Thursday, May 29, 2014

Battle of the Pests

Friends, I am doing something very exciting: for the first time in four years, I am going on vacation. "Amy," you say, "you live on vacation."  Well, yes.  But even when I am supposed to be lolling about on a beach somewhere, I am thinking of you, dear reader, and the stories I want to tell you.

But right now, I'm heading home to see my family.  And to mark this momentous occasion, I am going to leave my blog behind for a little while.  Now, don't start weeping into your hankies just yet.  I've dusted off some golden oldies for you to enjoy while I'm gone.  As a bonus, I've added an update to the bottom of each.  So while I am busy spoiling my nieces and nephew, you can hear about some of the fun we had during the early years on Papillon, and how things have changed since then.  Feel free to comment as usual, and I'll see you in a few weeks.

Originally posted as: Rodent vs Insect, July 20, 2011.  Rio Dulce, Guatemala
In my youth, I wasn’t very fond of spiders.  Alright, I was kind of scared of them.  This wasn’t helped by the fact that our house backed onto a ravine, and every once in a while a spider the size of the Loch Ness monster would scuttle across my bedroom floor.  In general, I could manage if they were a) outside the house, and b) couldn’t contact me in any way, but if they violated either of those terms, their creepy little lives were forfeit. 

Once I had Stylish, I tried very hard to get over my spider issues.  When we encountered bugs and spiders, I would take a steadying breath, then we would examine them and talk about how interesting they were.  Eventually, my feigned non-revulsion became real.  And once we moved aboard, I was quite happy for any spiders I saw, because I knew they were keeping the bug population down.  As for the bugs themselves, pfft.  Bugs.  Big deal.

And then, it happened.

A giant cockroach.
We call them palmettos, because it sounds better, but the fact of the matter is that when two inches of dark brown buggy horror runs across the bathroom, you wish you were holding an elephant gun.  Truth be told, I jump on a chair and squeal like a cartoon housewife from the fifties who spotted a mouse.  Every time.  Erik always has to kill the damn thing, and he's getting pretty disgusted at my totally irrational reaction.  I'm trying, but so far I'm failing.  When I turn around of an evening to see those long, long antennae wiggling out from behind something, rational thought deserts me.

Sightings are rare, so we know we aren’t infested.  We seem to specialize in bringing home orphans – hiding in corrugated cardboard, hitchhiking out of the hot and humid laundry room.  We are are careful as we can be, but somehow, once in a while, they still show up.  I have Boraxed the heck out of this boat, so I know not much will survive.  Certainly not for long.  They can’t hurt me; they are just gross.  And yet, and yet...

A couple of weeks ago, we actually spotted two in one night (instead of about one every month), and Erik and I were worried.  Out came the special poisons and traps.  No way do we want to haul this boat out of the water to fumigate it.  But then a strange thing happened.

The next morning, Erik found palmetto parts strewn around the back deck.  He speculated that a bat had caught one, and we joked about building a bat house on the mizzen.  A few days later, I found some palmetto legs under the stove as I was cleaning.  And then I found mouse poops in the cupboard.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the wall and wondered why we had stayed in a marina.  You’re just asking for critters to run up the lines.  And here was a mouse.  A mouse to eat our food, chew the lines, chew the upholstery, chew the hoses and maybe even sink the boat.

Mice don't bother me.  At all.  I spent too long in a lab to be afraid of mice.  But I still don't want them here, so we bought sticky traps, warfarin, snap traps and a live trap.  No way was Mr Mousie going to stay on Papillon, and we sure weren't going to give it a chance to breed.

Because the food is packed in hard plastic (yes, all of it). Mr Mousie had no luck in the pantry.

Animal proof
I found he was going on deck at night to chew through the full garbage bags.  I baited the live trap with ham and peanut butter and tucked it in beside the garbage bag.  Then, off to bed.

In the night, I thought I heard the trap snap shut, and accompanying shrieking and clanging.  But it was a windy night and the sounds disappeared quickly, so I was afraid to hope.

In the morning, I crept on deck like a child afraid Santa hasn’t come.  I tiptoed through the cockpit, and saw the trap door was closed!  Oh happy day!  I traipsed to the back deck to give Mr Mousie a good scolding.

I found a big.  Stinking.  Rat.
Just call me Samuel Whiskers.
Holy cats!  He was HUGE!  Look at how he filled that trap!  Jesus H., how did that thing move around the boat undetected?  Mr Mousie, indeed.  No wonder the palmettos disappeared – Ratty ate them all, and probably in one gulp!  We’re lucky he didn’t eat us, too!

I hopped around in ataxtic terror for a few moments, then fled.  But this time, I helped Erik commit the murder.  Like I said, even big rodents aren't as scary as palmettos.  Don't ask me why.

Well.  Ratty is gone.  The palmettos are gone.  And any and all spiders are welcome, welcome, welcome.  No questions asked.
Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
Reaction: May 2014
I was afraid of cockroaches?  That is so hard to imagine now; getting yucked-out by creepy-crawlies is a luxury I can no longer afford..  I'm sorry to report that roaches are a constant in warmer climes, and a boat standard.  And while we now use an excellent biocide gel called Goliath (far superior to any other roach killer we have tried), the odd new recruit runs up the lines. And I squash it.  Sometimes with my bare hands.  What are you going to do?  If I wanted a life without bug guts, I should have stayed in the city.

We've been luckier on the rat front, although we keep the trap handy, should the need ever arise again.  But,be warned: those guys can swim.  We've had friends pick up a rat at anchor in the Galapagos when they were a couple of hundred feet from shore. So, be vigilant, sailor.  You do not want those furry pests munching through your hoses.  Also, I strongly suggest the live trap over your other options. We met a man in Honduras who had a rat problem, and he put out poison.  The rats duly died... in the inaccessible parts of his boat.  And whenever it got damp again, they started to smell again.

Lessons: Don't bring cardboard on board.  Preventing an infestation is better than fixing it later.  Dispose of all carcasses.  And be kind to spiders.


Alta Peng said...

That is certainly a big "NO." Glad you caught those vermins just in time. Perhaps that is a sign that you should finally scour the place and find where those creatures lie. Good thing you can always ask for professional assistance if you cannot deal with them by yourself. Kudos!

Alta Peng @ Liberty Pest

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