The other night, I sat outside with a nice cool beverage and started to yell at my wife. Nothing bad; we just live under the airport approach. At some point I felt something on my arm and glanced over to see a June bug. "Oh, you little pest." Did the finger-thumb flick and shot him into the dark.
Nah, not really. It was more like: stood up, waved arms, dumped drink in my lap.
That's what happens when you see a huge, stupid bug on your arm, wings out like some predator about to spit acid, glossy body the size of a butcher's thumb. You have an instinctive revulsion: If one lands on your laptop screen, the next thing you know, the computer is upside-down in the grass 15 feet away.
But maybe you're one of those insect lovers who likes the YouTube videos where someone lets horrible, clicky creatures climb all over their hands while the narrator merrily describes the nightmare:
"Here is the Madagascar Stench Scarab, or flatulenta mordida, so-named for the powerful jets of gas it uses to repel its enemies — and, frankly, its friends. One of these was sent up to the International Space Station for an experiment, and even up in space they had to crack a window."
Perhaps you hate other bugs more than June bugs. Hairy things with more legs than the Chinese army; busy spiders; grasshoppers that look big enough to saddle up a squirrel. Even so, you must admit: June bugs are uniquely annoying. They dive-bomb you out of nowhere, as if evolution somehow produced a bug whose sole purpose is to get into your ear by blunt force.
Some facts about June bugs:
1. Their genus is Phyllophaga, a Greek name that translates to "leaf eater," although they also will dine on flowers and even young trees. If you hear a neighbor scream, "I have to go inside, the vegans are just terrible tonight," this is technically accurate. Of course, sheep also are vegans, and no one freaks out if they see a sheep on their arm.
2. They eat your lawn. The grubs — that's baby June bugs in their writhing, disgusting form — nestle underground and munch on the roots of your grass. Sometimes you will see crows working to peel off the grass and get to the tasty grubs; if so, bring them a beer and tell them you appreciate it. Crows are smart, so you can just leave the opener by the bottle, and they'll get to it eventually.
3. The grubs can stay underground for a long time, and then they emerge as beetles and run into things like drunks. They live about four years, which means that after three years they are eligible for the seniors' menu at Perkins.
4. Natural predators? Not enough, if you ask me. There's a type of bug that latches on, lays an egg where the June bug can't reach it, and then the egg hatches and eats the host from the inside out. But this seems like a very complicated way to reproduce — and it's not covered by insurance.
Another predator: dogs. June bugs fascinate dogs because they're like mischievous snacks. They're crunchy, like a good biscuit. Even after the dog takes a bite, they may continue to buzz and flap their wings, satisfying the dog's need to toy with something wounded. Our dog never seems happy when he eats one, though; he looks like he swallowed a small tornado of popcorn hulls.
It's interesting how we react differently to bees, by the way. You stand absolutely still. Don't move! They can smell fear. Or perhaps you gently wave it away with the gesture of an old man in a chair in a men's club pooh-poohing the suffragettes. If you reacted to a bee the way you reacted to a June bug, the bee would think: "What the hell is up with this nutwad? Better poke him and put some distance between us."
Eventually the June bugs will give way to cicadas, which seem so much more civilized. If the June bug is the dumb lummox who says "gawrsh!" and walks into phone poles, cicadas are much more cultivated, as if they went to Barnard and studied dance for a semester. They sing of the long summer and serenade us into autumn.
That's to come. For now, we should enjoy June, despite the bugs. But someday in July, when you're slapping at a mosquito, the last June bug may alight a few feet away. "Huh! Miss me now?" it might seem to say. "At least I didn't bite."
And then it would add: "But give me a few million years. I'm workin' on it."
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