Saturday, June 22, 2024

Sharing the planet means accepting kittens and mutant flying ants alike

¡Ya quítense, pinches moscas!” (“Go away, damn flies!”) shouts my friend as she desperately swats at the noisy black dots buzzing around her table where she’s just set the food out. She misses most of them that day, but I have another friend who’s gotten so good at catching them that she’s up to about a 50% kill rate.

Even with her strongly-worded demands that certainly would have made my little fly-heart jump, they were unfazed and kept nose-diving toward the chicken like the crazy little kamikaze pilots they are.

Bugs are a big part of life in Mexico — to a greater extent, I think, than in further-north North America.

There are the famous bugs that we love, of course: the beautiful monarch butterflies that tourists come from far and wide to observe and that are becoming increasingly more difficult to protect are one famous example. Another are the fireflies (actually beetles) of Tlaxcala, that I’m hoping myself to go see this summer.

And while they’re not an official attraction, I’ve been known to stop for half an hour at a time to observe ants as they march back and forth in their impossibly long and efficient lines that I’ve seen stretch for a kilometer or more.

Buggy beauty is truly in the eye of the behavior.

There are the edible bugs too, of course, considered a delicacy in several regions of the country. While I’ve tried the famous chapulines (grasshoppers) and got the obligatory picture of myself looking simultaneously amazed and very dubious as I did so, I’ve yet to venture into the rest of the vast world of edible insects. (For a very entertaining essay about some more of the edible insects of Mexico, check out Bodie Kellogg’s piece from a few years ago here.)

While I’ve traditionally been pretty chill about even icky bugs that make it into my house — I pride myself at not jumping up onto the sofa and waving my hands in front my tear-streaked and horrified face when I see a six- or eight-legged critter — I draw the line at the ones that could potentially send me or my kid to the hospital.

In Querétaro, it was scorpions, which my dog at the time (RIP, sweet She-ra) mercifully hunted and killed with a vigor I wouldn’t have expected from her calm, chill demeanor.

Querétaro was also the place where I watched in horror after one particularly rainy day as the patio of the school where I taught became covered with the biggest ants that I’d ever seen with wings. That’s right: giant ants that fly.

They might as well have been those flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz as far as I was concerned. But what choice did I have but to try to make space? We share the planet with adorable kittens and mutant flying ants alike.

Here in Xalapa, I recently found a tarantula. A TARANTULA, people. In my living room. I’d never even seen one not in a terrarium before.

Before it made it to the blanket draped over my napping child, I managed to trap it in a wide-rimmed empty peanut container (I tried with a big mayonnaise jar first, but it wasn’t big enough. Insert totally grossed out scream GIF here).

And then, I took it outside and threw it out into what the tarantula must have believed was a vast and endless forest, the wooded terreno in front of my house. I mean, I wasn’t going to kill something the size of a small mammal.

Bugs have been on my mind more lately as they’ve been invading my home in great quantities. I’ve got a mosquito net above my bed, but the rest of the house is fair game as long as I want my windows to stay open, and I do. It’s been raining a lot, so maybe they’re seeking shelter inside my home?

I’ve got everything from the tiny ants marching around my bathroom sink (what on earth are they finding to eat there?) to the occasional flying cockroach (please just don’t fly suddenly in front of my face okaythankyou), to the random unidentified beetles lying suddenly dead on my stairs. Did they come to my house to die, or did they not find their way out?

I haven’t found many spiders in my home lately, but when I do, I usually leave them be if they’re just minding their own business in a corner we humans don’t usually occupy. Really, I appreciate the service they provide by eating other bugs.

Nature isn’t all romantic. Just ask my friend who just found four little sparrows decapitated and eaten in her backyard by a rogue crow (or a perfectly predictable and natural crow).

But not seeing any bugs at all would be much more worrisome than the occasional unidentified buzzing objects in my home. They’re part of this ecosystem that we all belong to, and while they may bug us personally (get it?), we need them.

So, for now, I’ll keep doing my best to live and let live as I’m awakened each morning before sunrise by the pleasant sound of cicadas right outside my window and greeted each evening on the road to my house by lightning bugs guiding me home.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, and at her Patreon page.

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