Consider this my “Leave Britney alone” moment. But with bugs.
There’s a lot of news these days to have a rage stroke over, but the one that really got me was “murder hornets.”
I mean, I found myself stewing over “murder hornets.” I started conversations on G-chat with the ominous lead-in: “Can I go on a rant real quick?” I monopolized dinner conversations with my already-quarantine-weary husband who was just trying to watch some Try Guys videos in peace. Even thinking about it now, after a couple of weeks, I’m starting to grind my teeth.
Let me take you back to a moment in time: It’s July in the Texas panhandle, and to say it’s “hot” is an understatement of monumental proportions. Also of monumental proportions was mine and my husband’s hubris in thinking we should try some real hot weather camping and then choosing Caprock Canyons State Park soon after Independence Day for the venue.
We had a lot of surprises in store that weekend: Suffering through the hottest hike we’ve ever done, I learned that sometimes it’s so unbearably sweltering outside that you might not be able to outpace heat exhaustion, no matter how much water and Gatorade you guzzle. I was pouring liquids down my throat almost constantly and yet I still ended up feeling sick for the next 24 hours. Once we got off the godforsaken trail and started trudging our way along the park road back to our campsite, absolutely desperate to hop in our car and blast the A/C for a few environmentally irresponsible minutes, we happened across a bison.
Living in Oklahoma, this was nowhere near the first bison that we’d encountered, but this one was different. Standing by the shimmering asphalt road, chewing the cud in the blazing heat, and staring directly at us, it was clear that this bison wasn’t in the mood for our shit. This bison was pissed off, the vibe rolled off him in waves, and we weren’t going to push our luck by trying to pass.
So we stood by the side of the road in a standoff with the bison we came to refer to as Beavis. Beavis chewed and chewed, never flicking his malevolent gaze away from us. I had thought there wasn’t anything that could keep me from the precious air conditioning waiting in the Subaru, but turns out, the threat of death by goring would do it.
After about ten minutes, we saw a little coupe approaching, and it’s a testament to our desperation that even as two introverts living in a culture that won’t even make phone calls to friends without a warning text, we shamelessly flagged these strangers down and begged for a ride past Beavis. “Please, our campsite is just over there in the north loop,” we panted. The middle-aged couple inside kindly obliged and dropped us off down the road at our car (my cheeks were so red that the woman, a nurse, expressed profound concern for my condition) where we jumped inside, cranked up, and moaned obscenely as the chilly air hit our faces held against the vents.
Nature is a bitch, basically, and it’s ridiculous to think we have any control against her. Whether she decides to send you ungodly heat, a curmudgeonly bison obstacle, or a global pandemic, your only real option is to stand down and say “uncle!” You just have to deal with what she doles out the best way you can.
That morning before setting out on the trail, I spotted a glint of iridescent green in the desert scrub outside the campsite clearing. “Hey,” I yelled at my husband, who was fiddling with a tent stake. “Come look at this giant beetle!”
J made his way over and peered at the specimen crawling through the grass, only to jump back almost immediately. “Get away from it,” he warned. “That’s not a beetle. It’s a wasp.”
“What?” Instead of backing up like he had suggested, I leaned forward for another look at the shockingly large insect. Sure enough, the giant wings were tucked down close to the body, similar to a cockroach, which is why I was fooled. Upon closer examination, however, there was no mistaking the menacing stinger curled beneath the bug’s backside as it crawled over the dirt. I turned tail then and got the hell away.
The wasp, J informed me, was a tarantula hawk. The only reason he knew about it was because he had recently watched a YouTuber intentionally sustain a sting to demonstrate the effects of the purported second-most painful insect sting in the world. Being stung by a tarantula hawk is so incredibly debilitating that experts recommend simply lying down on the ground and screaming until the pain passes, usually in about 15 minutes. Seriously. It hurts so much that it’s actually dangerous for a person to remain on their feet because they’re likely to trip and fall and injure themselves further. Stop, drop, and scream; that’s the official advice.
It was alarming to find out that this diminutive visitor was capable of such destruction, but the tarantula hawk continued on his merry way, seemingly unaware that he had scared the shit out of a couple of humans. They’re called tarantula hawks, by the way, due to their enormous size and also because of their prey. The wasps paralyze tarantulas, drag them back to their lairs, and lay an egg on the spider’s abdomen. The tarantula hawk larva, once hatched, then feeds on the spider, careful to keep it alive for as long as possible. It’s total horror movie shit.
They’re elusive and rare – the naturalist in the video I linked above had to go looking for one in the desert for a couple of days – but we somehow ran up on another one during our hell hike an hour or so later. This one was flying, so it was even more frightening, but ultimately it went on its way, unconcerned with us. We aren’t tarantulas, and we’re too heavy to drag back to their burrow.
Back to the “murder hornets.” As soon as I started seeing the headlines (and they must have been everywhere for me to see them; I am extremely news-averse), I knew that something was up. Even a cursory glance over the news articles proved what I suspected: that this was a blatant attempt to cultivate fear (and thus generate fear-clicks) in a populace that’s already crippled by existential terror and anxiety.
The articles trumpeted death tolls from these “murder hornets” (real name: Asian giant hornet) of around 50 per year, but really glided over the part about how those deaths were primarily from allergic reactions, not from homicidal intent or any intrinsic murderousness of the sting itself. It’s like calling them “murder peanuts” because of potentially fatal allergic reactions. It’s ridiculous.
Yes, there are valid concerns about the arrival of Asian giant hornets in the U.S., mostly because of the threat to bees, who already have enough to fucking worry about.
I guess after encountering our own, native tarantula hawks in the wild, I have a healthy respect for giant, terrifying stinging insects with the potential to cause immense pain. They are truly not trying to “murder” us; they just want to be left alone.
I’m not saying they can’t be devastating (or even fatal to some); I’m saying that the threat is actually so limited. You’re not going to run across an Asian giant hornet or a tarantula hawk while walking down the street (unlike a certain virus #WEARAMASK).
If you’re going to run into a potentially deadly wasp or hornet, it’s probably going to be during an ill-advised hike in the extreme heat, and in that case, you’re already fucked because you went out in the Texas desert in July. That’s on you.
That’s nature, folks.