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Letter From America: We Are Not Alone!

"It does not matter how large or well knitted your jumper is, when that tiny thread catches on an invisible nail point or sliver of wood and you go on your merry way blissfully ignorant that an unknitter is at work, it is amazing how soon not only the ravelled sleeve becomes unravelled, but the back and front of the garment are also candidates for re-conversion into the yarn from which it was painstakingly forged...''

After catching a mental "thread'' Ronnie Bray finds himself deep in the wonderful world of the weevil. To read more of Ronnie's fizzingly entertaining columns please click on Letter From America in the menu on this page.

It is a fact of life and one of the major postulates of Sod’s Law that trivial and insignificant things can lead to major events and the untumbling of life-as-we-know-it. It does not matter how large or well knitted your jumper is, when that tiny thread catches on an invisible nail point or sliver of wood and you go on your merry way blissfully ignorant that an unknitter is at work, it is amazing how soon not only the ravelled sleeve becomes unravelled, but the back and front of the garment are also candidates for re-conversion into the yarn from which it was painstakingly forged.

As with jumpers and jerseys, so it is with subjects so trivial that they do not register on the most delicate galvanometer. Take, for example, the modest tribolium. It is of no great size, and if it refrained from moving it probably would not have been noticed. Yet, as Galileo hushedly muttered, "It moves!" and I saw it move.

I was occupied making some dog biscuits for my pair of prize pooches, ladling spoonsful of whole wheat flour out of its canister when a skittling avalanche revealed what looked like a not-too-finely ground piece of whole wheat grain. However, the fact that it moved set me on a course that added a considerable amount of time to what was a fairly simple and straightforward task. Gay muttered the time-worn response to bugs in food, "It’s extra protein," when I drew her attention to the livestock, but I was not as keen to risk my doggies’ health as her Momma had been to risk hers.

The dog biscuits were eventually made and cooked and met with tremendous enthusiasm by our Border Collie, Frankie, who is Miss Fastidious, unlike Belle who is Miss Fast-Eater. Frankie’s devouration of the crunchy morsels made the effort worth while, but as rewarding as that was, I was left with a hanging question.

Turning to the book of words, and searching out weevils, having been informed by Gay that that is what the cute little creatures were, I caught a thread of my inquisitiveness on a nail and couldn’t stop until I was summa cum laude in Flour Weevils and their equally fascinating cousins, and had all the means at my disposal for getting rid of the varmints.

Weevils, which are also called Billbugs in the USA, form the largest family in the insect world. They get into everything as just a few of their names suggest. My visitors, that must have been in the flour when I brought it home from the market, were Flour Weevils, and that means they eat ground grains. Others of this extensive family exult in the names of their preferred comestibles or favourite feeding places, and include, the Rice Weevil, the Khapra Beetle, the Larder or Bacon Beetle, the Leather or Hide Beetle, the Fur, Carpet, (AKA Museum) Beetle, Spider and Plaster Beetle.

There are Saw-Toothed Grain Beetles, Drugstore (AKA, Bread or Biscuit) Beetles, Mealworm Beetles, Cigarette or Tobacco Beetle, Grain Beetles, Broad-horned Flour Beetle, Waste Grain Beetle, Lesser Mealworm Beetles, Mealworm Beetles, Cellar or Churchyard Beetles, Plaster Beetles, and Spider Beetles. Also Fur Beetles, Variegated Carpet Beetles, Shop Beetles, Drug-store Beetles, Cigarette Beetles, Horned Flour Beetles, Broad-horned Flour Beetles, and Waste Grain Beetles.

Having learned more than I thought I would ever need to know about these interesting and resourceful creatures, I was then faced with the problem of what to do about them. Gay’s remark was, I discovered, typical of old-timers who couldn’t afford to throw out infested food and so made the best of a bad situation. None of them seems to have suffered as a result of habitual weevil-phagocytosis, but in these modern times, surely ….

It is said that you can tell how long a person has been suffering from weevil infestation by what they do about it, as recorded in this gobbet of ancient wisdom.

In the first two years, when weevils were found in the flour, they threw the flour away.

From two to four years, when weevils were found in the flour, they strained out the weevils and used the flour.

After five years, the weevils had to look out for themselves.

I have to confess that I scoured the flour to catch every one of the little beauties, and eventually – don’t ask me why – I strained every grain of it before drowning the insects and pouring the de-infested flour down the waste disposal grinder in the sink. A short time later, I did the same with the drowned corpses of my new friends.

I took advice on how to keep my pantry weevil free, and caught another sleeve on a sliver of wood, but the ‘cures’ are worth the sacrifice. They include, but are not limited to:

Keeping the flour in the freezer.

Put some matches inside the flour container, as weevils dislike sulphur.

Keep some iron nails in the container.

Scatter sticks of spearmint gum around the kitchen and pantry.

Sprinkle bay leaves around.

None of these remedies is guaranteed, because my correspondents claim to have used them severally and in combination but the beasties are still roaming free and helping themselves to the very best they can find. The Flour Weevil is about 1/8 inch long (3-4 mm for Europeans) and reddish-brown in colour. Just to confuse an already confusing issue, the Flour Weevil (or Beetle, the terms are interchangeable) comes in two varieties, the Confused Flour Beetle and the Red – presumably ‘unconfused’ - Flour Beetle, although they are similar in aspect and proclivities.

It is evident that generations of Americans have been, and still are, eating weevils, but not at a rate that is likely to see them disappear altogether, and they are not an endangered species. Children who are mean enough to complain about bugs in their food are sharply scolded with, 'There are children in China (or Africa, or India, North Dakota, or Lancashire) who are starving and would love to have your food, weevils and all!’ To date, no bug-crunching child has managed to deliver a convincing response to that crushing coup de grace.

If you do not keep flour at home, do not imagine that you are free from invasion by these chitinous marvels, for they are as happy gnawing on beans, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, as on any other food in your house.

Although I am gathering matches, nails, spearmint gum, and bay leaves, adding garlic, and keeping a whittled-down stake and mallet near the flour jar, I am also considering getting in some Insect Growth regulator that the pretties can eat and have their development thwarted so that they cannot reproduce. That will solve my problem. At least until the next time I bring another sack of flour home!

As I was searching the Internet for information of these exoskeletal browsers, I was directed to:

Flour Weevil
Whatever you're looking for you can get it on eBay www.eBay.com

Yeah, right! All I have to say on the subject is "Sufficient Unto the Day Is The Weevil Thereof!"

Copyright © 2006 Ronnie Bray

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

http://www.2theheart.com/author_ronnie_bray
http://www.meridianmagazine.com/voices/011024summer.html


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