Bug off: the angst of murdering your unwanted guests

Bugs can remind us of ourselves ... Photo: Pixabay / Virvoreanu-Laurentiu.

Despite his sentiment for all creatures great and small, Richie Black is confronted by the reality of Sydney’s sudden, recent influx of creepy crawlies.

Most people who aren’t sociopaths say (especially on dating apps) they like animals. By which they mean, typically, dogs and cats – or videos of dogs and cats. Not so much crawling bugs

But how many of us can honestly say we honestly haven’t had an affinity for a creepy crawly at one time or another? Particularly at the poignant moment we’re about to kill them. 

Come on, admit it. 

For a long time, I had an attachment to a black house spider that had set up shop in my shower. It was sheer sentiment, of course. 

Sure it’s easy to admire these creatures, scientifically. But it takes a real, determined imagination to think there’s any tangible simpatico with an arachnid. 

Still, hey, there were we. In the queasy, unwashed spiritual darkness of 7am into which I would stagger, there was something a little reassuring about its presence, sitting their in its zen-like state of singular, complacent being

The (human) person I was seeing semi-regularly at the time, once the diaphanous web had grown to cover half the bathroom window, said somewhat glibly: “It’s either the spider or me.” That the decision made me pause, was reason (along with other things) to make them leave. 

The idea of getting rid of “Boris” for one thing, seemed cruel to a creature that had been lulled (at least in my mind) into thinking it could squat, without fear of eviction and/or death, in my window. 

Rock’s ode to interspecies relationships. Video: The Who/YouTube.

To be honest, she (i.e. Boris) need not have taken it too personally: my sentimental streak ensures that I develop a rapport with anything that hangs around long enough. I get pangs of regret and nostalgia when I put out the recycling.

Seeing eye to compound eye

When it comes to bugs, a lot of this sentiment is merely projecting onto these creatures our own limited understanding of existence.

It can seem, for example, through that prism, they’ve got the shitty end of the stick evolution-wise. Their lives are frail, brief and brutal compared even to our own transitory experiences.  

Houseflies, apparently, only live about four weeks and that’s if they’re lucky. Which might make you think, I’ve had hangovers that lasted that long

Then there’s the tendency for some male spiders, amongst them the Latrodectus hasselti, the famous Australian redback, to be eaten during sex. To literally sacrifice themselves for a bit of nooky. Jesus, you might reflect, I thought I had bad dates

Meanwhile, a creature like a daddy long-legs, with its ludicrously effete legs strung tragically from a tiny body, remind me of my adolescence. 

Cockroaches are harder to love. But their repulsiveness can be perversely endearing and their defiance in the face of the world’s loathing admirable – the sort of Richard III of creepy crawlies. 

If that’s the case, when it comes to disposing of them, you’ll inevitably find some guilt involved. If you use a sticky trap or spray there’s a dreary sense of your own murderousness reflected in their pathetic and sometimes elongated death throes. 

There’s also something karmically unwise about the whole thing. An “eye-for-an-eye” and all that. And how many eyes do cockroaches have? Technically, plenty

This is when catching them in plastic containers and turfing them outside comes into the play for the real bug “bleeding-heart”. Admittedly it’s compassion that can be diluted if the animal refuses to leave said container or makes an infuriating dash back inside. 

Hypocrisy of the bug sympathiser

But like any other creature, including humans – my sympathy has lot to do with each individual’s relative isolation.

En masse, they aren’t such an attractive proposition. A nerd by himself at a party is sort of adorable – but a large pack of them leads to all sorts of toxic things, such as Doctor Who fandom. 

In the last few months in Sydney, a confluence of heavy rain and humid weather – like a honeymooner’s boudoir – has provided much inspiration to breed. And the new parents seem to have off-loaded their kids onto me. 

A horde of flies, moths, mosquitos, gnats, ants and cockroaches have descended. It’s like living in the Temple of Doom. 

My dog’s poop brings all the flies to the yard, damn right

It also hasn’t helped that my dog leaves mud-pies in the backyard that immediately attract more flies than hipsters to a micro-brewery. 

These scenes of celebration amongst the fly community are notionally inspiring – but the bastards do have a habit of inveigling their way into the house. 

Feeling akin to that host whose overtures of sympathy and hospitality have been exploited by guests who’ve stay too long and invited their friends, I’ve become cold and ruthless. 

Please leave now

So, yes, in a state of frustration I’ve been reduced to drastic, crass and violent measures. By which I mean Mortein. 

My hypocrisy writ large, the bleeding heart has gone cold. The shattered bodies of houseflies litter my floor like the aftermath of a Rambo sequel. 

But at what cost? As with other villains who think the “ends justify the means” – Macbeth, Hugo Drax from Moonraker or Dominic Perrottet – have I entirely lost my perspective, my humanity? 

It can definitely be seen as short-sighted.   

We know, after all, that insect populations are declining. This extinction has massive adverse impacts on the ecology they otherwise sustain.  

Admittedly it seems hard to believe that, in Sydney, this summer. But doesn’t it seem churlish to try and wipe them out again, just as they’re making, you know, a bit of a come back? 

We also know that insects are touted as the future of ethically sourced, sustainable food production. Should I be herding these cockroaches into pens, raising them as my own, then feeding them to my friends? 

Wrap your beak around that. Image: mollyroselee/Pixabay.

And if their considerable nutritional and environmental value wasn’t enough, it seems they also really, really dislike Pauline Hanson.

So, I wrestle with ethical issues as I run about the house trying to whack flies with an old shoe. 

In the meantime, I’ve reconciled myself to the loss of Boris. She got taken out, by mistake, when I hired a cleaner to do a one-off raid on my place. She disappeared into a Dyson vaccum cleaner.

I was saddened to find her gone – but in hindsight, it was best she went before the apocalypse. As I’ve said, sentiment does strange things to people. And I think the burial and small service we had for her was definitely not too much.  

Richie Black is the deputy editor of the Sydney Sentinel. Twitter: @NoirRich.

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