Life On the Border Was Scary; But Not For the Reason You Think

For just over a year I lived on the US/Mexico border in a house by myself, and it was one of the hardest years of my adult life. It was 2019, news of immigrants flooding the border was everywhere, and I was routinely asked by strangers if I had to carry a gun (no). 

Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. Left bank, Mexico; right bank, United States. Photo by Meredith Dennis

I could see Mexico from my house, but I wasn’t scared for my life–I mean, I had wifi–but the thing that gave me the most cause for concern was something I didn’t even know existed until the day I arrived at my new house. 

I did meet several immigrants crossing the border while I lived there; they were my patients on the ambulance where I was an EMT part-time. I had the best Spanish on my crew, and my Spanish is really bad, so, I felt even worse for the immigrants. I mostly treated scared and tired (and soon to be confused because of my Spanish) women and little kids. There wasn’t much to be afraid of there. 

The sheer volume of wildlife I encountered just around my house (and sometimes inside the house) was staggering. I’ve lived in some of the busiest national parks in the country and I’ve never lived in a place where I wanted the animals to give me more space. 

Javelinas (Pecari tajacu), or collared peccaries, in my front yard. Photo by Meredith Dennis

The javelinas (Pecari tajacu) in the neighborhood definitely gave me a fright at first. Their babies were darling; they looked like big russet potatoes with legs, but they had hate in their hearts. They had a wallow under my bedroom window and they weren’t afraid to run right at you if you had a poor work day or didn’t tip your waitress enough.  

The scorpions were also a bit hard to get used to, but eventually I felt blasé about them too. In fact when I finally moved I hid a few dead ones for the next occupant of my house to discover. I didn’t want to deny them that right of passage. 

Rattlesnake (Crotalus spp.). Photo by Meredith Dennis

The variety of snakes I saw in my carport alone was stunning. There was of course, the rattlesnake. But there was also a snake so tiny he was like a silver shoelace, and he had gotten stuck by the tail on a spiderweb fiber until I karate chopped him loose. A pair of barn swallows also chose to call my carport home, and they were filthy, but I allowed them to stay because they acted like sentinels. One evening I heard them going crazy outside and when I opened the door I was greeted by an enormous red coachwhip snake, standing itself four feet straight up in the air trying to reach the swallow’s nest. Another time I heard my sentinels signaling to see a tarantula the size of my face (later named Aragog) crossing the carport ceiling, also in the direction of the nest. Those poor birds were never bored. 

Snake so tiny his tail was caught in a spiderweb. Photo by Meredith Dennis

One member of the local wildlife, the one I remained fearful of the entire time I lived there, one not much bigger than a dime, was the conenose bug. I didn’t know anything about conenose bugs until I got a flyer in my welcome packet, and man, did I feel welcomed. Conenose bugs, or kissing bugs, only come out at night and are attracted to the CO2 you breath out. They bite you near your mouth or eyes to consume a blood meal (gross) and then–wait for it–poop right on your face while they’re doing it (NASTY). Inside the poop is a parasite that carries Chagas disease, which in its most severe form can cause fatal heart inflammation. For this reason, I slept under a bed net every night, which, happily, also kept the scorpions out (yay). 

Conenose bug (Triatoma spp.) Photo by Drees at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Truthfully, deaths from Chagas disease are rare, but they do happen. And the reason you should fear the conenose is that they’re marching northward, and ain’t no border wall gonna stop them. The family of kissing bugs that carries Chagas disease typically inhabit tropical climates but because of both climate change and human migration into urban areas (and no I don’t mean from immigrants), their distribution is trending into North America. In 2018 the CDC identified a conenose bug that had bitten a young girl in Delaware. Thankfully the girl was fine, but in case you were needing another existential threat to add to your list, go ahead and add a blood sucking insect that poops on your face at night and makes your heart explode.  

(Thanks nature!)

3 thoughts on “Life On the Border Was Scary; But Not For the Reason You Think

  1. Hi Meredith! I take it your not at Big Bend any more. Rats! I’m heading there in February for a week and was hoping to say hi. We’re still friends on fb but I never see your posts. Where are you now?
    Patty Sue (bear rove, RMNP)

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      1. I’m sorry I’ll miss you! I plan to hike Emory. I’ll be up at Chisos in my VW van. Packing for cold nights!

        Like

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