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  • Karen Terhune Duncan

What Bugs Me

I will admit that initially most roaming creatures of Savannah unnerved me. I’m now learning (well, sort of learning) to live with the good, the bad, the downright disgusting, and the fabulous!

A creepy, crawling bug any longer than my thumb is called a palmetto, which is really just southern for cockroach. Or “PALMETTO BUGGG!” which is what I scream as one scuttles at 20 miles an hour across the floor like the spawn of Satan that it is. Our exterminator (on retainer) assures us not to worry, as there is no infestation (Of course there isn’t, Doug says rolling his eyes) and that they just wandered in – or flew in from some damp place like my pine mulched beds. In any case it’s become Doug’s job (after I scream) to fetch the bug sucker machine he bought. He refuses to waste water (precious on an island) flushing them and we’ve been warned not to squish them and I’m afraid to ask why. Truth be told we see very few now that we have this wonderful service on retainer. They are worth every penny.

This is a skink, who are generally no longer than 8 inches. They are beneficial to the garden because their prey includes grasshoppers, snails, slugs, cockroaches and even small mice.

The primary fish in our lagoon are mullet. It’s not a pretty fish. Its face is too small, with big bug eyes and little squinched-up sucky lips. It’s a dull silver and gray color (sort of like the Oakland, soon to be Las Vegas, Raiders) and has a “furry top” (short in the front and longer in the back) which is where the horrific hairstyle of the 80s got its name. The best feature of this unremarkable fish is that it can jump. Like acrobats leapfrogging one another and sometimes 8-10 feet in the air. No joke. We are entertained for hours watching them from our terrace. And it’s the primary feast for our fowl. Our egret’s, our heron’s, our anhinga’s all prowl the banks of our lagoon preying on the mullet.

An egret, we've named Blanche, hangs at our lagoon every day.

Our Anhinga drys her wings. She's an interesting fowl. She'll dive for the mullet but then she has to dry her wings before she can fly.

We live on a tidal lagoon on an island. Basically nature has the upper hand. Our lagoon houses river otters, turtles, frogs, egrets, blue and grey heron, anhingas, osprey, eagles, ducks, ducks and more ducks. In the south, snake myths abound. We’ve never actually seen one but we hear about them all the time. In someone’s garage, under a porch, we even heard of one inside the lid of an outdoor grill! Some are venomous, and some are not. Much is publicized locally on how to tell the difference but I’m not sure I’ll remember if and when I encounter one. Which is inevitable.

The mosquito is the devil’s house pet. It serves no other purpose. It’s disease on wings and southerners spend countless hours and money devising ways to avoid them. Anti-mosquito bracelets, sprays and lotions of every type and giant fans (which do seem to do the best job, we think). Everything helps, nothing works. Mosquitos are a fact of life. Period. We have something here in the low country called sand gnats. They are biting midges or no-see-ums (local term because they are hard to actually see they are so tiny). They bite, are annoying and come up from the sandy marsh in the early spring. They don't carry disease like mosquitos but are just as annoying. Fans do the best trick as do some lotions.

Both the skink and the gecko (lizards) live in and around my terrace pots. And basically this is a good thing. They are eating mosquitos and other bugs. The gecko morphs into various shades of green, but that skink stays brown with the blue tail. And he bites, so I’ve been told. They are totally harmless to me, or maybe I’m just getting used to them. We don’t bother messing with the gigantic spider webs and the spiders the size of my hand as long as they are weaving out of where we walk or sit. Doug did “remove” one who had covered our front door with his web one afternoon.

Our property is a bird and butterfly sanctuary. We are treated daily to dozens of cardinals, blue birds, and the magnificent bunting. I believe strongly that bird feeders are an unnecessary nuisance. Plant what they love and they will come. And I continue to do exactly that and they flock to our terrace and our yard by the dozens every day. We bought a very useful book entitled, “The Birds of Georgia” and we refer to it often, excited when we recognize a new variety. Hummingbirds love my hibiscus and I have no need to hang sugar water solutions (which would only encourage mosquitos and other unwelcome insects). I continue to search out native plantings that enhance our yard and attract the best species of Georgia, naturally.

I've planted a lot of what the butterfly and birds love. I have huge groupings of this, Lantana, which the monarchs adore.

This guy lives in our lagoon and along our banks.

On this island we have to deal with what got here before us: raccoons, squirrels, deer (oh how I truly loath deer, a useless animal), armadillo, rabbits, water rats (these we keep hearing about and while we’ve not seen one, we know they are lurking in our marshes), oh and, alligator. Alligator are just a fact of life here. They bask in the sun along the golf course water edges, dipping in and out. Once they get to about 8 feet they are “removed”. The babies are born in the spring and we’ve only seen one young one in our lagoon, and never since, so we think he/she was out testing being away from its mother. Here’s the deal with alligators and we’ve been to several expert talks on this. They are truly not all that interested in us. But one must be smart. That means don’t walk your dog near the banks of any water edge. Alligators eat on opportunity. Don’t give them one. And for the sake of everything Southern and Holy DO NOT feed them. This baffles me. On every level. Feeding any wild animal domesticates them. They learn very quickly where food source is and if it’s from a human, a human is who they are going to go after.

I’ve learned a great deal about the creatures on my island. It’s their island too. And I’m okay with that.

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