Is it pollen and worm season in Tampa Bay or a horror movie?
Is that yellow film trying to kill you or are the seasons just changing?
A leafroller hangs in an oak tree in Clearwater.
A leafroller hangs in an oak tree in Clearwater. [ Times (2011) ]
Published Mar. 12
Updated Mar. 12

A foreboding mist has taken over town, coating every inch of outdoor furniture, automobiles and the toys of innocents. This beast has us leaning into our fists to stop heads from exploding, like in 1981′s Scanners.

A website called (truly a digital niche for everything) features a pollen alert, and Tampa Bay is Threat Level Red. I took a walk on the Pinellas Trail this week, hoping to enjoy the fresh air. I returned like the yellow Teletubby, whose name, I think, is Baphomet.

Friends, are we dealing with springtime allergens, or have we accidentally ended up in a Stephen King film? Am I suffering an untimely death or do I need a Claritin? Is the tree outside possessed by a haunted graveyard, or is it producing new vegetation? Am I pregnant with the devil’s baby because my neighbor keeps making me a milkshake with weeds in it? Or does weed pollen just keep falling into my milkshake?

As Times reporter Josh Fiallo explained, pollen is so bad in Florida because the Sunshine State warms up faster than other places. The blooming flora also brings out a scourge of worms, not unlike Ridley Scott’s Alien. Don’t get me started on the worms. Oh no, I’m started.

Related: What are those green worms hanging around Florida?

Here’s an exclusive, behind-the-scenes journalism memory. Eleven years ago, it was a particularly bad inchworm season in Tampa Bay. They were hopping off trees by the dozen like paratroopers, hitching rides on unsuspecting outdoor diners. I, Clarice Starling, wanted to crack the case of why you could not walk three steps without caterpillar frass (a fancy word for bug No. 2) falling in your hair.

I did not need to go to these lengths, in hindsight. What lengths? Well, I took a plastic spork from my desk, scraped two caterpillars off the sidewalk and put them in a baggie. I drove them to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg, while they sizzled on my car seat. Suddenly, I was the evildoer, the one who wrought harm. I located a park supervisor, who assuredly thought I was an idiot.

They were right there in every tree. Oak leafrollers, hatched from moth eggs and ready to rappel. There were so many, the supervisor said, their excretions sounded like rain. This, I thought, is exactly why I got into journalism. The pure rush of discovery!

As the seasons continue to churn, the caterpillars will turn into moths, not to be confused with Buffalo Bill’s calling card in The Silence of the Lambs. Birds will then eat the moths, just like, you know, um, The Birds. The horror show, along with our collective post-nasal drip, will finally end come summer. Then, all we have to worry about is 100 percent humidity, which is when teenagers head up to a lake house for the weekend to cool off, and... oh, great.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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