generally don’t bother me. It may be because growing up in Kenya you soon got used to them. If you had dogs or cats – and this was long before there were any effective deterrents – not only would they host fleas and ticks, but the fleas would get into the crevices on the floor, and it was quite normal to find them on your legs, or notice them on somebody else’s legs. You learned to pick them off and squish them between your thumb nails. Ticks were another matter, sickening creatures bloated with blood; they either found themselves ground into oblivion by a stone, or flushed down the loo.

If you didn’t find ants in the sugar bowl, you’d suspect there was something wrong with the sugar. They were quite harmless, unlike the ghastly safari ants whose powerful pincers can give an excruciating bite.

During the rainy season male termites – also called flying ants – would appear in swarms. People rushed to collect them in 5 gallon drums – they are regarded as a delicacy and apparently taste like chicken fried in butter. They used to swirl to the ground beneath the outside light on my house, where they would be gobbled up by the toads who waited for them, gorging themselves until they were too fat to move, and sitting with wings poking out of their mouths.

We always sifted our flour very carefully to remove weevils. You banged your boots and shoes and turned them upside down to evict any spiders or scorpions that may have taken refuge inside them.

‘Nairobi eye,’ is an attractive small beetle with alternating black and amber segments.  Whilst they don’t go around like mosquitoes looking for somebody to sting, they do secrete a highly toxic acid that can lead to severe skin blistering.

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Image by Elsen Karstad @ http://www.kenyapics.com

Mango flies laid their eggs on laundry spread out to dry in the sun. If those eggs rubbed off onto your skin, they would penetrate and a couple of weeks later a disgusting maggot (mango worm) would wriggle its way out through your skin.

Spiders – we won’t go there – eeek!

These creatures were a fact of life that you quickly learned to live with, so I’m seldom perturbed by insect life here in south-west France apart from the dreaded harvest mites. Too small to see with the naked eye, these minuscule monsters seek out those places on your body that you would least wish to be seen scratching, but scratch you must. The itching is beyond description. And I’m still not very good with spiders, and TOH usually has to remove them.

Luckily we have no conifers on our property, nor in our surroundings, so we are safe from the processionary caterpillars that are such a danger to dogs and cats.

While I am loathe to kill anything, there are exceptions – fleas, mosquitoes, ticks and all the biting flies are on my hit list as they can transmit diseases to the dogs (and us), but the rest of them are either relocated or ignored.

Why kill anything if you don’t need to?