Life In The Laugh Lane

Airy Orgy

Do not allow my daughter to read this chapter or she’ll never visit me in Thailand.  I visited a friend in Chiangmai, and as we prepared dinner a few bugs flew around the kitchen, very big bugs that seemed drunk and barely able to fly. When we began to eat, an official swarm of 5,000 formed inside as a dense fog of several billion bugs staggered through the air and smashed against the windows on the outside. Poisoning the house and food with Raid seemed fruitless, so we turned on a light in the living room and ate in the shadows of the den. An hour later, the bugs were gone, but 20,000 wings covered the carpet, no bodies, not one, anywhere. I was thankful I didn’t have to sleep there with 5,000 new creatures lurking in the darkness.

One night I came home late to insect mayhem in my country bungalow. The light in my outdoor kitchen was on; thousands of  these same bugs, half with wings, half without, were writhing in every cupboard, crevasse and oven mitt; squirming masses of stained-white bodies were piled six inches high against the countertop stove, fridge, and every wall. I grabbed a broom and tried, in vain, to sweep them off the deck as they came semi-alive into a yard-high mass of flapping and crawling hysteria, but you can’t sweep the air. At this point, if my daughter didn’t die of fright, she would commit suicide.

Desiring sympathy after this dramatic and traumatic experience, I excitedly told a couple of friends. My Farang neighbor, who’d lived in Thailand for twelve years, said flatly, “Don’t leave your lights on.” My Thai friend said, “Yes, we eat them.” Hmm. As my kitchen swarmed with UFOs, I didn’t consider firing up the wok. In Thailand, they do eat anything that flies, except airplanes, which explains why bikers ride with their mouths open.

I’ve since learned that these insects are termites and there are lots of them—perhaps a million in each colony and an average of 14 colonies per acre. The zeros in their global population number would fill this entire chapter. They’ve got queens, kings, soldiers, workers, and the flying reproductive caste, or “alate,” which means, “Give me a latte before I run away from home, learn to fly, and find a wife.” For one day in their lives, they leave their black holes, head for the bright lights, party hearty for a few hours, meet their mate, fall to the ground, rip off their wing wear, and crawl into the nearest cavity to copulate, similar to what happens in Spicy’s nightclub every night. Each pair becomes the new royal couple living in an inner chamber called the “copularium.” The queen may live up to 50 years, regularly re-mating to maintain her prodigious output of up to 1,000 eggs a day. The queen’s body swells up with eggs until she becomes a monstrous white caterpillar-like thing, totally helpless, a bloated machine endlessly pumping out her family. The husband brings cases of Kentucky Fried Chicken to his 500-pound, ever-expanding bed-ridden wife and leaves with another bevy of kids until he runs out of sperm. (This is why I’m not married.) There’s more good than bad news here. Bad: At 1,000 eggs per day per gazillion queens, the world could be overrun with house-eating bugs by the end of the week. Good: There is an equally infinite amount of other creatures, bugs—and humans!—that eat them. More good news: The mating habits and number of water buffalo are not the same as termites.

Get the wok or the insecticide?

September 2022 Issue

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Scott Jones
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