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Zzz, swat, zap -- modern fly killer


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I open the door

An’ the flies swarm in,

I shut the door

An’ I’m sweatin’ again

…life gets teejus, don’t it?

—As sung by Doc Watson

SUMMER means bug time. Through the years, we’ve devised many ways to deal with them, from the low-energy method described in the old folk song above, to the modern overreaction, including overuse of pesticides.

Bug zappers can be purchased, allegedly to take care of the problem automatically. A bluish light attracts the insects, and when they arrive, they are zapped by electrified wires surrounding the light. Sometimes it seems you end up attracting more bugs that like the light but bypass the current. That just means more bugs.

Plus, as indiscriminate as the zappers are, you end up killing the beneficial insects, such as the praying mantis.

Here in southern Indiana, we’re blessed with a distinct, foul-smelling breed of ladybug. Each autumn, thousands of them find their way into homes. Just vacuuming them up is sometimes the most effective way of dealing with them.

We also get Japanese beetles that eat foliage all summer, and of course, mosquitoes and flies, the old standbys.

Mankind has been fighting flies, which can carry disease and just be plain annoying, for centuries.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, the flyswatter had its origins in Dodge City in the late 1800s. There, Samuel J. Crumbine, a member of the state board of health, led a campaign against conditions that led to the spread of diseases.

He urged people not to share common drinking cups and towels, which was apparently pretty common in public buildings and on railroads. His success is obvious today in disposable paper products.

Crumbine may be best known for his “Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk” slogan, which he convinced some brick manufacturers to engrave on their products. And he urged people to screen their doors and windows.

He also led a “Swat the Fly” campaign, taking a note from the new-fangled sport of baseball, where fans chanted “swat the ball.”

The website legendsrevealed.com says a schoolteacher and Scout leader named Frank H. Rose created “fly bat” using a yardstick and a small patch of screen. He presented it to Crumbine, who renamed it the “flyswatter.”

It’s still one of the most effective weapons we have.

My wife and I usually take a low-tech live-and-let-live approach to most of these pests, with one exception: Hornets.

Ever since my son’s girlfriend had such a severe reaction to yellowjacket stings that she actually lost the power of speech for a few weeks, we’ve been vigilant.

Technology has provided a new, more specific version of the bug zapper. It’s really just a flyswatter, but includes a battery-operated grid which electrocutes the insect. It’s a lot more specific and selective than the old zapper, and it works well on hornets.

Beyond that, we’re just fine with old-fashioned swatters and screen. Oh yes, a rolled-up newspaper (especially The Republic) works well, too.

Bob Gustin is editor of The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5665 and rlgustin@therepublic.com.

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