The cay we live on is truly a beautiful place. Our little bungalow overlooks the gentle Sea of Abaco. Our north shore shoulders the cobalt Atlantic. Colorful reefs fringe our iron shore. There are swaths of bright green, grassy pastures in between, stippled with mini orchards of sea grape trees, buttonwood, and palms.
From the moment we arrived here, we were captivated by the wildlife that called this rock a permanent or transient home. Yellow-crowned night herons stalk ghost crabs across the beach. Bottlenose dolphins have cavorted offshore, swimming around our mooring ball, yards from our knee caps as we stood in the shallows, utterly entranced. We have even had the epic privilege of being visited by a mother loggerhead turtle that heaved her huge bulk out of the ocean to cross our island and lay 36 eggs in a burrow she painstakingly dug out with her hind flippers.
However, Mother Nature is a multi-faceted jewel, and living off the grid, with much of our time spent in the grand outdoors for work and play, we also endure the less appealing creatures nature has to offer. Allow me to introduce you to my Top 4 Public Enemies in Paradise:
Paradise Enemy #1: No See Ums
Minuscule, near invisible, blood sucking midges. I am positive they are the insect version of the evil Harpies of Greek Mythology with their microscopic talons and fangs. As I sit on the shoreline, sipping wine on a rare, utterly still evening, they light me on fire. Peace is impossible. I can hardly see these wee vampires, never mind swat them to death. Instead, I squirm and spill wine until I can take it no longer and run up the beach to the comforts of the indoors, making sure to close doors and windows behind me, because these little devils can sail through mosquito mesh with room for aerobatics. Oddly enough, they either have a very strict curfew or poor night vision because as soon as light fails, they disappear. And we are always grateful for the reprieve.
Paradise Enemy #2: Doctor Flies
On the other end of the size spectrum, these beasts are the Goliath version of the blood suckers we encounter in Paradise. With empirical evidence being my own blood and tears, I am convinced that these brutes enjoy a healthy dose of salt with their meal. I am more often than not happily lolling in the cushion of the sea’s positive buoyancy when I hear their loathsome buzz. Immediately my eyes roll into their sockets as I frantically scan every inch of the sky trying to spot the winged fiend. When the intruder finally finds a piece of flesh above water, I must then endure the angst of letting it settle comfortably on my skin, sharpening its mouth shears preparing to puncture, before I can deliver a felling blow. I think science should research the resilience of the exoskeleton of the doctor fly, because I am constantly amazed that upon delivery of a giant Muhammad Ali-sized punch, the little horror, upside down on the water’s surface, will right itself, and with an annoyed buzz, fly off to plan another assault. Great, now it’s pissed. Where’s my towel?
Paradise Enemy #3: Hermit Crabs
At first these odd creatures were considered friend not foe. I delighted in their lumbering travels across the lawn, dragging their cumbersome bedrooms with them wherever they went. If I thought I had their intended travel plans right, I would pick them up and roll them where I assumed they were headed. I figured this saved them days of travel time. My visiting niece was treated to cheerful mornings applying puffy stickers and paint to bling out their shells. Hermit crabs need new homes as they grow, and I was fascinated with their uncanny ability to find the real estate they needed, on a cay where the inventory could not have met the housing demand. I never saw a naked hermit crab.
But their initial charm soon wore off as I began to observe a slightly more insidious quality to their nature. They can smell a plate of dog food an acre away. Upon detecting this delectable dish, they would begin their recon mission en masse. What looked like innocent sea grape leaves covering the ground, would suddenly become a heaving mass of hairy legs and claws, slouching towards the odiferous dish like the beast in WB Yeats’ The Second Coming. Horrible. More then once I have heard one of my puppies hollering, and I would dash outside to see what was amiss. Hanging determinedly off a bottom lip, or delicate belly skin, was one of these little terrors. My hard-earned garden was considered a gift made in their honour. Time after time, I visit this formally happy place only to find the entrails of my tomatoes and peppers, hanging off severed stalks. This was war.
The game of “who can collect the most hermit crabs” began. The largest were left alone out of respect for elders. The others were plucked up by the bucketfuls. Getting rid of them after collection was an interesting challenge. I thought it would suffice to dump them off our 200 ft long dock. But days later, a drenched line of somewhat miffed-looking hermit crabs could be seen hauling themselves out of the surf. I recognized them by their bling. Next time, I will take them out a little further – like the mainland, to become someone else’s nightmare.
Paradise Enemy #4: Plant-eating Caterpillars
Living on a rock, I soon came to appreciate the investment involved in landscaping. The cost of desirable plants from mainland nurseries is astronomical. What I have spent in an hour of flora indulgence I am certain that somewhere else, I could have bought an acre of land to grow them myself. After swallowing this unpalatable purchase pill and transporting them back to the cay, I then must plunge them into the salt-drenched dirt that covers my rock and pray they survive the salt infusion. After many weeks of balancing my water hoarding tendencies with my need to keep my plants alive, I am blessed with a pink and white skirt of oleanders around my bungalow. Happy times!
Then one day I see it: perched prettily on their branches, a bright orange caterpillar. Then four, then a dozen. I delight in the anticipation of beautiful butterflies soon to be floating across the cay. That is, until I take a closer look and notice the cookie cutter nibbles being taken out of my precious wards. My oleanders were getting a daily crew cut! Google, here I come!
I am introduced to the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth. No longer do I have visions of dancing butterflies in my head. This moth and its destructive larvae have come to top my list of Island Invaders. After trying a selection of natural pesticides, I find that nothing seems to stop this munching army. So I resort to a more direct approach. Beheading. Armed with kitchen scissors and protective clothing, I dive into the leafy arms of my plants, set on an apocalyptic mission. After reading that both the milk and the caterpillars themselves can be severe irritants, I am careful with my snips. Some still manage to fall into my hair and shirt, so I must temporarily abandon my efforts to jump and squeal and fluff them out of my hair and bosom. With furry orange carcasses littered about, my job for that day is done. But the caterpillar plague is an ongoing battle. I have become much more desensitized in my culling. Nowadays I am quite comfortable with marching around the perimeter of my bungalow in a bikini sans scissors and simply reaching in and popping the fat little critters with my fingers. Caterpillar body fluids in the eyeball are indeed an irritant, but worth the discomfort for the satisfaction.
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Yes, it might be time again to get off the rock if this is my new ceiling in entertainment.
What Pests of Paradise to you consider your top enemies?