There was a great article in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. The article, written by Jon Mooallem, is called ‘There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’’. It’s about the Rasberry crazy ant (or ‘Tawny crazy ant’), an invasive species of small ant that is currently wreaking havoc in Texas. These ants apparently behave erratically (a concept I find I enjoy), hence their name: ‘crazy ant’. They swarm by the literal million, and seem to particularly enjoy destroying electronics. No one knows whether they simply find the dark insides of circuit breakers and DVD players cozy and inviting, or whether they are “actually attracted to the electricity itself”.
One of the pleasures of Jon Mooallem’s article is how well he understands the existential distress that invasive species inflict on their human neighbors. He writes:
“This is what’s soul-crushing about crazy ants: what wafts off them is the same faintly nihilistic feeling that comes the moment you realize hammering the pound sign won’t connect you with a human being and only funnels you back to the same automated instructions.”
It’s the realization that no one is in charge.
This is a feeling I know well, because I have spent some time in rural Pennsylvania, where I have become acquainted with the brown marmorated stink bug, which I would personally nominate for most unnerving invasive species. The brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys, is an asian insect, introduced to the US some time in in the 1990’s (the first specimen was collected in 1998 in Allentown, PA).
I really, really dislike brown marmorated stink bugs. In fact, the amount of upset the brown marmorated stink bug causes me is clearly out of proportion to the actual discomfort they cause me. They don’t sting, they don’t bite, they only stink when you harass them, and I don’t even smell them – I am one of the lucky few who can’t. I am told they smell like vomit.
So, truthfully, my intense aversion to brown marmorated stink bugs stems not from their physical effect; rather, it is from their psychological effect. These stink bugs creep slowly, inexorably, across window screens and ceilings. Their pace makes them trackable – you watch them progress minutely, inevitably, around your home. In warm weather, they come out by the thousand. A change in the wind, and your windows fill with them; they block out the light with their ambling, shield-shaped bodies. They can fly, and when they do, they are clumsy and loud, and they might land on you. You sit, and eat dinner, or read, or watch T.V., alert always to the whirring, clicking sound they make in flight. You’re safe while it’s going on, but beware when it stops, because that might mean one has alighted on you, and has begun a bovine march across your back, or on your head, or once, horribly, along the rim of my glasses. They crawl on you while you sleep, into your pillow and between the sheets.
You can’t kill them all. I have wandered around the house with a fly-swatter, smashing them by the dozen; I have sucked them indiscriminately into vacuum cleaners, and yet they keep coming, wave-like. They are nightmarish. They elicit in me a wild desire to extinction, a scorched-earth wish. I fantasize about a pesticide bomb. I become a frenzied machine of insect death. It would be cathartic, but they keep on coming. They beat me every time.
Image taken from Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experimentation Station.