Posted by: floridanature | May 1, 2008

Welcome to Midge World

I was trying to join some friends for dinner at a little waterfront restaurant on Lake Monroe the other evening. Nice breeze coming up off the dark night water and truely lovely the way late springtime in Florida can sometimes be. I’m standing at the table, since I just walked in (it’s a high table), and my friends are getting ready to chow down. The waitress is saying waitress type things and a very animated woman I don’t know is also at the table, waving her arms. But this is not the strange part.

The strange part was when the Midge Patrol drove up on the lawn next to the outside screened room where we were and started gasing us. They were actually trying to gas the midges, little fly-type guys (chironomid midges) that breed as larvae in the giant lake outside, and then, as adults, swarm in and engulf whatever is moving. They don’t bite, but since they multiply in the millions like some sort of Biblical plague, they pile up in great numbers, and are slippery as hell when you step on them. The sure and non-toxic way to get rid of the midges, also called “blind mosquitos”, is to clean up the sluggish dilation in the St. Johns river, known as a lake, cuz the little buggers especially like the silty, oxygen-poor conditions of the eutrophic waters. But, as we know, without chemicals there would be no life (as per the Dow slogan), so we default to great plumes of pesticides instead.

I asked the waitress why the truck was gasing us, when clearly, we ought not to be gassed. Her answer was classic: “It’s the city or county spraying.” Which sort of means, it’s okay, cuz they know what they’re doing. Or if they don’t, we can’t do anything about it, anyways.

Once my friend, who is a physician, figured out what was happening, we all took our food and beverages and moved inside, but by then, we had a patina of chemical about us. I also tried to study why another half dozen people continued to sit outside and feed while they were also being sprayed. Perhaps they already knew the city or county had okayed it.

Sanford has tried to get rid of its midge problem for years now. About a decade ago, they spent about $100,000 to have a large barge built that would sort of suck all the midges to their teensy little bug deaths. But a storm came and washed it ashore. Later, the midge season didn’t arrive on time, and the barge sat there forlorn, bereft of midges. By the time they did come, everyone had lost hope and the midge barge had lost funding. Now there are three small midge barges, which funtion like giant bug lights. Photovoltaics energize the lights by day and draw the midges like entomological sirens to their unglorious ends. Sort of like little single bars for insects.

And of course, the Midge Patrol sprays toxins far and wide. During Christmas parades, the Midge Patrol usually gets the largest round of applause, although it does not actually spray the audience during the event. I’m wondering if eating all the mercury-enriched bass from the lake for years hasn’t somehow made us more addled than the usual Floridian, and thus, unable to make good decisions about mixing insect management with al fresco dining.

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