I have, over the years, been the recipient of numerous phone calls from all three of our daughters, mostly late at night, that have gone something like this;
Daughter: “Mum?” (On the verge of tears.)
Me: “Hello dear. What’s wr………?”
Daughter screams, shrieking down the phone in decibels guaranteed to pierce the ear drum.
Me: (Frantically) “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
Is there an intruder in the apartment? Has she accidentally cut off an extremity while slicing vegetables? Has she received this month’s phone bill?
Daughter: “IT’S CLIMBING UP THE WALL!!!!!” (More screams)
Me: (Frantically) “What? What?”
Has she given the houseplant too much liquid fertilizer? Could it be the neighbor’s boa constrictor on the loose again or …..even the neighbor? Or is it some grotesque alien monster that has landed on Earth and made my daughter’s apartment its first port of call?
Daughter: “A BUG!!!!!”
Now I’m the last one to be judgmental in matters of this kind. Goodness knows I have my own phobias so I completely understand where she’s coming from on this one. I therefore offer maternal sympathy and helpful advice.
Me: “Hit it with a shoe or something.”
Pause as sounds of something substantial crashing into the wall come down the line.
Daughter: (More screams) “IT WON’T DIE!!!!!”
Good heavens! Is it some mutant strain of earwig, able to withstand the merciless beating of a size nine Dolce & Gabbana platform shoe? Perhaps I could take pictures; flog them to National Geographic.
Me: “Well, alright. Just come home and I’ll sort it out in the morning.” Or words to that effect.
Usually, by the time I arrive the following day, the offending item has packed its bags and left, probably saying to itself “I’m not staying here with all this racket going on,” although the last time I was called in, to witness an infestation of termites, the little beggars were still there. I took pictures on that occasion. (I thought the landlord would be interested to see them.)
Usually though, most of my photographic experiences with bugs have been much less fraught with drama. There was, for instance, the time a praying mantis took up residence amongst the chrysanthemums late one summer. It was very obliging and posed for endless shots (when we could find him; he blended in so well with the foliage) whilst preying on other inoffensive and innocent bugs that carelessly wandered too close and were snapped up as light refreshment. It was really quite entertaining.
Although, sadly, we seem to see fewer butterflies now, every year we scour the garden for swallowtail’s eggs, so tiny you practically need a magnifying glass to see them. Once located, we consign them to an old empty fish tank and watch as, over the weeks, they turn first to wiggling, black little bits of thread, then rapidly expand into brightly striped caterpillars. The metamorphosis from this to the beautiful butterfly that eventually emerges from its chrysalis is nothing short of miraculous and I have frequently sat up till the wee hours waiting to catch this extraordinary phenomenon on film.
One such vigil was well rewarded when we repeated the process, this time with a giant polyphemus moth that happened to hatch out right in the middle of one of our family parties. It probably took one look at all the paper hats, happy birthday banners and brimming glasses and thought to itself, “How kind. Fancy going to all this trouble just for me.”
I seem to remember we drank to its health and wished it “bon voyage” as we released it ceremoniously into the night. The resulting pictures weren’t bad, although the camera wasn’t quite as steady as it might have been. I can’t think why.
The Audubon Society Field Guide states that there are nearly 100,000 insect species in North America alone, which probably explains why my photo albums are overflowing with pictures of darting dragonflies, spinning spiders, buzzing bees and cavorting crickets. I even have some rather risque shots of a couple of grasshoppers, if anyone’s interested.