Insect Ethics Part II: To Love a Bug

Hummingbird Clearwing MothFor every person who shrieks when they see a bee or a spider like the Brown Recluse featured in Insect Ethics Part I, there’s a person or civilization enamored with insects.

Scarab beetles were sacred to Egyptians because the beetle’s emergence from underground was symbolic of entombing and resurrection. Scarabs laid their eggs in the dung of herbivores—after they rolled the excrement across the ground and formed it into balls. Ancient Egyptians equated the scarab beetle’s actions to the sun God Khepri rolling the disk of the sun over the eastern horizon every morning.

The Chinese tradition of keeping crickets in cages dates to 500 B.C. Singing insects, including crickets, katydids and cicadas, are prolific in Chinese culture and poetry. These insects’ songs are more powerful in the autumn and in captivity. Their songs are associated with sadness and the fate of mankind. It’s sad all right, considering mankind put them in cages.

I found an unusual praying mantis in our garage at the end of August. Her legs were green but her body was a metallic silver and gray snakeskin pattern. One of her front legs was trapped in a spider’s web in the garage. I untangled her leg and coaxed her into the driveway to take pictures. No matter which direction I placed her, she turned and started moving towards the garage. I carried her over a retaining wall and set her on top of the golden oregano; located roughly twelve feet from the garage.

Two hours later my daughter reported the mantis was back in the garage, tangled in the same web. By then I knew she was a Chinese mantis; introduced to North America in 1896. Only she knew why she had to get back to the garage. Maybe she’d laid eggs near the web or maybe she just had to have that spider for dinner.

Many cultures believe ladybugs are good luck, especially if one lands on you. The Christian legend  is ladybugs appeared in the Middle Ages after farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help when swarms of insects began devouring their crops. The red and black polka-dotted beetles appeared, ate the pests and saved the crops. The farmers named their insect saviors “The Beetles of Our Lady.” Eventually the name was shortened to Lady Beetle, Ladybug and the current, irreverent ladybug.

Ladybugs are featured on umbrellas, bubble wands, wind chimes, whirligigs and clothing. They’re depicted in solar lights, tattoos, women’s lingerie and pasties—the basics for anybody who believes in divine insect intervention.

What we know for a fact is ladybugs are beneficial aphid-eating machines and a natural form of pest control. You can purchase 72,000 ladybugs online for your greenhouse or commercial orchard. Unless you’re intention is to douse yourself with ladybugs and head to Vegas, releasing thousands in your garden may not be the best idea—you can’t train a ladybug to stay.

Ladybugs swarmed our garden and home fall of 2009. I introduced twenty ladybugs to my Hawaiian hibiscus that broke out in aphids when I moved it indoors. The Ladybugs refused to stay on the hibiscus. They flew around the house aimlessly, playing hide and seek with the Siamese cats. Killing a ladybug is said to bring sadness and misfortune. Poor ‘Meezers.  (Are fine.)

Dragonflies hover on wall prints, comforter sets, patio furniture, glassware, china, jewelry and sundials, yet I’ve seen men, women and children shriek when they’ve had close encounters with live dragonflies. I shrieked, “Oh my God!” when I saw an Art Nouveau dragonfly pendent by Rene Lalique sold for $70,000 in 2009. The pendant is stunning—if someone gave it to me I’d drink two espressos, pretend it was alive and fly it around my back yard.

My mother and her cousins played with grasshoppers when they were four and five years old. The grasshoppers wouldn’t stay put so they performed lower back leg amputations. As loving grasshopper nurses, they made their patient beds from matchstick boxes and covers from kerchiefs. Their pets stayed in bed and lived for a short time. There weren’t many toys in the early 1940’s in Gillette, Wyoming but there were plenty of grasshoppers.

I was ten the first time I saw what I initially thought was a butterfly in my Grandmother’s garden in New Hampshire. As I moved closer, I thought maybe it was an unusual green, burgundy-red and brown hummingbird. Its wings were magnificent; fairy-shaped and translucent. The creature flitted from plant to plant, inserting a long tube that coiled and uncoiled into the flowers. My grandmother set her garden shears and basket of lilies on the ground and grabbed my hand.  She whispered, “It’s a Hummingbird clearwing moth. Isn’t she wonderful?”

The surprise and mystery of the unknown creature’s appearance combined with my grandmother’s awe, despite knowing what it was,  encapsulated the moment for me. I’ve seen six Hummingbird clearwing moths since that day; five of them in my own garden in Southwest Missouri. I don’t just remember my grandmother when I see a Hummingbird clearwing moth, I relive that first experience in 3D.

Whether a person sprays Raid on every insect in their home or keeps bees in their backyard, they likely have strong reactions to insects. I believe hating certain insects because of “creepy” looks, personal superstitions or misunderstood behaviors, while loving others because of legends, perceptions of beauty and cultural beliefs, is characteristic of human nature.



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Jules Jacob

julie ginkgoJulie "Jules" Jacob is a contemporary poet who often writes about dichotomous conditions and relationships among humans and the natural world. Her poems are recently featured or forthcoming in Plume Poetry, The Tishman Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She is the author of The Glass Sponge chapbook with select poems featured at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts and Le Moulin à Nef where she was a resident of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Poetry Workshop.

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