The curious case of the Japanese beetle

(Warning : not for the squeamish)

“Nature is not benign” is a lesson one learns quickly when spending time outdoors, even if engaging in the sport of conversation.

This weekend at Cobb Island is a case in point. Fred and I were on the deck by my rosebushes, desiccated by Japanese beetles. (“The Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica Newman) is a highly destructive plant pest of foreign origin.”) We were talking with a neighbor. One of the beetles, undoubtedly attracted by the conversation, flew onto Fred’s head and proceeded to crawl into his ear. Numerous shakes of the head seemed to drive the beetle further inside. Now both beetle and Fred became frantic — the beetle scrabbling in his ear also was taking little nips.

Here’s what I did — I put some warm oil in his — Fred’s — ear, then took a pair of tweezers to perform the delicate operation of extracting the beetle. No beetle was apparent at first, though his little legs crawling around inside Fred’s ear created a mild level of hysteria. After several false starts, I managed to grab hold of part of the beetle’s body and pulled it out quickly. He —the beetle — was still alive, but not for long. “Vengeance is mine,” said Fred. “And it’s an invasive species, so I’ll get credit with the environmentalists.”

Unfortunately, even though Fred survived, my procedure isn’t the approved one. Here’s what Children’s Hospital advises to do if an insect in the ear problem occurs:

  • Calm your child and let him/her know you can help.
  • Do not attempt to remove the insect by poking it with a cotton swab or similar probe. This may push the insect farther into the ear or cause damage to the middle ear and eardrum.
  • Tilt your child’s head to the side and gently shake (do not hit) it.
  • If your child has tubes in his/her ears or has a history of ear problems call your child’s physician immediately for further treatment recommendations.
  • If your child does not have tubes or ear problems:
    • If you think the insect is still alive and it does not come out with gentle head shaking, pour a small amount of vegetable or baby oil into the ear canal. This will usually suffocate the insect.
    • If you think the insect is dead and it does not come out with gentle head shaking, pour a small amount of warm water into the ear canal to flush it out.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.