Sunday, September 13, 2009

Invasion of the Bow Bugs

I telephoned a Friend of My Youth of a Saturday morning. "What's up?" Stan was not the world's brightest kid, but there was usually something to do around his house. He lived in a middle-class neighborhood at the edge of the city, where development had ended with the housing boom of the 1920's. Behind his house was a glorious stretch of undeveloped farmland, all the way to the new interstate highway. It was a great place to run and explore. In the spring it flooded with a mosaic of small seasonal ponds, brimming with tadpoles, frogs and other critters, a perfect getaway place for a young kid.
"There's something new out back," he said. "Bow bugs." I had no idea what he was talking about, but managed to contrive a ride over there. There were several other neighborhood kids around. In his garage he'd set up numerous bowls and jars with "specimens" of this new creature they'd found in the ponds out back.
We walked out through the flooded fields, and sure enough, most of them held two or three of these primitive-looking organisms. Only the ponds nearest the house, where the first collecting had begun were devoid of this form of life. The neighbor kids claimed that they had somehow appeared overnight.
Stan explained that they called them "Bow Bugs," because they looked like a bow tie. Although, as I mentioned, Stan was far from an intellectual, he had managed to produce a dissecting kit from somwhere and was in the process of demonstrating his scientific acumen to the other kids.

The "Bow Bugs" consisted of two lobes of jellyfish-like membrane, separated by something that looked suspiciously like a rubber band. We all noticed that when "dissected," they gave off a chemical, formaldehyde-like smell. I pointed this out to Stan, who didn't want to hear my theory. He was too busy poking the "Bow Bug" with a needle, causing it to give up more of the formaldehyde smell and bringing small droplets of oil to the surface of the water in the dish.
By now every kid in the neighborhood had been into the garage and had seen the strange phenomenon, and a group of adults was beginning to form.
One guy came into the garage and grabbed his son, a blond-haired kid named Terry who had been in on the discovery from the beginning, by the arm and dragged him home. "I don't know what the hell these things are, but until we find out you're goin' home and staying inside. And no lookin' out either!" The whole thing was starting to remind me of a Twilight Zone episode. When I left a short time later, I noticed Terry's house was all shut up, and all the blinds were drawn.
In a day or two someone found out that the local health department had placed the "Bow Bugs" in the ponds as part of a mosquito control experiment. They weren't "bugs" at all. They were an envelope of semi-permeable membrane filled with DDT (or something similar) and cinched in the middle with a tiny rubber band.
As far as I know, none of us had any ill effects from handling the things. That neighborhood did produce its fair share of juvenile delinquents, but that might be a matter of coincidence. Someone said Stan went on to become a bartender.

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