June Bugs: Zombie/Vampires of the Bug World

With the Memorial Day weekend comes an extra day for outdoor fun and this past weekend’s weather was perfect for all sorts of activities in the Madison area. I spent the weekend enjoying backyard patio lounging, bike riding at the UW Arboretum, live music at Wurst Times and the Memorial Union Terrace, hiking at Indian Lake Park, BBQ’s and even some mini-pontoon lake-cruising on Windsor Lake

Lilacs at UW Arboretum

Hiking at Indian Lake Park

“Boating” on Windsor Lake

Unfortunately, with the warmer weather comes the bugs and inevitably the season’s first June bug sighting.  For those unaware, I have a terrible phobia of these not-so-small bugs.  I know they are harmless to humans but their size, sound, looks and propensity for aimless flight patterns puts them in my self-created category of super-scary-things.  Growing up a tom-boy, I had a hand in many things most girls would have avoided:  worms, fishing, snakes, tooling around on my bike and subsequently wiping out from pushing the speed limits.  Spiders and ticks aren’t my favorite things but they don’t stop me from doing anything I love.  So why does this beetle paralyze me with such fear?

June Bug

I can recall a number of terrifying experiences starting as far back as I can remember with my mom telling me about catching and putting them in jars when she was a kid.  Apparently they used to put sticks in there to watch them grab onto.  My mom decided to put her finger in one time and apparently the bug had enough taunting and decided to latch on.  Her screaminng and violent hand shaking wasn’t enough to rid the creature from her hand and she flailed helplessly until eventually getting the bug off.  I think the image I created in my head of her experience scarred me for life.

I remember one crawling across the kitchen floor one night as a kid, slowly toward me as I screamed for help that never came.  I remember them hanging onto our screens, buzzing their wings trying to get in toward the light.  I remember seeing their eyes, which seemed to glow slightly and certain they were coming for me.  Ridiculous, you say, right?

Flash to a few years later, being at my grandpa’s cabin in Winter, Wisconsin with my cousins and other family.  They were everywhere that one night and me and my one cousin sought refuge inside the cabin but couldn’t contain our screams which set my youngest cousin to crying.  My grandpa kicked open the door from outside and it hit my cousin hard, sending him even further into a tailspin and garnered us a harsh scolding from all adults involved all the while still in panic mode.

One night my old beagle Max, who was outside on his tether, got tangled around a tree.  He began to bark to alert me to his need for assistance and before I could open the door, I saw that they were swarming the light on the patio, standing between me and Max.  I hoped my husband at the time would be coming home from work soon but in time I realized he must be working late.  Not wanting the barking to aggravate the upstairs neighbors, I had to deal with the situation myself.  I put on long sweatpants that cinched tight at the bottom, a hooded sweatshirt that I could cinch the hood closed over most of my head and face.  I tucked my hands into my sleeves and made a mad dash out the door, grabbed Max under one arm and ran back into the house as fast as I could.  Once inside, I frantically ripped off the garments, fearful that one of the bugs had attached itself to my clothes.  I then proceeded to have my first panic attack complete with hyperventilating, tears and almost passing out. 

Fast forward a year or so later, I find myself taking out some garbage to the dumpster of my apartment.  I’m not sure how I managed to come out the door and not notice them but in the dark of the dumpster, I could hear them flying around.  I ran back as quickly as I could to get back into the building and saw the door covered in them, swarming the light.  I started to panic because not only were they by the light, but apparently they were in the parking lot too.  In a moment of desperation, I ran into the building hoping none would fly into me.  Once inside, I proceeded to have my second panic attack.

One night out at my favorite watering hole, Topp’s Hideaway in Windsor, I was talking to a friend in the ladies room.  She was in the stall, I was by the sink washing my hands.  All of the sudden, she screams a bone chilling shriek.  Apparently one had crawled up her leg and into her pants.  She wasn’t sure what it was and when she reached down to pull it out, saw it was a huge june bug, threw it, stomped it and ran out of the stall.   Once she filled me in, we both screamed and ran from the bathroom in panic. 

Just a couple of years ago, my home in Deforest had it’s own infestation of these awful bugs.  They were no where to be seen and then it would get dark and once the screen porch door was opened and the motion light came on, you could see tons of them fly in from the pine tree and head toward the light.  One night when I had plans to go into Madison late at night, I had to make another mad dash out the door and to the car.  I waited for the light to be off for a long time.  When I didn’t hear them anymore, I ran out as fast as I could and got into my car.  Aha!  I thought.  I made it!  Then I was surprised to hear one in the car very near my head.  It must have hitched a ride with me.  I jumped out of the car and began to panic, once again.  I called my boyfriend, who I was supposed to go see, to tell him the debacle I was in.  I couldn’t go in the car and I couldn’t go back into the house.  I cried.  I screamed.  I felt so incredibly helpless and scared.  I managed to track down the bug in my car and half stun it with my shoe and kicked it out.   I quick jumped in and drove away.

That same season, at a friend’s wedding at the East Side Club, I was having a fun night with friends, enjoying the celebration.  Leisurely minding my own business by the bar with wine in hand, I felt something hit me in the head.  I jumped, batted at it with my hand, not sure what it was, and much to my surprise, see one hit the ground.  The realization that it was in my hair and touched my hand was more than I could stand.  Shortly thereafter, I said goodbye to everyone and left.

Most recently, a couple of nights ago, the June bugs barricaded me in my apartment building by overrunning each entrance door of the building. Poor Cole is on a daylight only walking schedule now until they run their course which hopefully won’t take more than a week or two.   

I did a little research on these bugs which are all over North America.  They grow from one half to one and a half inches in length.  They burrow into the ground, when they aren’t making my life hell, are nocturnal and have an overwhelming attraction to light.  Oddly, too much light exposure can kill them.  They eat plants but as far as I can see, not other bugs (which is why I tolerate spiders fairly well, knowing the good they do).  So, as far as I can tell, June bugs are like zombie/vampires of the bug world.  They only come out at night, the light can kill them but they slumber most of the time in the ground until the temperature is right and then they emerge, ready to terrorize.  Ok, maybe this is a little over-dramatic but can you really blame me knowing the history I have with them?  

For more of my nature photography (where you won’t see any June bugs) visit my Flickr page.

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