Befriending Bugs

Here’s the skinny. Bugs get a lot of disrespect. They don’t deserve it.

Why does it matter? Because there are many, many more bugs on Earth than humans. They’ve been around way longer than we have. And there’s no getting away from them. Unless you live in a bubble, you cannot avoid insects. Most likely you have encountered at least one already today; if not, you will.

It follows, then, that you have to have some sort of relationship with bugs. It’s either hateful or loving. Nothing is truly neutral. There is gray area to be sure, but pure neutrality is more or less not practically possible.


What the Hell Do Bugs Do, Anyway?

In general, bugs are overreacted to—and not exactly with hugs. They get stepped on, slapped, swatted at… And for what? Usually, nothing.

The reality is that most of the time, most bugs are not doing anything hostile toward humans. They walk around. They fly through the air. Some swim in the water. That’s it.

The key is this: a lot of bugs buzz, but then don’t do a lot more than that. When someone says, “What’s the buzz all about?,” the word “buzz” is basically synonymous with “hype.” It’s noise—largely meaningless noise. You can ignore it at no cost to yourself.

So it is with bugs. They may fly in circles around you and make lots of noise, and that might scare you. But it shouldn’t, because generally, that’s all they will do.

Some bugs will crawl on you. Usually, still, they will do no more than that. They’re just checking stuff out, maybe seeing if you taste like fruit or rotting meat. No big deal.

Still other bugs really don’t do anything. At some point you have probably seen a spider in a particular spot (such as your bedroom ceiling), left for a while, and then returned to see that spider in the exact same spot—perhaps even 24 hours later.

In general, bugs are more of a presence than a problem.


Making (i.e. Attempting) Peace

Of course, then we have the issue of bugs that hurt humans. This is where things get tricky.

It’s not clean cut, but the rule of thumb is this: the more you fear and try to defend against bugs, the more of a nuisance they will be to you.

When you swat at bugs, it pisses them off. This fuels their desire to inflict pain on you.

This is particularly apparent with flies. I’m speaking more so about the types of flies you encounter in the woods than houseflies. Mainly, these are deer flies. That’s what I see in upstate New York.

What deer flies enjoy doing is landing on heads and burrowing in hair. Sometimes they’ll even have a little nibble on said head. I’ve gotten bit on my fingers and shoulder blades by them, too.

Today I walked about 10K through the woods. There were a lot of bugs, and they were persistent about being on and around me. The main specimens I encountered were deer flies, mosquitoes, and very tiny flies I don’t exactly have a name for. They look like fruit flies, though apparently there is an aptly named species called the eye gnat. I’ll call them eye gnat, since that helps to illustrate what they do.

For most of my walk (basically until the last mile) bugs were constantly flying around, landing on, and crawling on me. Indeed, there was a lot of buzz.

How did I deal with them? Let’s start with the deer flies.

Deer Flies

I’ve steadily developed a resistance to the urge to constantly swat the air and run my hand through my hair to see if any deer flies are in there. Doing these things just drives me nuts, and unnecessarily so. More often than not I don’t find anything. The bugs are buzzing, but not landing (at least, not for long).

Today the deer flies never quite went away, as usually happens and as I had hoped. I figured I had two choices: either go kamikaze-bazinga on them, or make peace. I chose the latter.

Mind you, peace was difficult.

Essentially what I did was just leave them alone. I let their buzzing be, and if they landed on my head then so be that, too. What I found was that they barely bit me at all. Over the course of roughly two hours I was bit on the head by a deer fly once, and on the hands, twice. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. I see there’s no need to get so reactive upon seeing them anymore. Deer flies mostly buzz and hang out.

Of course, that hanging out is mostly done in my hair, and this can make me a bit nervous (what if they want to control my brain?!). Nevertheless, it is overwhelmingly harmless.

Eye Gnats

Next, let’s talk about the eye gnats. The main- really, only- problem I have with these guys is that they have a penchant for flying into my eyeballs. This is unfortunate, as I need my eyeballs to see. Plus, when I’m in the middle of the woods, it can be difficult to remove the bugs from my eyeballs (primarily because I can’t see where they are).

Yesterday it was bad. A grand total of 3- maybe even 4- eye gnats landed in my eyes. Normally it’s quite an event to get 1 in my eye on a single day. There’s one fly from yesterday that I don’t remember removing at any point—it’s probably floating in the back of my head somewhere now. If a bug has never before landed in your eye, it hurts like hell if they float into particular spots.

One eye gnat was in there for several hours. My eye was burning and watering like crazy, and I was in pain. I tried using the blade of a pocket knife as a mirror, and I could see the bug, but I couldn’t quite manage to get it out.

Then, like magic, I came upon an outhouse—the only outhouse I have ever seen that has a mirror inside. That mirror was much bigger than the blade of a knife, and with some effort I was able to get the bug out.

It followed from there that today I didn’t exactly want the same thing to happen, though it could be expected. So I took the same approach to the eye gnats that I did with the deer flies: I stopped trying to fight a war with them.

The result: many eye gnats landed on and crawled around my face. A few even landed in my eyelashes. Yet, they often wrangled their way out without me touching them. Usually I would just look down and blink a few times, and they’d be on their way. Today, no bugs landed in my eyes.

Vision, glorious vision!


Last, we have the lovely mosquito. As you can imagine, this is the hardest one. Deer flies and eye gnats just like to piss people off if they find reason to do so (such as if you swat at them like a mad man). Mosquitoes, on the other hand, actually want something from us. They vant to suck our blood!

The basic approach I’ve settled on with mosquitoes, so far, is to avoid killing them, yet be firm about not letting them bite me. I didn’t like Twilight, and I’m not a fan of vampires. I’m keeping my blood.

The jury is still out on mosquitoes, but the basic desire, as with deer flies, eye gnats, and all other bugs, is for peace.


Accidental Killings

Of the three types of bugs, mosquitoes were killed more so than the other two. The impulse to slap! when I feel a bite has been in me for as long as I can remember. It’s relatively weak now, but it still comes out every now and then—particularly if I’m frustrated with or scared of the bugs.

In second place were the eye gnats. Sometimes I got nervous when they were in my eyelashes and I would pick them out, killing them in the process because they’re so darned small it’s hard not to.

As for deer flies, a few of them were picked out of my hair and thrown—several, even squished. The occasional deer fly that landed on another part of my body was also occasionally slapped.

Accidental killings is a simple reality when it comes to humans and bugs. We are so ridiculously larger than them, it’s impossible not to unknowingly step or sit on them at least occasionally. Plus we all go into impulse-mode sometimes and give ‘em a good whack.


Leaning Into Discomfort

The impulse to shoo away bugs is very real, and very deeply ingrained not only in me, but perhaps in the majority of humans—so much so that we take it for granted.

The reality is that most reactions to bugs are just that—reactions. They aren’t conscious. They just happen, and we think they’re supposed to happen that way. Of course bugs are scary, ugly-looking, dangerous pests that need to be removed from my sight as quickly as possible… Right?

The reason to free yourself from this impulse, if no other, is that you will experience less fear. You won’t have to be afraid of bugs if you go outside. If you see a spider in the bathroom, you can just say “Hello” to it rather than scream and make everyone in the house think you’re being murdered. If a bug crawls on you, you don’t have to waste time and effort and go into fear-mode trying to remove it from you.

A fear of bugs is like a fear of public speaking: widespread, and quite unnecessary. You’re just talking. They’re just tiny creatures that happen to have more legs than you do. Why are you scared, dummy? You’re not gonna die. Relax.

When bugs crawl on me for more than a few minutes I do get the urge to get them off me. It’s fine and well to do that, though I sometimes kill them in the process. Oops.

In general, it’s safer (for the bugs) to avoid using your hands to get them off you. Try to convince them with a bit of shaking, perhaps. If you do some sort of crazy dance, though, you might look insane.

As for letting them crawl on you, it’s just a thing to get used to. If I’m trying to focus I prefer that bugs aren’t crawling on me, but perhaps I can learn to forge onward without having to remove them. If I’m sitting outside, this is the more convenient way to go. If it turns out this can’t be done, and I truly cannot maintain focus in the face of bugs, then, well, it was worth the attempt, eh?


Intelligent Life

Over the last few years I’ve been leaning into the view that all life is intelligent. It might not look that way, since other life forms are different from us. But perhaps there is some essential piece of intelligence that all forms of life share. If that piece of intelligence is information-processing, that assertion could be made.

What if bugs aren’t dumb, flying, biological machines like we think they are? What if they aren’t indifferent and automatic? What if they even have feelings?

Once, while using my laptop outside, an interesting scene unfolded before me. It was a tale of two ants. One was dead. The other, basically identical, was trying with all its might to move the dead ant. For the most part it tried to lift up the dead ant, though it did try pushing it as well.

Unfortunately, the ant was not able to complete its mission. After 20 minutes of grabbing, pushing, lifting, and re-positioning itself, it gave up.

20 minutes! That must be 20 days in ant-time! The ant did absolutely nothing else in that time. For 20 minutes it was persistent.

I’d like to think the ant wanted to give its friend a proper burial. Of course, it’s perfectly possible that it wanted to return the dead ant to the colony to be eaten. Either way, I can’t help but still be amazed to remember the effort this ant put up. It is quite a feat, I must add, to carry an object that is the exact same size as you (in this case, another ant). For their size, ants are incredibly strong.

That was the first instance I remember starting to reconsider what level of intelligence bugs might have.


Just Frakin Do It

Overall, I’m not trying to prove anything. I don’t know what bug brains and nervous systems are like. That isn’t the point.

The point is, if there is no other, is don’t have stupid fears. Similarly, don’t do harm needlessly. These are quite simple lessons, yet there is always room for improvement in applying them.

Don’t be afraid of tiny creatures, and don’t hurt them, either. What’s the use? What does it do for you-- make you feel powerful? You squished a dot. Congratulations.

Does it make you feel more secure? Has it occurred to you that if you’re so afraid of such tiny beings, they might actually be incredibly powerful? Why do they influence your actions and reactions so much, anyway? Might they be highly significant?

If you want to consider yourself as being more intelligent than insects, it would serve you well to stop being afraid of them. You might worry about going insane if you start talking about the ant-people, but ultimately you’ll live with a clearer mind for it.

As for what lies beyond fear… Well, you just might make a new set of friends.

This world is not such a scary place after all.

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