The Bugs is Coming

June 11, 2019

Read no further, entomophobes, for I write today of bugs. Big bugs, swarms of bugs, and odd bugs.

My first summer here, I learned the rains in central Mexico bring with them crowds of insects. I decided I had to make peace with them, or be driven to an equally low-cost residence somewhere in the Arctic. Then I read about giant Arctic mosquitoes and decided I was far better off here.

Besides, a lot of the bugs in Mexico are quite gorgeous.

This year, the first group to make itself felt was June bugs, which here are known as May bugs. They’re like flying coffee-beans, and end up … well, everywhere. I sweep a half-dozen out of the kitchen every morning, and more from the living room. I think of them as “stupid bugs,” since they seem devoid of any kind of plan other than getting into the house, and making a crunchy noise when I step on those the broom missed.

Hot on their heels at the start of June were las hormigas de San Juan – St John’s ants, which are flying critters that, like the stupid bugs, get everywhere. Then they shed their wings. Then local people eat the ants.

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Mmm-mmm, crunchy: hormiga de San Juan.

I’ve not tried them, but I’m told they’re tasty. But I’m still, along with stupid bugs, sweeping up discarded wings.

But, along with occasional groups of houseflies, there are also creatures that enchant. This evening, a moth with a five-inch (12 cm) wingspan flew into my kitchen. Earlier in the day, a bird flew into my living room, almost knocked itself out trying to pas through the window, and was so dazed it let me grab it and release it outside. The moth, though, was having none of that stuff, and while I got it onto my fingers for a few moments, it promptly flew towards the overhead kitchen light, where it’s still sitting as I write.

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The Black Witch on the kitchen light.

I know some people fear moths, but the oddly named Black Witch (which is beige and grey) is an attractive creature, and harmless. Occasionally, we get morpho butterflies, the ones with the fluorescent blue scales on their wings, and other large lepidoptera. They’re benign, they’re solitary so you don’t get a bunch of them in the kitchen, and on the rare occasions I have one on my hand, I don’t freak out to feel their bug-feet on my fingers.

I’m told centipedes here have a nasty bite, so while some species look like nothing worse than spindly caterpillars, I avoid them. And even caterpillars here can sting, as one that got into a sock on the washing line proved to me. Fortunately, the sting was baby stuff, and passed off after ten minutes.

Stick insects, which aren’t rare but are hard to spot, also have a mild sting, I’m told, but they’re fascinating, and haven’t gone for me yet.

Other favourites of mine include creatures camouflaged to look like green leaves. If you approach one too closely, it flies off, spoiling the illusion; but they’re neat little critters regardless.

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Can you see me? You can? Oh.

But my undying fascination is with scorpions. They’ve stung me twice, but unlike some people my metabolism doesn’t freak out in response to their venom. The pain’s unpleasant but not terrible, and the worst effect is that the bite kills or numbs the nerves  near the point of penetration for days or even weeks. We get two primary species here, a black one (scientific name uncertain) with a mild sting, and a yellow-brown one (Centruroides vittatus) with a nastier one.

They’re durable bugs that can be thrown out the window without injury, after first being trapped by an upturned glass tumbler. Some adopt a militant stance, but more usually, they curl up in terror. They can’t jump, and they scarcely run, depending on their stingers for protection. Since a lot of birds eat them, catching them by the stingers, this arrangement isn’t as efficient as it might seem.

The local attitude is mostly that if we don’t kill them, they won’t bite us. They seem to be honourable creatures who respect this arrangement, and while a tiny black one stung me when I bent down to pick up what I thought was a piece of black fluff (yes, I needed better glasses, while it wrongly felt attacked), the only other time I’ve been caught was after accidentally stepping on one. Later, when I went to take my towel off the line where it was drying in the sun, I discovered a yellow-brown scorpion had made its way onto it (they like coolness and damp) and it took an arthropod’s karmic revenge on my hand.

If you go to the health centre after a bite, they make you sit to see if you develop breathing difficulties. If you don’t after two hours, they tell you to go home, and if necessary, swallow Tylenol. A local lady who cleaned house here at one point wasn’t so lucky, and needed four shots of antivenin to stabilise her. That stuff is quite bad for us, so I’m glad I seem to tolerate the stings.

But mostly, right now it’s small moths, small beetles and small “What-the-heck-is-that?” bugs. I can’t say I welcome them when the rains bring the mass hatchings, but my insect acceptance level is far better than it ever was in Canada. If nothing else, they’re a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and they support a good population of songbirds, lizards and (my favourites) dragonflies.

Also, the golondrinas, the swallows, are starting to build or restore their mud nests as the rains create puddles. They’re pest-control officers par excellence, and they’re also fun to watch as they swoop and loop. None has ever chosen to make a nest at this house, but they’re comfortable living close to humans, which means that the small bugs and mosquitoes are kept numerically in line.

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