Tuesday, February 26, 2013
I often have the feeling these days that small ants are crawling on my face. Unfortunately, that’s because they are.
You have to forge a whole new relationship with insects if you live in a tropical country. There are just so many of them, and so many loosely fit doors and windows for little creatures to squeeze past.
The ants that get on your face - and in your computer keyboard, your e-reader, the cracks in your kitchen table, the cereal that you forgot to put in an air-tight plastic container - are teeny little guys drawn to food crumbs and electronic things (Warm for sleeping? Comforting hum? I don’t know).
At times they pass through your kitchen in a long, thin highway of organized ants on a mission, and you recognize you must have dropped something really tasty somewhere. Other times, they wander across your hands and arms as you type at your keyboard, as if your keyboard strikes are shaking them awake.
Lately, a few of the bigger leafcutter ants have made their way under the door as well. That’s a whole other story - one that will culminate in a few months with a stream of leafcutter ants making their way past our front door, each carrying bits from whatever nearby plant they have decimated to make the special fungus that they eat. They can take a garden plant back to sticks in a night.
We’ve decided that the leafcutter ants who come in our house are from the forager class, sent to check out whether there’s something worthwhile beyond our door. They’re at least 50 times bigger than the bitsy ants that live in our computer keyboards, and quite ferocious-looking with their formidable pincer-legs up front. But they don’t care to walk on your face, for which I am grateful.
Then there are the cockroaches. They come in various sizes, but they’re all kind of creepy with their scuttling movement, dark-of-night habits and ability to survive much abuse, including being launched like a well-played hockey puck toward the brick wall out back when somebody like me inevitably draws the line and sweeps one ferociously hard out the door.
I don’t like them much. If I thought I could kill every one of them if I just tried harder, I’d probably do it.
But there’s only so many times you can spray Raid, or try to do something elaborate with your tube of toothpaste so you never again have to flick on your bathroom light to the sight of a giant cockroach enjoying a minty snack.
You can sweep them put the door, stamp them dead, lay towels across every window gap, observe immaculate kitchen habits. The damn things will just keep coming. Sooner or later, you have to find a kind of peace with them.
The biting bugs - well, I dislike those guys most of all. We’ve got mosquitoes and nasty biting midges in Canada, too, but down here the sheer variety is impressive.
There are, for instance, the ones that bite your lower legs in the cool season. Those bites swell up, itch like crazy, and take days to go away.
There’s another kind of biting bug that comes in the rainy season that chomps you maybe 15 times all in one area - the back of your arm, say. You itch like crazy, but then the bites are gone within a couple of hours.
We’ve got very fine screen on our windows and good door-closing habits, but those teeny biters thwart us just the same. Happily, anti-itch creams like Alergil are cheap and readily available here, so I just make sure there’s always a tube nearby.
Spiders tend to be the nightmare of bug-a-phobics. But I made my peace with spiders a few years back, I think after seeing Microcosmos and ending up impressed by their talents despite my misgivings.
They’ve got a number of fancy spiders in Honduras: some that weave golden webs; some that wear a funny crab’s-shell kind of getup; some that glitter like they’ve been bedazzled. If you can get past the fear factor, the spiders here are actually pretty amazing.
Then there are the pre-Semana Santa beetles that crunch underfoot in March and April. The cicadas that sing their strange songs from the trees, changing their tune as the seasons pass. The flies with dangly hind legs that insist on hovering near your face, and that can still get me screaming and flailing around despite my best efforts to appear untroubled.
But of course, there are also the butterflies, fluttering past like delicate flower petals in the breeze. Blue, yellow, orange, transparent - you can't believe the variety in the tropics. They’re the payback for the dangly-legged flies, the bug-infested cereal, the mosquito welts on your feet. And how could I forget the glow bugs, glimmering a luminescent green over the farm fields at night? I shared one magical night with my family on Dec. 21 when we sat in the dark amid the Mayan ruins, counting flickering neon specks in the grass.
That’s the thing with nature - it comes as a package. When I feel that familiar tickle of a tiny ant making its way up my neck, I try to remember that.