Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I was driving through Hagley Park here in Christchurch last evening and I was reminded of an embarrassing story from my first year in New Zealand.

I had recently joined Target Pest to help develop the urban pest management division of the company. Target Pest was a Local Government Owned Enterprise owned by Environment Canterbury and focused largely on the control of possums and Tb for the Animal Health Board and Department of Conservation. Target had also established divisions dealing with weed spraying, wilding pines, and forest biosecurity. My previous experience of pest management and studying the spread of Tb in cattle seemed to make me fit well into the company.

The new urban pest management division was to compete with companies like Rentokil and EcoLab for contracts with factories, restaurants, shops, offices and homes for control of rodents and pest insects. I believed I had a good knowledge of these pests as most of them were the same as I was experienced in from Ireland and the UK, rats, mice, flies, ants, cockroaches, fleas, borer (woodworm) etc..

Occasionally a customer would call with a problem insect and I would try and identify the species. Sometimes this meant asking the customer to bring an example of the insect into the office for me to examine. One day, a month or two after starting with Target, I had a call from an Englishman, recently moved to NZ like myself, who described strange insect exo-skeletons on the trunks of his trees. This sounded strange to me and I asked him to bring the skeletons in for me to look at. As I put the phone down I noticed a certain amount of amusement from my colleagues in the office who had overheard my conversation. 'The dopey Irishman did not know about cicadas!' In my defense, cicadas are not found in Ireland or the UK and although I had heard them when on holiday I had never seen one.

Chorus Cicada
Of course, I made some effort to learn more about cicadas and learned how the female lays eggs in bark, when the eggs hatch the cicada larvae drop the ground and there they they live in the soil for many years, some species up to 17 years, before the adult climbs a tree, sheds its exoskeleton, finds a mate and starts the long cycle over again. Know I knew it all?

The company provided me with a brand new ute for my travels around New Zealand talking to businesses about their pest control, I was the 'bug expert'. Soon after picking up the ute I was driving through Hagley Park on a warm summer day and there was a squealing from a wheel as if a stone had been caught in the brakes, I wound down the window and sure enough the squeal was louder. I was naturally frustarted at this happening to a brand new vehicle.

However, when I pulled over I realised the sound continued even when I stopped. The penny dropped. I then knew what a chorus of cicadas sound like; the squeal of a stone stuck in the breaks of a vehicle.

Last evening the cicadas were out in force giving Hagley Park a hot summer Mediterranean feel. If you are a recent immigrant to New Zealand from a temperate clime, it's not your car, it's the chorus cicadas.

Why don't cicadas bite clowns?
Because they taste funny.

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