Catastrophe: Massive Bug Die-Out in the Hamptons

Mickey Paraskevas Bug Die-Out cartoon
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

There’s something very odd going on in the bug department this summer. There are very, very few of them. I didn’t notice it until just this past week when I went out to the deck, didn’t close the screen door behind me and then realized that I didn’t have to. There were no bugs trying to get in. This is September. This should be a big deal right now.

I’ve also noticed this down at the beach. In late afternoon during the month of August, black flies sometimes appear in small swarms at the beach. They bite. Sometimes, when I sit in my beach chair and write on my laptop at the beach, they have driven me away. Not even putting a beach towel over me helps. But this year, there are no black flies.

Curious about this phenomenon, I called Larry Penny, the retired East Hampton Environmental Officer who knows all about the bugs and the bees, to see if he has noticed it.

“There are definitely less ticks around this summer,” he told me. “And fewer bees and butterflies. Also fewer gypsy moths. I don’t know about other places. But there’s definitely something going on here.”

In prior years, working at the beach, I was often helped in my desire to stay out there by the birds, particularly the terns and plovers. The flies would appear. It was like the buffet at a banquet to the birds. They’d set up a storm of cheeping, and they would excitedly swoop around and gobble them up. Sometimes they’d gobble all of them up and I could stay. Sometimes the birds, sated, would be gone, but the survivors remained (wondering where the rest of their family went.) It was sort of a 50-50 proposition.

We may not like the flies and wasps and mosquitoes. But they are necessary to the chain of life on earth. They pollinate the flowers. They eat really tiny things and tidy up. Furthermore, they are beautiful. There are those that think a Monarch Butterfly is the most beautiful creature on earth. But much can be said for dragonflies, spiders and yellow jackets. Even moths, drab as they are, have an certain je ne sais quoi about them. Personally, I really miss the curious hovering behavior of the enormous carpenter bees that arrive out on our deck every June—but not this June. They would fly right up to you, stand there motionless in front of your face looking at you and sizing you up, then buzz off to check out other stuff.

What I think is going on this summer is little short of a disaster. I don’t know how long the planet can go on if we lose all the bugs. We have to do something about this. We have done things when there are other disasters among the creatures on this planet. We protect the little piping plovers that years ago got so endangered. Humans are not allowed near them. Huge fines, even jail time, can happen if you go near a nest of piping plovers. We tried to find out what happened when the bees started dying off five years ago. It’s true they rallied on their own, but we tried. I think frogs are now on the radar. But here, this summer, it’s practically every insect species?

The only explanation I can come up with that makes any sense, based on my experience with the plovers down on the beach, is that the birds have simply cleaned out the insects. The insects wake up in the morning. So do the birds. The birds have breakfast and lunch, and then there are no more insects. Dinner is a big problem for the birds. Without insects, they go hungry. They don’t complain, but we know how bad hunger feels. We can’t continue on without doing something about this, not only for the birds, but also for the bees.

I think there are two things we can do.

One is we can leave out large barrels of stagnant water. Leave them everywhere around your house. And our towns and villages should set an example by leaving out barrels of the stuff in parks and on beaches with signs on them reading KEEP OUT. Insects breed in stagnant water. So this will be a big help in providing them with a place to procreate
and give birth and raise their young in a peaceful setting.

The second thing is we can start shooting the birds. Cull the herd. We do this when the deer overstep their bounds. Fall is the big killing season to keep the deer herds under control. We should set up a shooting season for birds. I think the spring when they first arrive from their travels down South should be the time. They are exhausted. They don’t have the strength to get away from the hunters, even when they hear a birdsong warning from their sentries about their approach.

I think with these two actions we can, in very short order, perhaps in a matter of just a few years, restore the insects to their rightful place on eastern Long Island, pollinating our flowers, looking us square in the eye before buzzing off, and getting into the house to be chased around by people with fly swatters which, after all, is an excellent form of exercise involving reflexes, endurance, depth perception, craftiness, muscle tone, alertness and blood flow. And I mean this for both humans and insects.

We need a battle cry: Death to the Birds!

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