Saturday, September 24, 2005

Float Like A Horsefly, Sting Like a Bee





Pictured above, a funny little critter trundling around our campfire one night. Nobody ever did figure out what it was, but it DID make those of us wearing sandals reassess our footwear.

(Scientists out there in Internet Land are welcome to take a guess and tell me what it was.)

Anybody who knows me will probably not think it's very strange if I say that I'm a little disappointed that I didn't see more strange insect-life while I was in Africa. It wasn't just the four-legged kind of wildlife that I was hoping to see.

Upon reflection, it was probably because I was personally repulsive to them. Me and my buddy DEET made sure I wasn't going to have many close encounters with my LEAST favourite beasties, mosquitoes, and who knows what else took offense to my Eau de Bug Repellent. (Well, for instance, Jeff had to share a tent with me, poor fellow...)

But when our truck entered the Western Corridor of the Serengeti, a wild vast plain, we had to run a six-legged gauntlet of testse flies who drank DEET for breakfast.

Wayne, our driver, told us: "The best thing to do if a tsetse fly lands on your friend is to slap them hard. You're doing them a favour."

He told us he was going to drive as fast as he could through this particular area where the flies always hung out and he would just ignore any screaming he heard coming from the back of the truck. It would just be the ruckus made by us running around and slapping one another.

Tsetse flies are a scourge in Africa. They cause fun diseases like sleeping sickness (trypanasomiasis), are largely immune to insect repellent, and can inflict a bite through multiple layers of clothing with a long, stinging proboscis. They look quite a bit like the Canadian horsefly, but with none of a Canadian's politeness. We prepared for battle.

Off we went, hair whipping in the wind, red dust swirling in our wake, vigilant for the flies that blew willy-nilly into the back of the truck through the open sides. It's probably sad that I felt so exhilarated by swatting insects, but I did.

Loud shrieks and giggling mixed with cries of triumph as the little blighters met their ends at the ends of rolled-up magazines. They were hard to kill though and sometimes they reminded me of Freddy, Jason, and that guy in the hockey-mask in the Halloween movies: you THINK they're dead, but they come back....

But we made it through the Corridor with only a couple of us bitten. Though many of us got slapped. What's a little pent-up aggression between truck-mates anyhow? :)

Aside from our encounter with the flies, the only bugs of note I saw were the strange brown thing in my photograph above (it was about as big as my thumb), a few shiny little beetles that reminded me of things I find in my own garden, and one jolly round dung beetle that whirred with a noise like a tiny helicopter into our campsite and smacked poor Helen in the side of the head.

I was quite pleased to see a dung beetle. They've always amused me when I've seen them in nature films, and they are the insect I always think of first when I think about Africa. I believe they are also known as scarab beetles, which has a mystical Egyptian air about the name. In person, they are fat and trundle about with no air of mystery whatsoever.

I picked it up and let it crawl in my hands. It was quite heavy. There was a mixture of interest and revulsion around the campfire, but I showed it to anyone who wanted to see it. Helen probably thought I was crazy, but I'd be feeling poorly toward anything that hit me in the head too.

1 comment:

blackcrag said...

OK, well, I was going to guess a dung beetle, but since you met one... I don't win the prize.

A second look makes me think of a spider with a couple legs missing.