Stingers and stickers were a part of growing up in south Texas. Your mother ran you down and pried thorns out of the soles of your feet, using a needle and shushing you the whole time. It didn’t hurt much. Going barefoot made tough feet. The really bad thorns called for a bacon poultice. Remember those?
Texas has its share of spiders and scorpions and such. We were all terrified of those big hairy tarantulas taking their twilight strolls (they’re harmless). And we thought scorpions were deadly, too. No Texas scorpion will kill you but it will wake you up if you roll over on one at night. (And it’s interesting – here in Georgia I sometimes find scorpions in my house. I’ve never been stung once, during my forty years here).
Most of my childhood stings came from red ants. I guess it was because they were so fascinating to watch. They cleared a big circular area around their nest opening. My brother and I would squat down and survey their comings and goings. Trails ran out in several directions. How did an ant know which one to take? Throw a Frito into the trail and the ants would tussle over ownership – the largest ant usually won possession. And into the nest went the Frito. Maybe you’d find a horned toad feeding on red ants. (We weren’t scared of horned toads at all).
If you squatted there too long you were bound to get stung. The sting of one red ant is painful enough but doesn’t last too long. Sometimes the dog would get a sting between his toes, and that was amusing, too.
I can recall instances of stumbling on a red ant nest in the dark. The first sting might be on the back of your neck – and you soon found yourself removing clothing as fast as you could. Multiple red ant stings are no small torment.
Red ants in Texas are fading into history, possibly due to overuse of agricultural insecticides. With them go the horned toads too, although pet collectors have played a role.
I’m told that fire ants are replacing red ants in Texas.
And they are worse.
February 14, 2012
“The only truly serious questions are the ones that even a child can formulate.” – Milan Kundera