Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Annoyance of Bobo

I'm not calling it the wrath of God, despite how it looks. For one, nobody's done anything big enough to piss off the Big Guy lately. For another, although it looks like one of the plagues of Egypt, it's not yet to the point of serious disruption of human activity. And I'm dead certain that the translation was "flies" and "locusts" when it came to the insect-based plagues, not "soybean aphids."

For the non-Midwestern readers, soybean aphids are insects about half the length of a human eyelash that live on the sap secreted from one of our main two crops. They're ordinarily kept well in check by the weather, the food supply, and the resident population of ladybugs. Around this time of year, you might see the occasional cloud of what looks like extraordinarily fast-flying dust motes in the late afternoon or evening, never more than three to five feet in diameter at its largest and generally with plenty of room between the individual "motes."


This year, it seems we had favorable conditions for a population boom. The aphids responded by multiplying exponentially. The thing about aphids is that they don't need to be inseminated to be able to reproduce. They can do it asexually. One aphid could produce three to five more in a day, and in favorable conditions the population only needs two or three days to double. And we didn't start with just one.

And did I mention that, when they run low on food supplies, these normally wingless insects sprout wings?

The result is everyone walking around campus waving their hands in front of their faces, covering their noses and mouths with whatever's handy, and brushing and shaking everything off once they get inside. The bathrooms overflow with people spitting, wiping out their eyes, cleaning their ears, and blowing their noses to clean out all of the bugs. (Aphids are apparently not born with any sense of self-preservation and gravitate to the human respiratory system's entrances.) Fifteen minutes after you step out of the mist of flying insects you can feel hitting your skin as you walk, aphids will still fly out of your clothes if you shake them.

A good hard frost will kill them or at least reduce the mist to those negligible clouds I mentioned earlier, but in the meantime the student body has been advised to not wear yellow, which apparently attracts the bugs. I'm personally keeping my window shut, covering my face with a finely woven scarf, and contemplating whether I should order some ladybug egg cases or just wait for the first frost.

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