One of the less vaunted aspects of adapting to life abroad is getting to know your neighbours. Not the human ones, with whom you can decide the degree of interaction you’re mutually comfortable with. I mean those household occupants we live cheek by jowl with who don’t share a surname or the rent (or any idea of personal space, come to think of it).
Before we emigrated I did a little internet digging on just how murderous Mother Nature habitually was in southern Ontario and was relieved to find Ontario’s only poisonous snake is the Massasauga Rattler, which put us on a par with the adder in the UK. By moving, we’d just be swapping one for the other, the bonus being we’d hear this one coming!As far as spiders were concerned, all we had to worry about was the Brown Recluse spider (or Fiddleback), which can inflict a bite capable of causing a rash, nausea, fever, scarring and even death. Bizarrely, while researching this article (and trying to make myself feel better by confirming my hunch of a similarly hazardous species of spider in Britain) I discovered there are more venomous spiders in the UK than I realized, so I figure if I survived over twenty years there without any issues the odds look good for us here.
In three years we’ve managed to avoid Poison Ivy (more creepy than crawly, I know), despite the warning signs in our local conservation area indicating its presence. There are various droll rhymes you can commit to memory to help with identification: ‘Leaflets three, let it be’, ‘Hairy vine, no friend of mine’, ‘Raggy rope, don’t be a dope’ and ‘Side leaflets like mittens, it’ll itch like the dickens’. Sounds like the work of a frustrated Hallmark employee.
The oil of Poison Ivy binds to the skin causing a rash, inflammation and blisters. If you burn the stuff inhaled smoke can cause the same damage to the lining of the lungs. Nasty eh! A rash develops within a week of exposure and can last anywhere from one to four weeks with severe cases earning you a stay in hospital.
Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky when it came to Fire Ants.
We learned early on – with me featuring as the example – which end of our favorite beach to steer clear of. These guys are a ‘Red For Danger’ version of regular ants. A bite from a fire ant (actually a sting delivered from its abdomen, so technically not a bite) causes a prolonged and painful burning sensation resulting in a very sore bump that can scar if scratched. It disappears after a few irritation-filled days, but you sure as hell wouldn’t want a cluster of them all together. Fire ants are dangerous if you have an allergic reaction to them. A 13-year-old Texas boy died just last week after receiving multiple bites during a football game.
Even without these menaces, there were plenty of other benign buggy differences to get used to as we settled into our new home. Take the first sign of Spring. As the temperatures finally hold above freezing after a long hard winter the joy of new life is heralded by… swarms of annoying black flies.
They coat the sides of houses, fences, even the shaded sides of lighting columns. Cobwebs everywhere are suddenly visible, festooned with countless little black corpses.
For two to three weeks every year, watching people helicopter their arms around their heads as they walk (or if they’re really crazy, jog) into a loitering cloud becomes more compelling than TV.
Then there are the household spiders – we’ve grown accustomed to the springy feats of what we’ve imaginatively christened ‘the jumping spider’ – a skittish little fella with a body of about three millimetres.
Then there’s the long-limed gangly ‘vibrating spider’ who spins violently in dizzying circles when disturbed, and the unseen arachnid architect responsible for tomb-like silken cocoons constructed in the wedges where walls meet ceilings or window sills. All these were unsettlingly freaky when we first arrived and now warrant nothing more than a passing glance.
One thing that still gives us the willies though, is the House Centipede (and please, do take a moment to click through and appreciate his charms). Measuring anywhere between one to four flippin’ inches, with fifteen pairs of legs giving him ‘a clean pair of heels’ – a zippy 0.4metres a second to be exact. We encountered nothing like this in England where we battled platoons of silverfish when we took on our renovation. This beats them hands down thanks to sheer size; I thought I’d woken up in the Protozoic Era when I first met one. Despite their looks they’re totally harmless to humans and, being insectivores, I’m hoping they’ll sort the earwig problem we’ve been enduring all summer.
On the bright side, we regularly see the most beautiful dragonflies, their fragile iridescence enthralling as they streak about erratically. And we’ve had the pleasure of having a Swallowtail butterfly rest on an outstretched hand. Window screens keep the mosquitoes and blackfly at bay and the biggest annoyance at this time of year are the wasps – some things are the same everywhere.
by Aisha Ashraf.
Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations."
Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here or click the button below to view her own blog…