Some people harbor fears of sharks, jellyfish, crabs, and other denizens of the deep (and shallow). Others fear the “undertow”, better known as a rip current, or they may even fear being knocked down by a large wave. All of these things help explain the popularity of swimming pools at motels along the Jersey Shore, and at shore resorts in general.
I maintain a healthy respect for sharks, but that respect has never made me go running for the nearest swimming pool. Even the sea snakes in Vietnam failed to keep us from swimming, although a few preliminary concussion grenades helped allay our fears.
Nor do I particularly care for jellyfish, and on more than one occasion have been forced to swim through a virtual wall of them, ending up with something resembling and feeling much like prickly heat, all over my body.
However, the one thing I hate more than anything else at the Jersey Shore is the dreaded greenhead fly, formally known as Tabanus Americanus Forester! The salt marsh horse flies (Tabanus nigrovittatus and Tabanus contenninus) are often mistaken for the greenhead, and they suffer from an identity crisis primarily because their attacks are just as vicious and painful.
It took me only about three years of life to encounter my first greenhead, in my backyard wading pool. It landed on my arm and bit me, drawing blood. My mom swatted it, and it landed upside down on the surface of the water. I reacted by crying, and my reaction is pretty much the same today. Okay, I’m kidding, but not by much.
Greenheads seem to flourish on beaches with dune grass, so for the past few decades they have not been as prevalent along the Wildwood beaches as they once were. Call them what you like, but salt marsh horse flies still abound, of all places, near salt marshes!
No matter which Tabanus one encounters, they all share one trait, namely a blood lust. They need blood to survive, and pretty much any mammal will do, thank you. Humans have the disadvantage of lacking a fur covering, so they become primary targets.
For the sake of convenience, henceforth I’ll refer to all of them as greenheads, and if this offends the nigrovittatus and contenninus species, they can bite me!
It’s easy to find a greenhead, or let’s say a horde of greenheads, especially if you’re not looking for them. They come uninvited, and pretty much stay as long as they please. If you take Route 47 (Delsea Drive) south toward Wildwood and Cape May, I advise following the main road (Route 347), rather than staying on 47. For one thing, it’s almost three miles shorter, but if traffic gets backed up on 47, and it does, the greenheads attempt to carry vehicles off the highway and into the marshes for later feasting. The only people greenheads seem to have no interest in, are the residents of East Creek Manor, who calmly sit outside and watch as the insects dive bomb the cars stuck in the queue.
Most of the villages along Delaware Bay become overrun with greenheads during much of the summer. The residents spend each night praying for strong winds the next day, one of the few things that keeps the carnivorous bugs at bay, no pun intended. On calm days, residents can be seen wearing Kevlar body suits while mowing their lawns and tending their gardens.
Greenheads also roam the rivers and back bays, hanging out on the “No Wake” buoys, waiting for boaters to slow their crafts to a crawl. The onslaught is relentless, resembling a feeding frenzy at a Golden Corral! One of the most difficult aspects of boating in South Jersey is making it through a no-wake zone completely unscathed.
So what is the solution to this annual problem? Well, they make greenhead traps, or you can make your own, but I don’t have one, although I know how to build one. They used to spray for mosquitoes, which also tended to keep the greenhead population in check. Even though research has shown that DDT was not the cause of thin shells on bird eggs, it’s still considered proper to allow a few thousand people to die from malaria and other insect-born diseases, rather than to spray DDT. I suppose that unless we eventually rid the legislative branch of insects, we’ll just have to keep on swatting!