After three weeks the romance hasn’t completely worn off here at Dancing Springs Ranch — but the boxelder bug attack is rapidly eroding it.
The boxelder bug, Boisea trivittata, is a true bug that owes its existence to boxelder tree seeds and the seeds of other maples — such as the mountain maples so beautifully blanketing the slopes and draws of Dancing Springs Ranch. Especially the one growing five feet off our deck. Here is the maple of all tasty maples, the ice cream tree of maples, the boxelder bug’s veritable Dairy Queen of sweet treats. You may search any of hundreds of maples throughout our woods and find a few boxelder bugs. Study the one beside the deck and you will have a hard time seeing the forest for the bugs.
This wouldn’t be a problem because the boxelder bug does not sting. It does not bite, poke, drill or so much as buzz about your face. The boxelder bug does not scream like a cicada, eat corn silks like an earwig, nor ravage crops like locusts. As bugs and insects go, boxelder bugs are soft, harmless, and about as innocuous as they come — except for one annoying habitat. The annual autumnal boxelder bug attack!
What happens is this: Instinctively fearing Winter’s embrace, boxelder bugs en mass swarm to hibernacula, crevices leading to caves in which they hope to avoid freezing to death. Some of the best crevices can be found around house siding, windows, and doors. Most especially Dancing Springs Ranch’s house, windows, and doors. Come a hot September afternoon like the one we had yesterday with the sun beaming warm invitations on our south brick walls, boxelder bugs swarm to the sanctuary.
We find ourselves in a bad B-movie, a sci-fi thriller in the finest 1950’s tradition. The Boxelder Bug That Swallowed New York. Break out the cameras. We could film the worst nature-overwhelms-humanity sci-fi flick that ever embarrassed the silver screen.
Instead of cameras, however, Betsy has broken out the big guns. She’s loaded a magnum spray bottle with a dangerous dose of liquid dish soap and spring water and launched a counter attacked. She heads out at prime time — hot, sunny afternoons — to shoot the swarming masses of innocent boxelder bugs. Forget the sporting chance. Her sense of fair chase has degraded to flock shooting and ground pounding. She’s opened the spray bottle’s choke to cylinder-bore to enlarge her bug soaping pattern, soaking an entire village of boxelder bugs with one blast. They scramble and run, wriggle and hide, but she is relentless, her auto-loading spray bottle in rapid fire. Once soaped, most bugs — even the largest, toughest, oldest bulls — slow to a crawl, stiffen, and expire within a few seconds. It’s impressive.
I have seen my bug shooting partner try the odd flying shot, especially when an alarmed boxelder bug wings wildly toward her face, but I believe this to be self-defense more than an attempt at sport. Most often she creeps carefully inside of sure blasting range before cutting loose on the densest mass of bugs she can see. The death and destruction are epic. Bug corpses litter the field. This beats the heck out of live bugs swarming into the house.
Noting her enthusiasm yesterday, I broke from my other labors to try a bit of boxelder bug shooting of my own. Alas, I, too, have fallen under the spell of thrill killing. I was like a badger in a chicken coup, overwhelmed by sheer numbers of helpless prey. Ignoring sporting, challenging singles (like the bent-legged adult crawling the rim of my coffee cup right now,) I instead went for the flock shot, pulling the soapy trigger again and again, watching in self-righteous glee as dozens, scores, hundreds of soap-soaked bugs slowed, stiffened and expired.
It really refreshing to see how effectively a non-toxic, inexpensive solution like simple dish soap can terminate bugs. Makes one’s extermination efforts almost guilt-free. I just hope I calm down and remember my wing-shooting ethics when the sharp-tailed grouse season opens in October. I don’t want to be ground pounding and flock shooting those.
Ron and Betsy Spomer broke with tradition and, instead of downsizing to a managed, suburban townhouse, upsized to a 300+ acre mountain ranch. Last chance adventure.