The doctor sat at Frank’s dining room table. A young man, with pleasant Indonesian features, he was delivering care to Frank’s wife, who is dealing with a challenging diagnosis. I patiently waited my turn.
I had just arrived as their house guest from Denpasar. On the way over, as I sat in my driver’s taxi, something small but potent had gotten rather irritated at me.
The taxi had bright orange fur throughout (and the hubcaps had been spray-painted orange, go figure). Deep in the thickness of that fur, right below the meat of my right thigh, something lurked. Clearly it didn’t like being sat upon, and in retaliation, stung me. Mostly likely, a spider. Look, I wouldn’t like being sat on either. I’d have done the same thing. Given the option of being squished or biting to get the offender’s attention, I’d sink my fangs into the offending flesh every single time.
I didn’t realize it right then. I would soon thereafter.
Whatever it was had released a neurotoxin into the back of my thigh. In short order, that bite began to burn. https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/special/toxic-reaction-to-insect-or-spider-venom/not40563.html.
In fact, the site itself reddened, expanded, and sent flames of pain in all directions.
When the good doctor was done with Frank’s wife, he turned to me. Inspected the bite.
“That’s going to hurt for about six hours,” he said. “Calamine lotion will help.”
Frank promptly produced a bottle, which I slathered onto that small, angry volcano.
“If it continues to give you problems, come to my clinic.”
Who knew that something that small could be so evil. Well, I did. I grew up in the tropics. Comes with the territory, although you never quite expect it.
Home visits, common here, are a thing of the past in most of America. Here, I was fortunate that this doctor had already been scheduled to visit Frank’s house and could let me know if I was about lose half my right leg to a pissed-off bug bite.
Some people can. Neurotoxins can, in some cases, damage flesh. While this bite did indeed hurt for more like twelve hours, well into the night, it dissipated by morning.
Growing up in Central Florida, spiders were a part of play, a part of everyday life. You learned which bit, which hurt, which you could handle for a while before you put the iridescent black hairy critter back into its corner of the screens.
The moment you leave familiar territory, however, all bets are off.
For example, I lived in Australia for four years, and more than once came way too close for comfort to the Sydney funnel web. You find out quickly, preferably by someone’s shrieking at you just in time, to get the hell off that toilet before said funnel web decides that your exposed lady parts pose an imminent threat.
Worse for men, but I digress.
When we went to a restaurant yesterday afternoon, my thigh hurt so much and in such a large area that I had to elevate it both coming and going.
From such a tiny, tiny bite.
Bugs. Can’t live with ’em, but we’d better. Before it’s too late.
While Hollywood loves to show enormous scorpions to scare us, truth is that it’s usually the tiny ones that can take us out or, at least, make us suffer pretty badly. The worst live in India, and like the ones I grew up with in Florida, hang out where we do, most particularly where kids love to play barefooted. https://www.planetdeadly.com/animals/worlds-dangerous-scorpions
For those of us who have traveled to, and lived in, Australia, it’s a constant exercise in caution.
Still, that doesn’t keep me at home.
If I let critters keep me from traveling, I’d never even walk out of my house. Which, of course, has its fair share of spiders, wasps, bees and plenty of other things that bite in the night. They belong there just as much as I do, which is why I shoo away the salespeople who hit my door every spring to rid my house of yellow jackets. You don’t bother them, they don’t bother you.
It’s why I don’t clear the dandelions out of my yard, because the bees need them. You support the bees, they support our food supply. We need our insects. Without insects, we have no Nature. Just that simple.
Like the inevitable sting of hurt that we deliver to each other in our emotional lives, bug bites are part of life. They have just as much right to be in the world as we do, although we’re doing a superb job of wiping out a great many of them through our agricultural practices, climate change and other factors https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/17/where-have-insects-gone-climate-change-population-decline. I could- and would- make the case that they’ve done a far better job of esablishing their right to be on earth as opposed our trash, crash and eliminate culture.
Those of us who grew up in the country side remember, as I do, all manner of butterfly, moth and flying insects, which are now nearly gone. Thank you, humans.
If you want birds, folks, we’d better have bugs. As we methodically wipe out bug populations, we also lose our birds, our bats…I could go on. The entire food chain is at risk with our mono-culture, which doesn’t support insect diversity.
You may not like spiders, folks. You may be frightened of scorpions. You may even think, good riddance.
But without them, we have no Nature. Insects, bugs, even those that bite us should we get in harm’s way, ensure that the rest of the ecosystem thrives.
While I was in Africa, my group leader Ben Jennings commented that as a species, most of us don’t understand wild. From a drunk moron baiting a bison in Yellowsone https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/man-who-harassed-yellowstone-bison-arrested-glacier-national-park-n897641 to a woman who lost her arm feeding an illegally kept bear for entertainment (I’m with the bear, and I hope it enjoyed the meal )https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8058644/christmas-party-booze-bear-tears-woman-arm/, we have no clue what Nature is anymore, nor how to respect it. Too many of us certainly can’t live with it in any kind of harmony.
I’ve been around people who think they can make a horse run for hours (because hey, they saw it in a movie) as though this living, breathing creature didn’t need food, water, rest and respect. I’ve been around people who got out of their Jeeps around a pride of lions lounging around a fresh kill in Botswana, as though those very lions wouldn’t rip them to pieces to protect their food. But, they’re friendly. Didn’t you watch Lion King?
As though the male lions would break into Hakuna Matata at any moment.
Sure they will.
So yeah. Don’t like spiders? Wasps? Bees? I get it. But look. If you claim to like Nature, it comes with the territory. Nature needs her predators, her biters, stingers, creepy crawlies. While you and I might be slightly inconvenienced by the occasional bite, it’s a small price to pay for Her beauty. Which is fast disappearing. You might like the idea of a world without spiders, snakes and critters.
But without them we don’t have Nature.
Without Nature, we have no wonder. Without Nature, we have no food. Without Nature, we don’t have life. Pretty much just that simple.
So, a little neurotoxin on the thigh? No problem.
I’ll take her fanged demons any day, including sharks. I would argue- not without very good reasoning- that they have all found their place in the world far better than we have. At least they’ve found a way to live in harmony with their surroundings. Increasingly, we haven’t.
Next time you see a bug, thank your lucky stars. As long as we have them, Nature still has us.