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Creepy, Crawly Florida Childhoods

We had some pretty spectacular bugs where I grew up. In the summer, there were praying mantises with their long, neon-green legs on the porch and fireflies to chase through the yard at night. In the winter, crickets inhabited our heaters. But nothing beats the bugs of my kids’ Florida childhoods.

Who worries about monsters under your bed when you have giant, flying arthropods scaling your walls and dive-bombing your head?

When my oldest daughter was little, she expressed a mild interest in insects. We immediately bought her one of those nifty backyard bug collector’s kits and encouraged her to explore the yard with her net. I sent off for a home butterfly cage with larvae so we could witness the metamorphosis. We even threw a bug party for her 5th birthday and gave away live ladybugs as party favors. 

“Maybe she’ll grow up to be a scientist,” I gushed one day while we were visiting her grandparents. 

My mother-in-law, who has lived a lot longer in Florida than I have, replied, “Hmm, yeah, better yet, an exterminator.”

My romantic notions about bugs ended about the same time a scorpion crawled out of our dishwasher.

About 500 species of insects reside only in Florida. And more come every day. Until recently, scientists saw about a dozen new bugs arrive in Florida each year. Lately, however, that number has doubled. (We’re not the only ones who enjoy living here.) Back in April, an Orlando man set fire to his apartment while trying to burn the bugs that infested his home and computer. 

As the bites on our legs herald a new mosquito season in South Florida, let’s pay tribute to the top insects that infest our lives and surpass even our wildest imaginations. What Florida bug horrifies you or your kids the most? 

These are the Top 5 that creep me out:

5. The household casebearer. These are the gray woolen seeds that appear pretty harmless when you find them sticking to your home’s walls UNTIL THEY START MOVING.  They are actually silk-lined larval cases for a moth that eats spider webs, carpets and clothing. 

4. Eastern lubber grasshopper. These hulking hoppers can grow up to three inches. They have five eyes, viselike jaws and bright red and yellow stripes. They’re the only one of the 70 species of grasshoppers in Florida that defies natural predators and insecticides. Too fat to fly, lubbers can jump high and long. When disturbed, they spread their wings and hiss. If you try to touch one (why? why?), it ejects foul foam. 

3. Glowing click beetle or cocuyo. With three luminescent areas on its neck and butt, this is about as close as Florida gets to a lightning bug. But, unlike fireflies, these glow steadily and scare the bejesus out of you when you walk into a dark room and see these glowing green circles staring you down. 

2. Wolf spider. Big, hairy, venomous and they carry hundreds of offspring on their backs. ‘Nuff said.

1. Asian cockroach. They first entered the United States through Florida in the 1980s. Unlike the common German cockroach, it is attracted to light and is not afraid of humans. They’re more prolific than Palmetto bugs. But what you really need to know is that THEY CAN FLY. Entomologists have tracked Asian cockroaches flying 120 feet.  That’s the length of the Wright brothers’ first flight, but it’s nothing compared to the distance I can cover after encountering one of these.