Island Packet – One could make the argument that all animal bites are displeasing developments, and that if possible, it’s best to avoid putting any of your valuable, delicious skin into the path of the teeth of something. It’s what biologists call “evolutionary theory,” and what most other people call “trying to avoid becoming dead.”
So it’s a little disingenuous to be writing a column about how one local animal’s bite is much, way and totally worse than all other local animals’ bites — especially when the animal in question isn’t an alligator, a development that can’t be sitting well with the local alligator community. I imagine they’re feeling a little like Ron Santo when he gets passed over for the Hall of Fame every time, like, “Um, what else do you need us to do here?” (I’m pretty sure they grumble about this during their council meetings before going back to doing whatever it is alligators do, which, according to every time I’ve seen one around here, is lounge around doing nothing really useful and being partially submerged in a pond of standing water, kind of like Sean Hannity.)
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about alligators, or Sean Hannity. Rather, if I had to rank in order the animals I’d least want to be bitten by in the Lowcountry, I’d go with the microscopic little hell-mouth we call the “no-see-um,” because though we’re still figuring out development and traffic flow around here, we are unparalleled when it comes to naming bugs. (Again, nothing against our alligator friends, but given the choice between a lousy gator bite and being exposed to a summer’s worth of no-see-ums, I mean, seriously, I can learn to type with my left hand).
No-see-ums, if you’re visiting for a golf tournament or got to this Web site because you Googled “miserable bloodsucking irritant that you can’t get rid of” and clicked past all the pages about Cheney, are very small mutant dragons that breathe fire, carry knives, live to be 500 years old, hold grudges and were brought to Earth via a curse from an extremely vengeful dark wizard. Their bite is monstrous, they tend to hang around in groups and they spend most of their time figuring out ways to fly into your mouth in groups of 50 when you’re out running.
The catch, as you may have inferred from the pleasingly Southern-lingo name, is that you can’t get rid of them because you don’t know they’re there until they’re gorging themselves on your doughy flesh; even if you did know, you can’t assassinate these things by conventional means. In fact, I don’t think you can kill them with anything. They are impervious to conventional weapons, sort of like Deceptions, or Terminators, or Yoko Ono; if you try to whack them with a magazine or a rolled-up local award-winning newspaper, they simply laugh out loud and make fun of you to their little friends.
And if you’re reading this column in the paper, you have the misfortune of being here during prime no-see-um season, which lasts from March until the following March. They are here ALL THE TIME, nonstop, year-round, although unlike most of the creatures who do that they’re not originally from Ohio.
But here’s the bad news: There’s not much you can do about them, or anything we’ve figured out anyway, short of walking around in a suit of chain mail, or maybe dipping yourself in candle wax. Which would certainly keep the bugs away, but would be seriously inconvenient when it came time to shave.
So, I figure, if you can’t beat them, make friends with them. So I’m thinking about initiating a letter-writing campaign to make the no-see-um South Carolina’s state birds, except I’m told by the younger, hipper staffers here that no one does those anymore, mostly because no one has written a letter since the fall of 1996, and that if I really wanted to rankle some feathers I’d make a Facebook group or something. So I’m working on that. It’s going to be like when New Jersey tried to name “Born to Run” the official state song; even though it’s not quite right, it’s TOTALLY RIGHT. It just seems like the nice thing to do, and I figure it works, the bugs will be gentler the next time I’m out running.