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They get in your nose and your mouth. You can't eat in the backyard. There's no spray that's effective against them. It's unreal, just unbelievable. For the last two years my wife and I laid out our garden in the backyard and haven't been able to work in it because of them. The garden just went to weeds." As Carroll B. Worcester of Lincoln, Maine details his troubles, you can just imagine the camera pulling back on his weed-choked garden and hear in the background a Moog synthesizer emitting its impending-doom number.
Cut. Cut! We've seen it all before. Nature run amok, harmless creatures turned into monsters through man's meddling with the balance of nature. What is it this time, giant bugs stomping over Tokyo rooftops? Once-mild-mannered runner beans twisting unbreakable tendrils around the hand that tends them? Colossal army ants bivouacking in Central Park? No, this time it's real, and Worcester's story doesn't end at 2 a.m. with the playing of the national anthem and the TV screen going flickering gray.
Worcester is the town manager of Lincoln, about 60 miles northeast of Bangor and very close to the big Maine woods. And what's bugging him is a stunted cousin of the notorious Maine blackfly that is making life miserable for natives and, worse, for tourists.
The new fly, as it is called, �s at least temporarily categorized as Simulium nyssa and is suspected by some scientists to have immigrated to Maine from Alabama. Other scientists believe it has been in Maine all along. The problem ar ises from the fact that Simulium nyssa is subdued and peaceful in hot, humid Alabama, but in Maine's cool climate it has turned vicious and become a pinhead-size version of those highly publicized hybrid Brazilian bees that are expected to appear in the Southwest U.S. in the next few years.
"I'm not sure that this is the Alabama breed even though they look alike and have the same name," says Dr. Ivan N. McDaniel, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maine, who has been studying the new fly since 1964. McDaniel has found that the new fly is identical with Simulium nyssa physically, but he is reluctant to make a positive identification because "they just act differently." About as differently as Godzilla and a newt.
Being overly aggressive isn't the only bad thing about the new fly. The old-fashioned blackfly has long plagued Maine fishermen, but only in May and June. Not so with the new fly. McDaniel has seen it thrive right into November. Apparently it is capable of producing three or four generations a year (all of them biting), whereas the ordinary blackfly is limited to one that bites. Two or three non-biting generations follow. "You've got to have swift-running, cool, pure water—usually from the mountains—to sustain the blackflies that attack man," McDaniel says. "That's why the Adirondacks and the mountains of Maine are good for them."
At present the new fly is contained in a wedge-shaped chunk of Maine running in a broadening northwesterly arc from Jonesport on the coast through Orono just north of Bangor and up to Moose-head Lake. On the less densely populated northern side the fly is found up to the Maine- New Brunswick border. Moreover, every year the new fly claims more territory. "A few years ago we checked the Jackman area [on the Maine- Quebec border] and found none," McDaniel says. "Now there are plenty in that town."
The story is the same along the coast. "We went to the July Fourth celebration in Jonesport last year and there were very few flies," Carroll Worcester says. "This year we went back down again in late spring and there were a lot."
Salmon fishermen may have played a bit part in the new fly's proliferation. Matthew Scott, an aquatic biologist for Maine's Department of Environmental Protection, points out that the new fly's arrival coincided with the installation of antipollution equipment in the paper mills along the Penobscot River, which runs through the heart of the new fly belt. Antipollution measures have been effective to the extent that Atlantic salmon have returned to the once-famed Bangor Salmon Pool on the Penobscot after an absence of almost two decades. They are back in such numbers that the Penobscot Salmon Club has begun renovating its clubhouse, which has stood idle for many years. "We've spent millions to clean up the Penobscot and bring back the Atlantics," Scott says. "I don't think it's much of a trade to let all that go by the board just because people are being bitten more by flies."
So far, no one in Maine has gone to the extreme of suggesting that the rivers be repolluted to slow down the flies, but tourism is the state's second-ranking industry, accounting for $500 million annually, and the new fly's arrival on top of a nationwide recession threatens to become more than a pain in the neck—or arms, or any other exposed part of the body where the mean-tempered midgets decide to take a nip. In Lincoln, a number of schoolboys at football practice were bitten so severely that they had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.