I recently did a presentation in my speech class on the topic "Ugly Bugs." I was inspired by my instructor who had shared her fear of caterpillars with us. Her confession reminded me of my own phobia of the darling creature you see to the left. This is the Jerusalem Cricket, or more commonly called "Potato Bug" on the West Coast. I hoped that doing this speech--which was a visual aid speech to boot--would provide some sort of therapy for me to overcome my irrational fear of these disgusting, horrific, useless bugs.
I grew up in Southern California where potato bugs are common. I've feared these insects for as long as I can remember. My mom was also terrified of them, so perhaps it's hereditary. I killed them the moment I saw them--well, at least right after I recovered from the initial shock of stumbling upon one. My potato bug murdering spree (I prefer to use the term "saving humanity") usually involved a shovel or nearby brick, as I could not bring myself to actually step on one. I had tried that once, but discovered that whatever the thickness of shoe or boot, the sickening crunch of the creature's exoskeleton along with the resulting goosh of its innards was too much for me to bear. Nowadays, being older and more mature, I have a neighbor child kill the beast and dispose of the remains, while I cower inside a corner of the house.
Actually, doing research on this insect taught me that Jerusalem Crickets are shy and are basically harmless to humans, being neither poisonous nor predatory. They prefer to keep to themselves, staying underground and chewing up dead plant material, thereby helping in composting and aerating the soil. You can even hold them (shudder), but if you frighten them they may bite you with their powerful mandibles.
I found out that my sister-in-law, when she was a kid, used to play with potato bugs and pretended they were baby dolls for her Barbies. Such an odd child.
I ended my speech by avowing that the next time I saw a potato bug, I wouldn’t automatically kill it (or, more likely, hire an assassin), but I would let it be, remembering its usefulness, and realizing that it’s more afraid of me than I am of it. Yeah, right.
For more information about potato bugs (I feel like an announcer for a PBS special) visit www.potatobugs.com. I'm serious.