I don’t trust the wildlife in Louisiana. I lived there for four years, half of which I spent in New Orleans, and the other half of which I spent an hour south of New Orleans in a little city called Houma. Over those four years, I encountered wharf rats, Formosan termites, striped mosquitos that would suck you dry, nutria (giant swamp rats), giant dragonflies, car tire sized snakes, turtles, plagues of tree frogs and numerous aligators.
The wildlife in New Orleans was about what you’d expect. The city is full of rats. (See my blog on the rats in the walls). Our house was full of rats. We could hear them in the attic all night and when they got bored, they came down into the walls by our beds and scratched at the wood. They were giant Norwegian wharf rats, and they resembled small puppies with hairless tails. We would sit on our front porch at night and count the rats as they traveled the electrical wires from house to house and kitchen to kitchen. They would eat and destroy everything that wasn’t in a can, so all groceries including flour and coffee had to be kept in the refrigerator. And that’s not even mentioning the giant flour weevils that would infest any and all baking supplies, sealed cannister or not. The mosquitoes were a force to be reckoned with. They were a funny looking mosquito, not like the ones in Alabama where I grew up, with black-and-white striped legs. And they left black-and-white striped bloody dust on your legs when you popped them. The weirdest wildlife in New Orleans were the Formosan termites. They were giant winged things that had sneaked off some ship in the harbor, I guess from the vicinity of Formosa. They were horrifying. You had to turn off every outdoor light and most indoor lights at night in the summer, or the swarms of Formosans would come and invade your house. Then they would infest it permanently. We were swarmed by Formosans once in the upstairs bathroom. Something must have attracted them; a light left on or perhaps all the rotting wood. They were terrifying to behold. All over New Orleans were houses covered in brightly striped fumigation tents, trying to get rid of their enormous termites. We gassed them with an industrial sized can of Raid, which we kept for the cockroaches. The cockroaches of New Orleans are of Jurassic size, with the unlikely benign-sounding name of “palmetto bug”. They are extremely aggressive and will fly out at you if you open a kitchen cabinet at night. One evening my roommate and I got brave and hit one of those big suckers with a shoe. Instead of politely dying, or even staggering, the behemoth made a lunge at the two of us where we stood. We fled, screaming, into the next room, where it promptly followed us. It was a thing of which nightmares are made.
The wildlife in Houma was even stranger and more exotic. In addition to the enormous rats, cockroaches, mosquitos and termites, there is a selection of prehistoric-seeming critters that crawl up out of the swamps. First, there are nutria, which are really giant swamp rats. Bigger even than the rats in New Orleans. Fortunately they prefer swamps and stay in them. They resemble nothing so much as the ROUSes in Princess Bride. Apparently the nutria were once very popular in trade with the Russians, who made fur hats out of them. Alligators go without saying. You could see them every day in the bayoux that ran along the roads. What did NOT go without saying was that there was a six foot alligator they hauled out of our apartment swimming pool. There were also red eared slider turtles constantly hatching in our pool. We would pull silver dollar sized baby turtles out of the drain traps all the time. We used to keep them as pets. And the tree frogs – well, let’s just say that we were near to having a plague of tree frogs. You could hear them chirping and croaking all night, and if you left the porch light on, it would be covered with cute green red eyed frogs who came to eat the bugs. Armadillos were rampant. And they got BIG. They dug holes in everyone’s gardens and yards. When startled they jump, and they would jump while crossing the road and hop up right into the axle of a semi. Then they were dead armadillos – they were lying around as road kill everywhere. My residency program director hated them so bad you couldn’t even say the word “armadillo” to him. There were swamp snakes as big as truck tires. One morning in clinic I heard birds squawking hysterically so I went and looked out the window. There, winding through the grass behind the clinic and heading toward the bayou, was a snake so large it rivaled the ones I have seen in the zoo. It was literally as big around as a tire, and as black. The locals creatively dub them “swamp snakes”. The bayoux were full of prehistoric garfish. You could see them roiling up the water in the bayoux if you sat and watched. They were tough as old shoes, but the locals caught them and made garfish patties out of them. And the mosquitoes were disastrous. They were even worse than the mosquitoes in New Orleans. We used to have crawfish boils out by the pool of our apartment complex, and you would just have to run and jump in the pool about every five minutes to get them all off. They would be clustered on us by the dozens, and they hurt worse and welted up worse than the ones in Alabama by far. Enormous dragonflies hovered in the sky. You could imagine them flying around during the age of the dinosaurs.
Let’s just say my life in Louisiana was educational. I have always been big on animals, so to speak, but I must say some of the creatures I encountered there were nothing short of sinister. So as I always like to say, I don’t trust the wildlife in Louisiana.