I can honestly say that I don’t really like insects. One of my earliest memories is of being in the garden, playing happily – until I saw a horsefly, was completely paralysed by fear for a second, and then sprinted away from it as fast as I could. I also spent most of my childhood with a paranoid fear of butterflies. That said, I don’t dislike all bugs. I actually like ants and bees, and admire their intricate little societies. But, not all insects are created equal. Dragonflies, for instance, are terrifying. Have you seen the way they fly? As my sister very accurately put it, they fly like a helicopter with the tail rotor broken off. Some people are afraid of bats flying into them/getting caught in their hair, but let me tell you, half-blind bats are nothing when compared with dragonflies’ system of flying as though demonically possessed. The way they fly doesn’t even make sense – I mean, when is flying in maniacal circles actually useful?
But enough about dragonflies. I really wanted to tell you about Australian insects in this blog post. Now, seeing as Australians are some of the toughest, most resilient people in the world, they would naturally not bother telling a Brit about the minor problem with bugs they have in their country. Why would they? After all, they’re just bugs. Wrong. Australian bugs are not like other bugs. They’re bigger, more colourful (which seems to translate as more dangerous in the animal world), and deadlier. But nobody told my family and I this when we went on holiday to Australia last Christmas. Needless to say, there were a few surprises.
First, there were the march flies. Oh, the march flies! Have you ever heard of the lord of the flies? Not the book (although the book was named after the thing), the actual creature. Beelzebub (as it was otherwise known) was a demon who sometimes appeared as an atrocious fly-monster.
Well, if there was such a thing as lord of the flies, then march-flies would be his minions. Sure, they are technically the same as what we call horse-flies in the UK, but they are bigger and, quite frankly, scarier. The main problem was the sheer number of them. We became acquainted with the little creatures first when we were sailing into an inlet (we were on a sailing holiday in the Whitsundays at the time) to anchor up for the night. At first, there were only a few flies. Then there were more. And more. And more. Until we were eventually completely surrounded by them and there was literally not a single piece of deck not covered with huge, buzzing, disgusting march flies. We ended up barricading ourselves inside the boat, with only a few hatches open because, amazingly, they were the only ones with fly nets.
I know I might sound a bit over-dramatic, being so freaked out by flies, but not only were they incredibly annoying, they also bit. And did you know when you were bitten. If you were the victim of such march-fly ferocity, then the bite would be accompanied by a sharp, stinging, almost burning sensation slicing through the affected area, something akin to being stabbed with a needle. But if another person nearby had fallen prey, then you would hear a blended cry of surprise, pain, and anger, occasionally accompanied by some swearing or threats on the life of the offending insect. Plus, if that wasn’t already bad enough, you would then most likely find a red lump of impressive itchiness swelling up on your skin, just where the bite was. Apparently, the little bundles of joy only turned up a week before we got there. Lucky us.
Another incident involving insects in Australia happened on Christmas day. That afternoon we were moored up at the lovely Whitehaven Beach, and my sisters and I were sitting up on deck, playing go fish. The older of my two younger sisters (I will from now on call her Jemima*, just to make things less confusing) went down below deck to get something, while Tilly* (youngest younger sister) and I stayed up on deck and chatted.
Everything was perfectly normal, until Tilly started staring at something behind me, before saying “Uhh, Mary…..”. I looked behind me, only to see a great big, really weird, t-shaped wasp thing flying straight towards us. You know when you’re really scared or startled, and you go into “fight or flight” mode and all conscious thought seems to disappear? Well, that’s what happened to me.
I think I remember screaming “RUN!!”, before scrambling down the side of the deck and into the safety of the saloon. My mum and Jemima started berating me for leaving the playing cards up where they could easily blow away – which was hardly the most important issue at the time – at the same time as my much-braver-than-me-when-it-comes-to-bugs youngest sister stayed up on deck guarding them. I’m guessing they understood my careless desertion of the playing cards more once they saw the monstrosity flying about on deck.
My memory of the event isn’t perfect, but I think Jemima, Tilly, and I hid in my cabin and waited for my dad, mum, and brother to remove the wasp-oid insect. In the end it just flew away into the sunset like nothing had happened (a rather anti-climactic ending to an other-wise exciting story, I know).
Last, but not least, we have all the other various Aussie insects we met on our holiday. There was the big spider we found in our apartment bathroom, the bigger one in the car park, and the little one that mysteriously disappeared in the bedroom. Then there was that strange leaf-with-legs type insect in the women’s bathrooms at the marina. Not forgetting the huge brown mantis we saw at the zoo (not on display – out in the open with us), which the zoo keeper said was the biggest he had ever seen. And of course all the other little bees, ants, and assorted insects of all shapes and sizes we came across while in Oz. We couldn’t have done it without you.
A note on the pictures: All the photos in this post were taken by unknown/various family members on holiday. So, no need for any photo credits. Apart from the “Lord of the Flies/Beelzebub” photo, which I got from the Wikipedia article on said demon.
Disclaimer: Australia was actually an amazing country, probably one of the nicest in the world, and the insects mentioned in this post did not in any way decrease the amount of enjoyment we got out of our holiday. If anything, they added a bit of excitement into our mundane pom lives. Australia was completely fantastic and I would go back in an instant if I could, with or without the bugs.
*Not her real name, I just changed it to protect privacy, etc. Jemima and Tilly are very happy with their new pseudonyms.