The Fish Story

As If There Aren’t Enough Bloodsuckers Already; The Bread of Life Might Include Cockroach Parts

By JAY MANN | Aug 15, 2018

NEW BLOODSUCKER: It’s a vampire that starts out the size of a poppy seed and sucks blood until it’s up to pea-sized. Let’s have a round of contemptuous applause for the newest and most expandable tick to crawl up our pant legs, the Asian longhorned tick.

By name alone, one would expect it to arrive first in Texas. Nope, pardner. Our little ole Garden State is the first to behold one this side of Shanghai.

Per Livescience.com, “The newfound tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, was first identified in the U.S. last year, when it was found on a sheep in New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.”

How it got here is now in the hands of entomological backtrackers. They will likely go batty trying to pin down the exact tick source, considering the invasive amount of stuff being imported from the Orient. I have no room to talk. The entire nation of China has me on its speed-mailing list. I’m a sucker for those amazing Chinese prices … and I still somehow get ripped off. Just try returning something to “中国香港.”

Back to bugs, as is the case with any invasively tick-ish things, it could take some time – and medical findings – to determine if it might become a bearer of ill-body tidings. The first-found Jersey longhorned ticks seemed disease-free. However, in other parts of the world where it customarily crawls, it is known to harbor big-name pathogens, like those related to babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, theileriosis and rickettsiosis, as well as certain viral diseases, according to the USDA.

I’ll play worrywart by epidemiologically portending that the new six-/eight-legged arrivals will surely suck blood from a New Jersey bacteria-carrying host – deer jump to mind – and, just that quickly, become yet another suckacious disease carrier.

Sidebar: During the larval stage of a tick’s life, post egg, it hosts just six legs. However, after chowing down on its first blood meal, it sprouts another pair of legs. Bearing eight legs, it’s more in line with its close arachnid relatives – spiders, scorpions and mites. Of note, some schools of thought academically place ticks in a league of their own, being neither insects or spiders, closer to mites. That distinction falls to sheer meaninglessness when I feel one maneuvering to find a sweet spot on my skin.

Like many a joyous invasive species, this new tick on the block will find low-predation life here highly comfortable, something to egg poetic over. And it can egg-lay with the best of them. What’s more, it does not require another of its kind to maximally proliferate. Yep, a blood-filled female H. longicornis can reproduce all by its little lonesome, relying on a self-impregnating process called parthenogenesis. It can lay 2,000 eggs at a pop. “That’s enough to establish a tick population in a new location,” per the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When might the longhorned tick be a-crawl in our already highly tickish nape of the outdoors? Far sooner than much later. I’m already on an accelerated research mission to learn the exact bodily features of this outsider. After years of microscopically ID’ing bugs in Cretaceous amber, I’ve hopefully developed enough of an entomological eye to pick out unique characteristics that set a longhorned tick apart from – let’s see, there’s the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum), Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) and the Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) … just to name the known in-country bloodsuckers.

I’ll also be tuned into the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases website for any diseases the longhorned tick has picked up along the way.

For folks who still brave the outback, whatever repellents and insecticides work on indigenous ticks should similarly thwart this newbie blood-seeker.

A JOURNEY TO ROACHNESS: I haven’t gone on one of my convoluted verbal journeys in a while so I’ll use a gasp-worthy news story out of Brazil to wing it this week – launching from the exotic land of poi, kahunas and Madame Pele, the last being the suddenly sizzling hot lady of the volcanoes.

During my time wonderfully immersed in the Sandwich Isles, there was a very disquieting after-dark aspect of Hawaiian life, never once tendered in tourism brochures. For those in the know, I’m not referring to the nighty appearance of huge Polynesian māhūs – gal-dressed Polynesian tranies. Some going over 300 pounds, these womanized men strut their stunning fineries along Honolulu’s Hotel Street. They are a sizable sight to behold … not to mention a rather intimidating presence, especially when heavily coiffured. However, Hawaii’s impressively large showing of māhūs is made up of very nice folks, generally seen as harmless. At the same time, they can command respect, often evoked by massive “lady” arm biceps, likely able to single-armedly lift the front of a full-sized pickup truck.

When relating to māhūs in a social setting, it can feel a bit awkward addressing one as “Ma’am” – you know, right to his face. At the same time, you don’t want to slip up the way I did once – just once – by calling one “Sir.”

Massive mahu: “Do I look like a ‘sir’ to you, brah!?”

Me: “Uh, good point, well-taken. My bad. I’ll just be moseying on … ma’am.”

But those ma’am-men are just my itinerant lead-in to the after-dark creatures that plague Hawaii: German cockroaches, the most invasive and reproductive of the worldwide line of these famously despised six-legged vermin.

If you live in Hawaii, you wage a never-ending battle with those despicable clandestine adversaries. They can bug even the finest and cleanest buildings. As a cook, I knew a single cockroach sighting was a reputation killer. We deployed every known anti-roach method, to the point of having a kahuna come in to drive them out with chants. Drove me out, that’s for sure.

But on to the time that Hawaiian’s roaches came back to bite me, after I unadvisedly wrote a satirical article about them, suggesting they should be coveted … and cooked. I’ll tell you right now, my literary fun-having with cockroaches garnered very few smiles. It even tested the creative mettle of fellow writers who alleged to understand my sick satire.

Encapsulating my article, I volunteered a way to battle cockroaches … cooking up ways to use them instead. At the heart of my failed satire was a phantasmagorically real 222-page “Cockroach Cookbook,” written by B. Germanica (a play on the scientific name of the bug). I nonchalantly described the book as “Now in print” and “soon available at bookstores all around Hawai’i nei.”

After my piece was published in a local paper, demand for the book was rather high – angrily high.

No, there wasn’t such a book! Oh, geez, not you guys, too.

OK, I might have satirically overcooked things a bit when I went as far as touting a few select recipes from the book – recipes with a marked Hawaiian flare, like “Quick and Cocky Poi.” It calls for “fresh cockroach legs, antennae and dried thoraxes.” If I recall right, “Quick and Cocky Poi” was made by “dropping a solid pinch or two of each cockroach part into one level cup of Hawaiian three-finger poi. Stir well, in a folding manner, until all cockroach parts are immersed. Then, apply a tablespoon of sugar or honey; or sweeten to taste. As a garnish, sprinkle lightly fried unhatched egg sacs on top.” I now see that any satire offering exact measurements might be taken the wrong way, i.e. seriously.

Post piece, my editor restricted me to straitlaced band reviews … forever. But I might be getting the last laugh, brah. Seems my cockroach cookbook might have been way ahead of its time. Which leads me to the final lap of this train of thought: Fast forward to last month or so, when a team of Brazilian researchers came up with … cockroach bread. Satire comes to fruition.  But will it fly in Hawaii?

A munchies.vice.com article, “Meet the Scientists Who Are Making Bread with Cockroach Flour,” tells of Federal University of Rio Grande food engineering students Andressa Lucas and Lauren Menegon, farm raising highly sanitized cockroaches to dry and grind into a flour that contains 40 percent more protein than normal wheat flour. The cockroach flour holds nutritive values that are “keys for a balanced and healthy human diet.”

The researchers told vice.com, “We chose the cockroach because it was the insect that had the highest protein content – almost 70 percent. It contains eight of the nine essential amino acids, it has high-quality fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-9) and we can use almost 100 percent of it, with very little residue.”

Not unexpectedly, most people who were asked to sample roach-based foods – possibly a raisin, cinnamon and roach bread – chose not to take such a paleo challenge. Unshaken by this snub, the two researchers are now adding other big-name insects to the mix. They hope that breads bearing crickets, beetles and centipedes won’t afford the same stigma as cockroaches.

Personally, I’m waiting for the likes of soy cockroach burgers to hit the Annie’s section of ShopRite. “No cockroaches were hurt in the making of this product.” I might also advise, when visiting Brazil, resist ordering a bagel “with everything.”

WORDS TO LIVE BY: It was during a science study stint in Mexico City that a lecturing marine biologist from Australia began his presentation with words that became a maxim for me: “Science don’t know squat.” He literally used a word stronger than squat.

It was an odd opening, word- and grammar-wise. He was a published scientist talking to an auditorium of both scientists-to-be and scientist wannabes.

Of course, his words were just attention-getters – highly apropos for the essence of this class, which focused on the premise that science has more to learn than it currently has to offer. In this instance, it was a launch point to what lies beneath the sea, unknown. However, for me, it was a directive to never stop questioning … even the science of the day. “The amount of science yet to be learned is infinite,” he said.

FLOODING FOLLOW-UP: I wrote last week’s flood segment to offer personal insights and garner comments, knowing full well our changing planet realm offers absolutely no absolutes. How the planetary warming scenario might play out here and worldwide is guesswork – serious guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. It’s an unfolding science.

If the early guesses at the manifestation of global warming’s sea rise have proven anything, it is the utter impossibility of translating short-term oceanic and meteorological variances into geologically significant planetary changes. Even a century’s worth of weather, albeit potentially highly telling, is less than a drop in the geo-bucket. Last week’s redacted rundown on possible reasons behind the enhanced, highly aggravating flooding on LBI are, admittedly, as nebulous as climate change itself. Hell, I could have stacked on half a dozen other causal possibilities, most tellingly the overall increase in storm intensities due to warmer ocean surfaces, which I’ve been edgily writing about for 10 years now.

I’m still trying to come to grips with planetary warming leading to much colder winters for countries bordering the North Atlantic, including us. For science, that was not on the prognostication map even a few years back. It’s growingly complicated.

I’ll be writing more on the disruption of the Atlantic’s currents and the related devastation of its oceanic “conveyor belt,” which has some calling for potentially catastrophically cold winters.

ISLAND LIFE WORTH THE RISK: I’m always looking for a way to intelligently and functionally address flooding and erosion problems while remaining dedicated to preserving – fighting for – our shoreline lifestyle. Having lived that lifestyle for over six decades, I’ve managed to survive many a storm stomping. It’s like my 60th rodeo.

How can other equally dedicated coastalites not be deeply aggravated by most-often nonlocal abandonists and retreatists babbling that we should flee our homes, including summer homes and even regular rentals? I’m among many who are hellbent on staying put, the whole time righteously fighting hideous abuses to the atmosphere, often by merely persevering in the face of everyday threats, like nuisance flooding.

With so many folks theatrically over-hyping sea rise, vital attention is being drawn away from imminent threats from atmospheric pollution. Lifestyle-altering problems stemming from over-warmed sea surfaces, changes in ocean alkalinity and cataclysmically unnatural shifts in oceanic currents are moving in faster – and realer – than totally unpredictable sea rise. The immediate future should always be dealt with first and foremost.

I’m not even remotely denying eventual sea rise. I’m instead alarmingly suggesting we ready ourselves for here-and-now manifestations of climate change. Defiantly addressing those, we might consider adopting the Marines slogan: “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.” Notice that “retreat” and  “abandon ship” are not options.

Every year we spend on-Island is a year well spent.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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