Getting over the squick factor
Never thought I’d say this, but somewhere a while back, I overcame my “ooh, ick, blecch” factor about six- and eight-legged things that crawl and fly and buzz, and I got really interested. I mean really interested. I think that part of that thirst for knowledge regarding all things squicky got kicked into high gear when I got a job working for a pest control company, and part of my task was to immerse myself in general entomology, arachnology and, later, from day-to-day contact with some people who are at least as internally twisted as I am, rodentology.
What is it about insects and spiders that creep people out? For me, I’ll guess it was the not wanting to know. I’d fried my share of pillbugs — a land-dwelling crustacean — on the sidewalk using my prepubescent pair of Mr. Science glasses, and I’d disassembled quite a few arthropods after unceremoniously killing them. But I’d bonged out of biology, and later on, just refused to consider the elegance of animals from the invertebrate world.
But who can argue with the beauty of caterpillars that feed on leaves and other plant material before spinning themselves into pupae, later emerging as butterflies and moths? Or beetles that complete their wormlike larval existence, pupate, and then turn into the amazing winged tank-like creatures of the largest order of insects, Coleoptera, more commonly known as beetles?
Somewhere along the line, I either read something, or saw something, that sparked a raging interest in what has come to be known as eusocial insects — Hymenopterans, or wasps, bees and ants, and the Isopterans, the non-Hymenopteran eusocial outlier we know as termites, which some entomological research has traced back to the cockroaches. These insects often live in huge colonies that function as a giant brain, organized into castes with a queen at the top — sometimes with a loyal king but more often with a coterie of layabout gigolo drones — and then a massive amount of female workers that, depending on the age bracket, forage out of the hive or nest or stay at home taking care of the next generation from egg to larva to pupa. Oftentimes, there is a soldier caste to guard the workers.
Even cockroaches have a certain beauty and elegance — although you probably don’t want them around because they’re unsanitary as gosh-darned heck, and their appearance often means asthma and other allergic reactions among any human co-habitants. I lived around what I’d guess were American cockroaches a few years ago, and would watch them waving their antennae around and grooming themselves sometimes before scaring them off. But anatomically, they were a marvel, the way their flattened bodies could scurry to the safety of even the tiniest crack.
So now, it doesn’t bother me that Diptera — your two-winged insects (most insects have four wings) like flies and mosquitoes — spend their first three life stages in filthy conditions, and then emerge as winged adults to either throw up on your food and then siphon it up (flies) or suck your blood (female mosquitoes). Cockroaches — Blattaria — don’t bother me either. And give me a tank containing assassin bugs and throw in some crickets, which the assassin bugs will chase down, tackle and suck the juices out of with their long and sharply pointed proboscises, and I’m a happy camper. Yeah, call me twisted.
And don’t even get me started on spiders, which really blow my mind. —Jackson Griffith