Originally published March 1, 1987
Ruby Bunch lives all alone. She has a little house on a little plot of land in Seffner, Fla., a little town just east of Tampa. She's been there since 1944. She's 75. She's a widow. Living alone.
She says she's not afraid of the things in her lawn. "They don't bother me, " she says. "They're quite clean, you know, they don't leave slime, like the others."
"But I guard this house with my life, " she says. "Because there are so many of them."
She's sitting in her living room, which is neat as a pin. The whole house is. She takes you outside, to show you the yard. It's very neat also. Nice trees. Nice, neat shrubs. Nicely trimmed grass, nice
WHAT WAS THAT?
Off to the left there, in those dead leaves. Something was . . . moving.
You walk over. Gingerly, you brush some leaves aside, and . . .
There they are.
Little brown ones. Five or six of them, maybe. Scurrying along purposefully, on Official Business, the way insects do. You move a couple of steps, and you brush aside a few more leaves.
More cockroaches. Maybe 10 this time.
You get a stick, because suddenly you're not crazy about touching this lawn. You're starting to feel funny, just standing on this lawn. You poke the stick some more -- in the leaves, in the grass, all around -- and everywhere you poke, you see more cockroaches. Everywhere. Gradually you realize that the entire yard is, literally, crawling with them. As you walk, you start to feel things on your legs. Sometimes you look down and realize you are just imagining this. Sometimes you look down and realize that there are, in fact, cockroaches on your legs.
Standing on her porch, Ruby Bunch says: "Sometimes you walk outside, and they fly up on your clothes."
You walk briskly back toward the safety of your rental car.
"If I have them, I bet everybody has them, " Ruby Bunch says. "I don't see why they would just pick me out."
* * *
OK. We don't want to cause a panic, here. We are a responsible newspaper. We are not some supermarket tabloid shrieking that sex-crazed Bigfoot UFO invaders have taken over the phone company. But we have been doing some factual checking on this Tampa situation -- a very unusual procedure for us -- and what we have found out, as simply and clearly and calmly as we can state it, without needlessly alarming anybody, is that A SCARY NEW KIND OF COCKROACH HAS INVADED THE UNITED STATES AND IT'S LESS THAN 250 MILES FROM MIAMI AND IT CAN FLY AND MULTIPLY LIKE CRAZY AND IT'S SPREADING AND IT COULD COME HERE AND INFEST YOUR YARD AND CRAWL UP YOUR LEG AND PRACTICALLY NOBODY IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT.
You don't believe us, right? You think this is another case of blatant media sensationalism, like Halley's Comet? Well perhaps you will believe Dr. Philip Koehler, who is a professor of entomology (Latin or Greek for "the study of bugs") at the University of Florida AND a researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture AND one of the top cockroach men around. He is not afraid of cockroaches. He keeps giant Madagascar cockroaches, which grow to be 3 1/2 inches long and hiss, as pets. He is not afraid to just reach into the cage and pick one up. With his bare hands.
The new cockroach makes him very nervous.
"It appears that this is going to be a major pest, " says Koehler (pronounced KAY-lor). "We have measured densities of over 100,000 per acre around houses. Now with the palmetto bugs (a catch-all name for several species of cockroach) you get in Miami, you'd really have a problem, a serious infestation, if you had 1,000 per acre. So we're talking about infestations at least 10 times as bad as the palmetto bug. There are places around Tampa where you can't put your foot down without stepping on 25 of them. At night, they're landing on your TV screen, crawling up your leg, flying around, hitting you in the head. Even in daylight, the grass is teeming with them, and they fly up as you walk through the yard."