25 February 2013

Creepy Crawlies

The worst creepy crawlie I can remember from my childhood in New Jersey is one for which we kids had to make up a name: we called it a spopper, because to our non-entomologist’s eyes it was a cross between a spider and a grasshopper. This huge, black spider-like insect was able to "hop" all around the house, even up flights of stairs. You do realize what that hopping capacity meant to a young child? Right, we were not safe in our beds upstairs, that creature could get us at any time! Yes, spoppers were the most fearsome of our house insects. Beyond that, we had the usual assortment of ants, mosquitoes, caterpillars, inchworms, bees, wasps, dragonflies, fireflies, butterflies, all watched from the safety of a screened-in porch.
Take one spider . . .

. . . and one grasshopper. Put them together. Now try to go to sleep.

In New York City, at least during the times I lived there, the biggest and scariest creepy crawlies were definitely the lumbering water bugs, just slightly higher on the disgusting scale than the cockroaches. It didn’t matter how clean your kitchen was or how spotless and shiny your bathroom, hoards of cockroaches roamed with impunity, and water bugs stared you down with real New York attitude.

You lookin’ at me?

Look, don’t get me wrong, I don’t shriek and jump on a chair at the sight of a bug or an insect, but I’m sincerely creeped by them. So my major preoccupation about moving to Brazil focused less on visas and language acquisition and such, and more on how I was going to deal with what I imagined would be tropical-country masses of swarming insects. How would I cook — particularly in my oh-so-very-French mise en place way — with unidentifiable bugs crawling everywhere? Would we be able to sleep? Would we be constantly bitten and come down with dread, tropical diseases?

It’s nowhere near as bad as we feared. In fact, I am amazed that it hasn’t been bad at all. Of course, it helped immensely that one of the first things we did was to install screens in all of the bedroom windows. It seems so obvious, but screened windows are not universally used here in Brazil. But we designed and installed ours and now we — and our guests — sleep like babies, blissfully free from dive-bombing, buzzing mosquitoes. And in the kitchen, I can mettre as many foods as I want to en place without having to deal with armies of ants making off with our dinner. And I’ve even developed a certain affection for these two cuties:

I know we have cicadas in the U.S., but I don’t recall ever actually seeing one up close. Here they’re called cigarra, and the one you see pictured is the biggest example of the cicada family. They eat poinciana, or flamboyant, trees, damaging them until the branches fall off. And they shriek and scream like the devil while they’re doing it.

Here’s one we don’t have in the U.S., the bicho-pau, or stick insect. Hard to see them in trees and plants, but if one gloms on to a wall in your house it — forgive me — sticks out like a sore thumb.

By the way, I’ve never once seen a spopper in Brazil.

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