IT really was quite a party. Hosted by enterprising maggots in the rotting remains of a toppled North Shore old growth forest, Bugapalooza 2011 was catered by bees who served up decayed vegetation of the most exotic kinds. One disintegrating mango had the guests lined up for half the night.
But before I tell you all about it, please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Social Butterfly, a Lepidoptera of the most engaging and alluring kind. Simply look at my velvety, jewel-toned wings and I’m certain you’ll agree. An expert in my field, I’ve been hired by Insect World, the ether’s most popular daily newsmagazine, to provide insight to you, my fellow bugs, into the lives of our society’s most aspirational movers and shakers.
Now, defining who those “players” might be is a conundrum. Who determines which of us is most important? In the human world, the current consensus appears to be that the more money you have, the more interesting you are, no matter how crass – witness the Kardashians. In our sphere, money does not exist. So, is it the insect who’s most forceful – the hornet, the mosquito – that is most intriguing to the rest of us? Is it the beauties – the dragonflies -- in our midst? Or is it the relentless survivors? We here at IW feel it’s a mixture of all of these, with the odd do-gooder and diligent dweeb thrown in. Friday’s Bugapalooza offered a scenic view of our social order in microcosm.
Any insect that was any insect was at Bugapalooza. Your humble correspondent was the loveliest kind of fly on the wall, listening in on the latest buzz with wings closed, as if resting. The pose allowed me to eavesdrop on an absolute treasure trove of gossip, about the hottest West Vancouver dumpsters, the merits of bears who don’t clean up after themselves, and beer versus wine as a source of carbs.
“You know, bees make the best caterers,” one beetle said to another. The two of them were all over a damp, dung-strewn mound of earth, mouths chomping, as if wet dirt were at a premium in this neighbourhood. Between you and me, it was uncouth.
“Bees? How so?” asked her companion.
“They’re hard workers, and they have exquisite taste,” the first explained.
I detected a note of envy in her voice. Beetles themselves, of course, have a long and impressive history that dates back at least to ancient Egypt, where some were even considered sacred. They enjoyed a flurry of attention in the 1970s, when North American humans wore silver scarabs as jewelry around their necks, a height to which an ant, for example, could never aspire.
But the past 20 years have seen the beetle’s efforts at elevating itself dashed. While bees – after Martha Stewart adopted them as her symbol -- have been promoted to the role of coddled pets of urban rooftop gardeners, beetles have marched backward into cheap, under-the-plant-pot ghettos.
Some plants won’t even allow them to move in. “They scuttle too much” is a common complaint. “They’re loud – they have too many feet and they’re constantly moving. I can’t get a good night’s sleep,” says one plantlord who has sworn off the creatures, whom he describes as “terra-ists.”
It is, of course, not for me to judge. I do feel it might be helpful for beetles to get themselves some better public relations. Moths have lately gone with a major Whistler PR firm – high hopes! They’ll always be pale imitations of us glorious butterflies -- but beetles might want to start modestly, with a local company. In a bold move, several fauna P.R. firms have set up shop near local gardening centres. One of them, would you believe, even specializes in slugs. Talk about a lost cause.
Spiders’ popularity is also on the downswing. While they are adept designers and builders, spiders, ultimately, are seen as self-serving. They can offer the rest of us “free renovations” all they want, but nobody has ever mistaken a spider for Extreme Makeover’s Ty Pennington.
There are even less popular bugs, however. At Bugapalooza I came upon a pocket of young termites shooting looks at a praying mantis. She was a beautiful thing, green as new grass, slender, with legs up to there, standing in a corner surveying the room with her binocular compound eyes.
“She looks as if she wants to hook up,” one termite whispered to the other in a hopeful tone.
“That’s not all that’s on her mind,” said the second termite, with a shudder.
“Is she religious? I mean, she’s supposedly a praying mantis, and I’ve never met one of those before. Are they Catholics, or Jews, or what?” the first termite replied.
The second termite sidled closer. “Oh, she’s not a bit religious. That’s a put-on,” he murmured. “Those raptorial legs of hers are used to catch her prey – which can even include frogs, snakes and rodents -- and keep it pinned. Worse yet, guess what she does on her countless honeymoons?”
“I don’t like the sounds of this….” said the first.
“That’s right – she’ll bite her hubby’s head off even before the act of consummation is complete. I call that more than bad manners. Of course, some say the praying mantis is descended from the proto-cockroach….”
The other termite looked alarmed and began sidling toward the exit. It was then that a hush fell over the crowd as a horde of tiny, hideous, six-legged creatures swarmed into the stump. This was a rare invasion – such standoffish creeps generally shrug off insect gatherings in favour of latching onto humans and their trappings. At Bugapolooza, however, they were strutting their stuff. These wingless, much-loathed bloodsuckers have finally become the toast of the town.
Not every insect is buying in. “Cimex lectularius,” muttered a professorial-looking silverfish as he observed the bedbugs swaggering all over the stump. “Conceited upstarts!”
His wife looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean? Aren’t bedbugs still considered the lowest of the low?”
“Not since Vancouver established its Bed Bug Registry,” he replied bitterly. “They’re on the A-list now.”