I’m good when it comes to bugs. For the most part.
I mean, I generally do not become hysterical when I cross paths with a 6- or 8-legged creature. In fact, there are some bugs I actually enjoy. I’m captivated by a trail of ants going about its journey; I love the sultry summer chirp of cicadas; I’m totally in love with praying mantis; I’m mesmerized by the flicker of lightning bugs; I’m completely overjoyed by the arrival of a butterfly (which is why it received top billing); and when it comes to bees, we have a firm understanding. I’ll let them do their work, if they let me do mine.
When I think about all of the outdoor bugs, the only one I think I have a very low tolerance for is the grub – pale and moist and writhing in my soil. Yes, when it comes to grubs, I am a cool and calculated serial killer.
Indoor bugs are a whole other game. Should a bug enter my house, I go into all-out defense mode. Their insect temperament determines if I use my catch-and-release, my catch-and-flush, my catch-and-squash, or my you’re-way-too-big-so-I’ll-just-vacuum-you technique.
But I am never hysterical.
At least that’s how things were until I read Wicked Bugs (The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects), by Amy Stewart. Now, I’m rethinking my whole bug philosophy. I’m also quite itchy.
Consider this: “To date, over one million species of insects have been described worldwide. It is estimated that there are ten quintillion insects alive on the planet right now, which means that for each one of us, there are 200 million of them.”
Oh. My. God. Not only is that the first time in my life I have ever written or said out loud the word quintillion, but we are clearly outnumbered. If these creepy crawlies should ever organize and collaborate and decide to enslave us, we’re seriously screwed. I mean, what if they mutate and become enormous? You have seen the sci-fi B movie Kingdom of the Spiders, haven’t you?
With an easy-to-read style, Stewart’s book walks a fine line between entomology, history, and horror. Her insect tales are divided according to their modus operandi: deadly, dangerous, painful, destructive, and horrible.
Take, for example, the Emerald Cockroach Wasp – a sort of zombie bug. Yes, zombie bug. This little bugger, a native of Asia and Africa, needs a host cockroach in which to lay its egg. A pregnant wasp will hunt down a cockroach, immobilize it with a sting, and then insert her stinger into the cockroach’s brain, essentially disabling the victim’s ability to flee. The wasp can then lead the roach around “by its antennae like a dog on a leash.”
Once inside the wasp nest, the wasp will lay an egg on the roach’s underbelly. When the egg hatches, the larva will then chew its way into the roach’s abdomen, feast on the roach’s internal organs, and create a cocoon for itself. After about a month, a full-grown adult wasp emerges, leaving the roach corpse behind.
And you though Alien was just a movie!
Still not convinced that we all need to be vigilant? Allow me to introduce you to the Chigoe Flea, native to tropical regions around the globe. Measuring just 1 mm, this tiny sand flea helped make Columbus’ second voyage to the New World a literal living hell. (Note to self: Remove travel to the tropics from the bucket list.)
For starters, the female chigoe tears into the host’s skin (and when I say host, I am including humans), and burrows in for the mating process. She prevents the wound from healing so she can a) breathe and b) receive male fleas. She then lays about a hundred eggs over the next week or so, and these tend to stick to the open wound in egg clusters until they drop out and land on the sand. The mother flea, after settling in for about a month, will die and fall out of the open wound – which at this point has great potential of being infected. In fact, Stewart goes on to write, in poorer regions of the world, infestations have resulted in gangrene, loss of toes, and severe pain.
And these two examples only “scratch” the surface. Meticulously researched and descriptive, Wicked Bugs is one of those books for campfire reading – you know, when you can hear the buzz of your hunters just beyond the glow of the embers, when you really want to hide in your sleeping bag but you can’t because your mind will be thinking if that thread is just a thread or a zombie bug.
As for me, I’d like to thank Ms. Stewart for arming us with the knowledge to protect ourselves from the coming insect conquest.
And to the bugs of the world, I’d like to say, “I am so sorry. Maybe I got a little carried away earlier with that grub serial killer phrase. Just some creative license. Please, don’t hurt me.”