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Patty Leon: The Great Battle of the Bugs, circa 1996
Patty Leon new

I am deathly afraid of cockroaches. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny baby one or a full-sized monster.

I recall growing up in South Florida, cockroaches, or palmetto bugs, as they are commonly known, were a common thing we had to deal with.

No matter the size, the moment I see one, I analyze what steps I can take to get out of its way. It takes every ounce of courage I can muster up to even try to kill one with a broom or bug spray. I always picture it defying the odds and running after me despite my attempts to whack it with a weapon or drown it in Raid.

Normally, if someone else is with me, I hand them the task of destroying the beast. It is one of the reasons I own cats; they simply love that job and handle the matter quite efficiently.

I’m not bothered, so far, by other insects as much. I don’t freak out around ants, bees or beetles — unless it’s a horned beetle. Those suckers are huge. If you recall, last week I wrote about a special road trip I took in 1996 with my best friend.

During the final trek, we were on our way to our final destination — New Orleans. We were eastbound on I-10 through Texas, which is a long stretch, when we made a stop in a town called Van Horn and checked into a roadside motel around 10 p.m.

Safe and sound and ready for a good night’s sleep, I fluffed up my pillows and zonked out. But I typically wake up at least once to use the bathroom and, as they say, everything is bigger in Texas — especially a horned beetle when you see one close up as you try to use the toilet at 3 a.m. Horrifying. First off, I had never seen one of those things before in my life. Second, it was walking toward me. Lastly, when I looked again, I saw three more lurking around the bathroom.

I practically jumped on top of the porcelain throne while screaming at the top of my lungs.

A few seconds later, I heard my friend scream, too. “Oh my God, they are everywhere!” she yelled.

Assuming “they” meant more beetles crawling around the whole room, maybe even the beds, I ran out of the bathroom, took in the horrifying scene, put on my shoes, grabbed my luggage and ran out the door.

It must have been horned beetle mating season because there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them throughout the parking lot. I ran to my car, my friend galloping right behind me. “Open the dang door already!” she screamed.

We threw our luggage in the back seat of my pickup truck and tore out of there. We were so hyped up on adrenaline that we managed to stay awake and alert for the 14 hours it took us to pull into New Orleans. Needless to say, our first day in NOLA was spent checking our luggage, clothing, shoes, hair and everything else to make sure not one of those monsters had joined us on our voyage.

The rest of that first day was spent sleeping once we saw all was clear.

We didn’t have Google search in 1996 — it came out in 1998 — but since then, I did learn this: “Swarming” is a natural phenomenon in the insect world that occurs from time to time when mass numbers of social insects leave their nests at the same time and move to another location. Another cause of swarming is when a group of adult insects take flight all at once for the purpose of mating.”


We enjoyed the rest of our trip while in NOLA.

We stayed there about 10 days before heading home. Back in Miami, there was a letter from the motel in Van Horn. It was from the manager, saying he would refund our night’s stay back to my credit card.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who fled their rooms in the dead of night, screaming the whole way out. The manager apologized, saying it was the first time he’d seen a swarm of horned beetles in the decades he’s managed the place.


Just my luck when it comes to getting creeped out and scarred on beetles for life.

Patty Leon is senior editor of the Coastal Courier.

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