Production Blog

A Wicked Rural Upbringing

There are plenty of things to give you the heebie-jeebies down on the farm. My devilish varroa mite, depicted here in monster scale, can spell death to honey bees. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Halloween was mostly for town kids back in the day. Yes, we had costume parades at school, but the sweet part of the holiday -- trick or treating -- was rare.

One reason is neighbors were rare. But mostly, there were enough spooky things around the farm to keep our hearts pumping on a daily basis. There was little need to decorate or add to the hysteria.

You could:

-- Cut through the cornfield and come face-to-face with a black and yellow garden spider.

-- Wait until dark to do chores and step on one of the black cats lounging near the barn.

-- Climb into the hayloft and tease the bats.

-- Lift a hay bale to uncover a mother raccoon. (According to my parents, she was rabid. A ploy so we wouldn't beg to adopt the babies).

-- Head to the pasture to gather in calves and listen to coyotes howl.

-- Clean out the grain elevator dump to search for slimy salamanders and sniff rotten soybeans (the most putrid thing on the planet).

-- Swim with poisonous water moccasins at the farm pond.

Flesh eating maggots, snapping turtles, hissing Muscovy ducks, rats as big as cats ... the list of Halloween-worthy stuff was all around me, all the time, down on the farm.

I'd never really thought about how wicked my upbringing was until today when a blog appeared in my inbox from the Entomological Society of America. Thomas Chouvenc, an urban entomologist at the University of Florida, was writing about insects such as parasitoid wasps that gruesomely chew right through the host's organs from the inside out while keeping it alive the entire time.

He covers cannibalistic insect societies such as termites. There is a brief mention of zombie ants. Yikes!

Read the entire post if you dare:…

The insect world is free range for freaky stuff. Joseph Spencer, an entomologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, told me his favorite scary insect is the wheel bug (Arilus cristatus).

"Reputed to have a very painful stabbing bite. Their large size, 'stegosaurin' looks and staggering walk combine to say: 'Leave me alone,'" said Spencer. Although native to Illinois, I've never seen a wheel bug and I'm fine with that.

I have enough of a monster to deal with in our little apiary in the varroa destructor. One varroa mite is the equivalent of a full-size rabbit sucking the blood from each bee. These devils can only reproduce in a honey bee colony. They are the vector for several debilitating bee viruses and have a huge economic impact on the industry each year.

My grandchildren have informed me they are dressing up this year as lady beetles. Hurray!

I'm all for finding a way to make this holiday beneficial.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN



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