The Summer Insect Repellance Index
The following is a rough approximation of the most critical axes of insect composition and behavior in order to help you, the summer holidaymaker, decide just how freaked out to be by each of them. In deciding just how hard to shudder or how loudly to shriek, be sure to take into account the following:
Camouflaged/deceitful: This is bad, especially if it’s the kind of insect that pretends to be part of a branch while it’s sitting on a branch, but then opens itself up like a folding chair and flies into your face when you try to walk past it. Just as bad is something like the tick, which tries to pass itself off as a harmless little Quaker in her plain gray garb, but is secretly waiting to leverage static electricity against you in order to run a bank heist on your blood. Hideous. They ought to be belled, like cats, so you always know when they’re coming.
Impertinent (too cheerfully green or something): You know what I mean, I hope. I’d put a picture with an example in it, but I don’t want this piece to have any distressing pictures of bugs in it. I don’t object to a soberly-green insect, like a grasshopper (or rather, my objection to grasshoppers is not on account of their color) or anything the shade of vegetation. But every so often you’ll recognize a bug against a leaf precisely because it’s three or four shades brighter than the leaf, and that’s repellant. These ones are almost fluorescent; the color of bottles or key limes or a coat that the Riddler would wear. It’s unsettling and unnatural, like a sound that’s just outside the range of what humans can hear, but still sufficiently resonant that you can tell there’s something you ought to be hearing.
Lurid: Spotted lanternflies, some of the flashier beetles, certain vulgar moths and dragonflies. Anything that reveals garish under-colors when it opens a set of wings (often one set of several wings), like a tiered makeup kit. Of course the colors are pretty enough from a distance, but I resent having my eyes drawn involuntarily to the unlovely locomotion of insect legs. Beautiful designs in the service of jerky, inhibited little twitches become a little terrifying, like when a high school marching band has a color guard unexpectedly following behind it, twirling a lot of synchronized flags and plastic rifles.
There ought to be sumptuary laws for insects. Tyrian purple and Louboutin red should be reserved for kings and high-maintenance women, not something that might mistake my hat for a flower before being eaten by a robin.
Is the insect a homebody or a wanderer? A bumblebee, for example, is perhaps the best insect a hiker can hope to encounter. He flies like a slightly over-burdened waiter trying to carry one too many glasses of wine on an unsteady tray, with great concentration and very little grace. This is very charming, like if a child’s teddy bear came to life and suddenly had to work as a railroad conductor: Why, that’s too much responsibility for the poor little fellow! But he’s got gumption, yes he does. He is concerned with landing properly on top of a patch of clover and nothing else. If he accidentally blunders into your path, he’s just as annoyed about it as you are, and politely says “Excuse me” before flying away.
Whereas a wasp in your car, for example, is doubly unwelcome for leaving his natural environment to intrude upon yours. You wouldn’t be delighted to see a bumblebee in your car, of course, but he wouldn’t be there in the first place, not if he could help it. A moth on a tree is unpleasant enough, but at least she’s supposed to be there; a moth in your hallway is infinitely worse. You don’t live here! You have no business with me.
I don’t especially like worms, but I will say this for them: None of them have ever tried to get into my house.
Next comes the question of LOCOMOTION. How does the insect get about? Are their patterns:
Frenzied: Flies, maggots, silverfish. Awful. I don’t want to talk about this any more.
Aimless: Roaches, etc. They don’t seem to move so much as spill. An insect with a purposeful gait at least seems able to differentiate the world around it. Some places are home, some places are dangerous; some things are food, some things are not-food, some things are waste. A roach is precisely the freakiest because it moves as if everything in the world were food, waste, home, and danger, all at the same time. It has no judgment to exercise, only hideous desperation.
or Targeted: This is why the moth is the very worst bug in the world, despite being less obviously ugly than some. The little demented loops of the moth going nowhere sometimes turn into a terrifying flight path directly into the nearest human face. Then the moth is simultaneously frenzied (flying as fast as it can in every imaginable direction at once), aimless (no plan, does not care where it lands as long as it can keep landing somewhere, never stopping, like Niobe — was it Niobe who couldn’t stop? The one who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis, who was forbidden from making landfall — I think that was Leda, come to think of it, and Niobe was the woman whose children Apollo and Artemis killed with arrows a little later on, but I don’t have much internet access up here so I don’t want to waste it on looking up who the woman was who couldn’t make landfall1) and targeted (wants to repeatedly bash into your face and hair).
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