Judgment of the Smushed

iridescent beetle on leaf
Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) by Kara Jones (2012) CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/feC9y8

O hai there, bug! You are a very dapper specimen, with your tri-partite antennae and your iridescent copper shell. But I’m going to smush you.

Splat! (Wipes hands on pants.)

I don’t take pleasure in it. In fact, it’s kind of gross.

It’s not even personal. You didn’t bite me (you’re a vegetarian) or crawl into my ear. You just keep doing this:

Japanese Beetle Infestation Leaf by Steven Depolo (2009) CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo
Japanese Beetle Infestation Leaf by Steven Depolo (2009) CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo

Especially to my cannas at the garden. We planted those cannas to look beautiful, and you and your buddies have gone and turned them into swiss cheese! As a children’s garden, we don’t want to spray any pesticides on our plants (that the kids touch and smell and taste.) The Japanese beetle traps are not very effective. Our remaining ecosystem-friendly option: Physical inspection of plants, removal and destruction of beetles. Which is your case means, “smush.”

At home in Japan, you have natural predators that keep your ravenous numbers in check. Here in Missouri, you multiply unhindered and wreak havoc with our (admittedly delicious) plants. It’s not just that I feel bad about killing you (I mean, between you and the cannas, I choose the cannas.) It’s that killing you also makes me feel like a hypocrite.

Here I am in the garden, telling kids about respecting nature and not hurting insects. We respect the ants (“garbage collectors of the garden” dismantling other dead critters), the bees (pollinators!), butterflies wasps, and earthworms. I tell my students, “This is their home, we’re just visitors.” Also, “We have to be careful, because they are small and we are very big.” I refrain from killing you in sight of the kids, but the second they are gone…smush.

I could drop you into a bucket of soapy water (unclear how the soap kills bugs – either by affecting absorption of water into carapace or by disruption of surface tension in water causes bug to drown or by some other mechanism), but I would have to carry one around the garden. It might keep your literal blood (okay, hemolymph) off my hands, but your demise would still be on my head.

Some day, I will be called for judgment. Possibly in front of a large hippo-crocodile-lion and a scale that weighs the sins of my heart against a feather. And I will have to answer for all the bugs I’ve squished. No, I didn’t squish you because I was hungry (and wanted to eat you.) Or because you were eating the plants I needed for food. I squished you because you were eating my cannas. And heaven help me if the being judging me isn’t a gardener.

Tangents for this post:

The Papyrus of Huenfer at the British Museum, London by Ambersea Photography (2008)
On Smushing Bugs by Tim Kreider, in the NYTimes.

Professor Jeffrey Lockwood on “Do Bugs Feel Pain?”


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