A Road Paved With Bugs

damselfly in spiderweb

The distressed damselfly pictured above was, perhaps, a casualty of my good intentions. I saw it had snagged itself on an apparently abandoned but still treacherous spiderweb. I attempted to give it a hand in freeing itself. Well. That was dumb. No doubt, afraid the hand of a false God was coming down to smite it, the damsel panicked, and all I ended up helping it to do was further tangle up and deform its wings. By the time I was through, it was caught in the deathly Twister pose above. It eventually straightened out some but the damage was surely done: its wings were badly broken; even if it freed itself, it would not fly, and a flightless damselfly is almost as sad a thing as one can imagine. An enveloping sense of shame came over me. Of course, I felt bad about speeding the bug’s demise, but even with a love for bugs, I have some perspective: they live short, perilous lives. This incident was unfortunate, but my participation wasn’t necessarily integral to the outcome ā€” it was having a hard enough time freeing itself on its own and was already damaged. The true crime here, the root of my shame, was that I knew better. Past experience had taught me to leave well enough alone. I had “helped” enough insects to know not to interfere in that situation. If I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, the only answer is to let nature go. So I took some pictures of this tiny horror as a reminder to be a discerning, hesitant angel.

damselfly in spiderweb

More recently I discovered the flipside of this peculiar bug-human circumstance: a beautiful, lime green hornworm (sphinx moth) caterpillar was making its way across the barren plane of asphalt that is my street. I have experience in this bug situation as well; it invariably begs the question: why did the caterpillar cross the road? The answer: Nobody knows, or, It didn’t. The haphazard route a caterpillar takes on the blacktop desert is a mystery to me. I should do some research on it, but in the meantime, they will continue to befuddle me. It is hard to tell where they came from or where they are going. I have helped them across before, only to find them right back in that black middle of nowhere. So I let them be. In this sad case, the caterpillar did not make it. I left for about five minutes or so to retrieve my camera, and when I returned, I found the sad mess pictured below. It was a rueful experience, but I remember the damselfly in distress, and I will live with it, if not happily. But…

squished hornworm caterpillar

I (and you!) can still help a bug. I routinely capture beetles and moths lost in the house and release them back outdoors. Knowledge, in this case, is the best way forward. E.g. if you know a caterpillar’s host plant you can put them in a place to succeed, not just the other side of the road. Sometimes you need to know more; sometimes a bug can’t be saved; and sometimes the only way to save it, is to let it be. I haven’t figured it out myself, but it’s worth trying; helping out another living being, no matter how small, has its reward.


4 thoughts on “A Road Paved With Bugs

  1. Thank you for that, Jason! Woolly Bears searching for dead plant debris to overwinter ā€” check!

    My plan to get my readers to do my research for me is finally paying off. :)

    I may have to look into this Woolly Bear festival…

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