Talk Description to Me

Episode 65 - Insects

August 21, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 65
Talk Description to Me
Episode 65 - Insects
Chapters
1:51
Beautiful or creepy?
13:14
Swarms and seething masses
18:52
Bugs in SE Asia
23:46
Insects as food
Talk Description to Me
Episode 65 - Insects
Aug 21, 2021 Season 2 Episode 65
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

Why are some bugs considered beautiful, and others considered creepy? What is the visual impact of a spotting a single bug versus a swarm? When you cook an insect, does it still look like a bug? Join Christine and JJ for a description-rich conversation about insects that's so vivid you'll swear they're buzzing all around!

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Why are some bugs considered beautiful, and others considered creepy? What is the visual impact of a spotting a single bug versus a swarm? When you cook an insect, does it still look like a bug? Join Christine and JJ for a description-rich conversation about insects that's so vivid you'll swear they're buzzing all around!

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

Okay, set your gross of meters on pretty high threshold, because we're going to talk all about bugs very topical subject this time of year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. They're everywhere. And I can't help it I have to open with the story that happened to me last week completely coincidental. We'd already planned this episode. I was singing in the back alley with my friends. This is a true story, JJ. I haven't told JJ this yet. I was singing in a back alley with my friends. Were right into the going for a big chorus, big singers breath and a fly went into my throat. It was traumatizing I was in and spat it out. And I did a lot of swearing and have whimpering like a little girl. Totally coincidence. But bugs are just weird. They're just alien and creepy. And they're gonna survive long after we are. But the thing that there's there's actually a lot to talk about here that it's actually really interesting to me, even though I'm still traumatized from inhaling an insect bite on. I one thing that is confusing to me as a blind person is that most people react to most insects with a creepy, but some people react to some insects as that's really beautiful. And so JJ, can we break that down? Like which ones are considered attractive? And why?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, it's a great question. A really interesting question. I think that the visuals are play a key role in this. So obviously, beauty is a very personal thing, right? We're not all going to agree on what is beautiful or who is beautiful. But there are some things that people who interpret the world visually tend to respond to across the board. We like colors, we like patterns. And so there are some insects that have beautiful colors, and that have really interesting patterns that that sighted people tend to respond to. So butterflies are probably the the most considered to be the most beautiful of insects, moths less so I mean, they're basically the same butterflies and mods. But butterflies are beautiful. And mods are just like out whatever. butterfly wings are gorgeous, amazing color combinations and patterns. And so it's tough to describe these things. In general terms, there are something like 17,500 species of butterflies in the world. So giving a generic description of butterflies is, in a way, it's kind of silly, but there's a classic butterfly that is kind of drawn by school kids that that most of us would recognize as a butterfly shape. And so it's got a body that is somewhere between like a long b and a big and so it's got an abdomen, with tiny little legs, there's a thorax, it's in the middle, that's a middle body segment. And then there's a head with a pair of antenna and a promiscuous, that's the long skinny drinking straw is a pretty small and those are those aren't the things you're looking at when you're looking at a butterfly. It's all about the wings, right? So there were actually two wings on each side, a pair of four wings in the front, and a pair of hind wings in the back. And again, the shapes the colors, the patterns, virtually endless combinations, the monarch is the one we again, that tends to be the one that kids draw, and that's, you know, the, sometimes the idealized butterfly, and each one of the four wings on a monarch butterfly is shaped a little bit like a guitar pick. So with the narrow points connected to the body and the and the wider points spreading out. So the hind wings, they're shaped like guitar picks with the narrow points connected to either side of the thorax, it's the middle body segment, and the full round parts pointing out and back on either side. The four wings attached at almost the same place. And these are this is based on my visual assessment. This isn't actually I'm no expert on these things, but they look like the four wings are attached in about the same place. And they have a slightly more elongated shapes that angle out into the front on either side of the head. So again, these, you know, you can picture two guitar picks pointing to the front to protect guitar picks down to the back. This is super super generalized in terms of coloring, monarchs appear to be like as if they're drawn and outlined in thick black magic marker like nature's coloring books. And then there are symmetrical patterns of kind of blobby, oval shapes inside that are outlined in thin black marker. And the coloring all of those blobby shapes are colored this vibrant, warm orange, sometimes with a little bit of variation. So maybe the hind wings are a little lighter, and the four wings are a little darker. And then at the outside edges of those wings, within the thick black outline, there are going to be tiny white dots are specks, beautiful and butterflies, that the color I mean, like everything from a neon, electric blue, to yellows, and browns and greens, I mean, just an incredible array. And so we find those colors, pretty and those patterns are pretty. And I think that's a big part of why some are some insects would be considered beautiful and some creepy. The other thing is the way they move, butterflies flutter. That's it, that's a gentle and that is their movement, kind of flitting about calmly, in this fluttering pattern is not threatening to us, they don't Dart or zip in an unnerving way, where you can't quite tell what direction they're going to go. And they could zip in any direction really fast. And you don't you never like they don't do that. So that separates, you know, the butterfly, the pretty insect from a creepy insect. They also butterflies don't make noise. We don't like threatening buzzing noises. We don't like those tense clicking noises that some insects make so that the noise, the way they move, the way they the patterns and the colors that I think is is is really why some insects are are pretty and and, you know, delighted in it beyond just being tolerated. And some are just not desired at all, even if they're not actually harmful to us.

Christine Malec:

So let's take it to the other extreme. What's an example of a bug that's going to make everyone go ugh?

JJ Hunt:

Oh, so I mean, one of the most benign, but loathed bugs would be what I call a basement bug. A lot of people call them basement. Have you ever...? No I've actually never heard that. Ugh, they're like these millipedes. And they are they tend to be in basements. It doesn't matter if you got a finished basement or not. And these they're long. And they're kind of hairy. And they have long legs that come quite far out. And they're big, like some of them can be as long as your pinky. And because they've got so many legs, they can zip they can go quite fast. And they can go in any direction. And they're because they're hairy. They take up more space, and they take up more visual space. So my, my team the other night, he came into our bedroom, they came knocking on our door and said I there's a bug in my room, there's a bug in my room. And you know there. This is not a kid who is normally freaked out by bugs. But while they'd been sleeping out of the corner of their eye, this bug darted across the bed. And it was one of these basement bugs. And because it's so big and hairy, even in a dark room at night, here we're able to spot this bug going over the foot of the bed and went under under a dresser. And so I did get out the broom and like try and squash this thing because it was you know, once once they knew that this bug was in the room and had crawled across the bed. That was it, it had to be gotten rid of it just had to be that the size that the skittering movement, we don't like skittering movements, if you can't predict where a bug is gonna go, this is one of the things like a spider on a wall. If you see a spider on a wall, and you want to and you want to trap it or catch it, you can't assume that it's going to run forwards so you can't track where it's gonna go next. So when you're trying to catch it, you have to be aware that it could Dart seemingly in any direction, which is one of the things one of the reasons it's hard, they're hard to catch and you know, take and move outside but also, one of the things that we dislike is that uncertainty, I don't know what they're gonna do where they're going to Go and they can get there fast. Don't like that.

Christine Malec:

Where do bees fit in there? Because I understand they're colorful, and they're associated with flowers. But of course, they're also associated with stinging. So where do they fit into the sort of aesthetic? You know?

JJ Hunt:

That's a good question. So you're right, I mean bees, we kind of love bees right now because there are pollinators. Without bees, we wouldn't have any of our crops, they would all fail. So the bees are, are kind of on the fence right now we kind of love them, but they sting and we're afraid of them. But they are quite pretty the the black and white rings around the back of a bee. That's pretty appealing. It's kind of nice and playful. They have like a they almost looks like they're wearing free vests. The middle section behind the head is yellow ish with it with a black center kind of looks like yellow for a round a black body, I'm not sure if that's what it actually is. So that's a little bit cute and cuddly. But bees also look like predators they look. You know, when you get in close on a bee they look quite dangerous. The legs I guess there are four, six legs coming off of three on each side. The back legs are quite thick, the wings, they're translucent, and almost outlined in vain. And they go straight back and the eyes on a be very large black, almost being shaped eyes. And their heads come to a to a sharp point. So when you get up close on a bee, they do look kind of dangerous. They look like a like a little weapon. It looks like a like a fighter jet. They're kind of like the fighter jets of insects. In the sound, of course, the sound of a bee I think really adds to our... Menacing. Yes, very menacing, very menacing.

Christine Malec:

Is it a guaranteed creep out to look at magnified images of bugs?

JJ Hunt:

Whoa, good question. I mean, some of us are just fascinated by it like looking at, you know, and an insect eye where you've got, you know, 1000s of 1000s of eyes within our eyes. Like that's fascinating. I don't know if it's an automatic creep out there. It's hard not to be impressed. Because there's so much going on that we don't realize, you know, the the way there are tiny hairs on a baby's legs, for example. That's kind of fascinating. And when you look at how intricate those wings are on on a flying insect, a bee or a mosquito, I mean, they're amazing. So, for me anyway, a big part of looking at an insect like that is is under a microscope is to be amazed. I think when you start getting into things like worms and maggots and the the kind of slimy or insects, that's when you get into it's really, really gross. Looking at them. Under a microscope. That's that's a bit that's a bit different. It's a bit next level.

Christine Malec:

And yeah, so speaking of next level, what happens when you get an insect that is traveling or congregated in a huge group of other insects? What level does that take you to?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, that's a different thing, right? An individual bug might be unpleasant, but masses of bugs. Those are nightmares, right? So you take a maggot or an apple worm, say, so that's a larva. If you find one, it's gross. They're this pale yellow or tan color. And I don't mean like a golden yellow like they've been out in the sun, pale, like they've been hiding away and avoiding the sun, right?

Christine Malec:

Heh heh heh.

JJ Hunt:

The body of a maggot has lots of narrow sections are kind of like corrugated tubes, that narrow at the tail to kind of come to a point at the tail and they have tiny, slightly darker faces like or heads like faceless heads really with with little mandibles that look like little black horns. So look, you find a maggot. It's gross. It's this grubby little thing, but to find dozens or hundreds of maggots that are a ceiling mass wriggling and squirming together, they can blanket something from the outside, they can overwhelm from the inside, they can devour things like animals from the inside out. It's so gross, and as maggots eat, they grow and they swell to five times. So what starts out being a tiny little thing might might only be like the size of a long grain of rice that can become this plump, pale little slug of a thing.

Christine Malec:

Oh jeez!

JJ Hunt:

Just a little side story. I when I was in theater school, I did a scene from Sam Shepherd's The Curse of the Starving Class. And in the play, there's a there's a, there's a maggot infested lamb that's both like a character in the play and also a metaphor for what's happening with this family. And so my theater teacher, my directing teacher had said, when you're doing a scene or play, take an image that you can key into for emotional reasons that reminds you of the feeling of the play, what you're trying to evoke. Take that image and put it on the cover of your notebook --

Christine Malec:

Ho ho ho!

JJ Hunt:

So that every time you start doing your scene work, that visual image will trigger the emotions and take you there immediately. And so for me, this maggot infested lamb was really a great image. So what I did was I took a color photo copy of a seething mass of maggots.

Christine Malec:

Oh! Ah ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

And I cut it out and covered my entire notebook with this picture.

Christine Malec:

Ooooooh.

JJ Hunt:

This glossy picture of maggots. And then when I was done my scene, we had to hand in our work and I handed in the book to my teacher. And my instructor was like, "Nope, I'm not looking at it!"

Christine Malec:

Ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

I had to cover it, cuz she just was not able to even pick up this book. It looked like it was covered with this mass of writhing, wriggling, squirming little magnets.

Christine Malec:

And now you have the picture on your kids lunchboxes.

JJ Hunt:

Exactly, exactly! I send them to school with that.

Christine Malec:

Oh, my gosh. So I think actually, this started because I sent you something on Twitter. That was a Oh my god, what did they call it a mosquito funnel cloud or something? mosquito tornado. And so use I've heard of like a mating column of flies. And so there's these occasional instances of, you know, predictable, but very disturbing congregations of bugs. Can you comment on those? I mean, is it even necessary to comment on that?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, it's really... I mean, I called up some images of miskito tornadoes. And honestly, a lot of these photos are taken at a distance and from a distance it they look no different than a standard tornado, a funnel cloud that is darker. Because it's this tall column of bogs of mosquitoes. I've never like until you sent that to me. It never even occurred to me that mosquitoes could be in a in a tornado shape.

Christine Malec:

You see, this is why you should follow me on Twitter, right?

JJ Hunt:

For all your gross out needs, you bet. Oh, but then when you get in close to these images, like if you're, you know, there are some images that are taken kind of within one of these tornadoes or these clouds. And the entire sky in these images is blanketed with tiny, tiny, tiny dots. And some of the dots if they're closer to the camera, you can identify what they are that they're flying insects, because I've got an image here that was clearly taken a high resolution taken at a high frame rate. So you can capture them a moment when a mosquitoes flying by, but there's real depth because you're in the middle of this. So then the mosquitoes that are further away are, you know, a little fuzzier and emotion blurred and then the ones that are further away still are just little dark specks. And so because of that, you get it, you do get a sense of the depth of all you can imagine this all around you, the buzzing and buzzing with the mosquitoes close up being identifiable and the mosquitoes that are farther away, being more indistinct and swirling around you. That's the other thing these images show like they convey is that there's movement, because of the motion blurs. You can imagine these bugs flying swirling around and around and

Christine Malec:

You've traveled a lot. You must have some memorable stories of insects that really startled you.

JJ Hunt:

Being in Southeast Asia and seeing the different, seeing cockroaches and beetles. If you're unlucky enough to spot a cockroach in most places in Canada or the US, they're not nice, but they're you know, they tend to be smaller than your thumb. And beetles are the same we have some big ish beetles with a round bodies kind of hard shells. And you know, they're not that big, they're not that bright. They're not that impressive. And then I went to Malaysia. I got into the rain forest a little bit and started doing some hiking and I made the mistake my first night at Camp in this rain forest of, you know it's a beautiful night and I'm just gonna sit outside for a few minutes with the porch light on on. At my little cabin in the in the rain forest. And oh my god, the bugs that came out for the light!

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha!

JJ Hunt:

Oh, I was inside in a flash, peering out window, which was just it was not even glass, it was just a net, a screen. And uh, honest to, gaw! Things that I think were cockroaches that were like almost as big as my palm. I mean, just enormous. And this is when you get the super creepy insects that are as big as rodents, right? Like we don't like rodents, rodents are gross, but they're, at least like they're animals.

Christine Malec:

Mammals.

JJ Hunt:

Ya, mammals, and we kind of get those a little bit. But when you get insects that are like aliens that are so far from us, we just don't understand them. And humans, like things that are similar, and we don't like things that are different, right? So the strangeness of these animal of these insects being the size of rodents, Oh, God, and honestly, they were huge, huge, huge.

Christine Malec:

If you need a timeout, it's okay. But can you describe one of the cockroaches like the big one, like actually what it actually looks like

JJ Hunt:

A couple of different images I've got pulled up of cockroaches one where they're all kind of tucked in. So all the legs are tucked in, and it's kind of in behind, it's what looks like a shell. So it's actually wings that pull in tight, but pulled in behind the shell, and this one that's on someone's someone's holding one. And it is far bigger than their index finger. So it starts beyond the index finger, the head is down onto the palm and it's as thick as two fingers. This one's a Madagascar hissing Roach. And what looks like the shell on the back is nice. Okay, so the coloring there, they're brown and tan, almost black, like it looks like a brown that's really really dirty and is gonna blackened. And then these kind of glossy orangey tan stripes across the back. And they're again, they're segment segmented. So it looks like almost like corrugation and it come to a round tip at the back. So like a rounded bottom. And the head is a bulbous head with a little kind of bulb. Beyond that, so like I don't know what all these parts are because I'm just I'm just going on the visuals here I'm not looking at a diagram. And then and so that's when the bodies tucked in so they don't there's no limbs coming out of this cockroach, nothing but a couple of antenna coming out the top. And then when you get these things when they're crawling or skittering or getting ready to fly because they do jump up and they fly that's a treat I'll tell you the long kind of I don't know if they're mandible pincers at the front they but they look there, you know, these would be as long as most spiders legs, two of them coming at the front of the of the mouth. And then two, four legs, and then which are long and kind of there's a bit of a bit of a hairiness to them. And then two legs in the middle that go straight out, those are the longest and they go straight out of the sides. And then back like hind legs, it looks almost like frog's legs, so they're thicker near the top, what looks like where the muscles are. And then they're there, they've got like two joints, two knee joints or whatever, that bend them back. So they've got two legs going back, two legs going straight out at the sides in the middle, and two going to the toward the front. And and this bug the antenna are long as long as the body itself. So kind of curving back over the body. And this cockroach that I'm describing now has overlapping wings. So the wings are, again a brown color, a kind of a rusty orangey, brown color. And they and they fold back to cover the entire body so that it looks like a shell on the back. And then when they take off, they fly and that's unpleasant when they do so.

Christine Malec:

Now, one aspect of insects that I've spent some time thinking about is their role in the future of food security. So again, set your gross meter pretty high because I personally believe that they insects have a huge role to play in the future of food if we're still around as as human beings looking for protein sources. And so, JJ, were you able to find any images of the consumption of insects as a food source?

JJ Hunt:

In lots of parts of the world, it's it's pretty common. You know, we are squeamish. We have been taught that insects are bad and terrible and gross. And so we don't want them at all in any way, shape or form in our lives. But they've been eaten in lots of places, lots of parts of the world, you know, routinely for centuries. And you're right, it makes an awful lot of sense. And there are some that are you know, take a little bit more getting used to than others. So mealworms For example, I think this is one that's going to be one of the easiest foods, insect foods to eat. Raw meal worms look like maggots as I've described, but when they're toasted or roasted or fried, which is how they're Often consumed they turn golden brown. So they're really crispy on the outside, they get a little bit tender in the middle. And again, in terms of size, these are what would I say maybe as long as a peanut in the shell, but but thin and they look like tiny little little squiggly worms. But they're but they're kind of brown and, and you can, you know, flavor them however you want. You can add, add whatever spices, you can put them in a salad or just have them as a snack. They're, you know, pretty benign when you eat them. To be honest, in wahaca Mexico, grasshoppers are a really tasty drinking snack very, very popular. Chapulines I believe is what they're called. We were in Oaxaca in the fall of 2019. And when you walk through the markets, every market would have multiple vendors who are selling chapel lane s in these big wicker baskets. So you would get wicker baskets, you know, if you open up your arms into a hoop that baskets that size, mounded with with you know, different Chapulines, sometimes the vendor would have two or three with with more chili or less chili, some would be a really dark brown red color, and some would be a bright red color. And they're often side by side with chili roasted peanuts, they look quite similar except that their shape isn't quite as smooth and uniform as the peanuts but otherwise very much the same little grasshoppers, they get the look little because they're shriveled up from being toasted or fried. Generally, like I said, that reddish color, depending on the spices that are used. And you know, you eat them when you're when you're having beer, it's good drinking food. And you know, I've had some and they are, again, pretty crunchy on the outside, a little more tender in the middle. But these are really about, you know, crispy snacking food are the Chapulines.

Christine Malec:

If you didn't know what they looked like, if you didn't know they were bugs, could you tell by looking?

JJ Hunt:

If you're walking through a market, and you're just kind of glancing from side to side, you might mistake them for a kind of knutor something like that. But if you are ,if you're served a bowl of these in a restaurant or a bar or something and you look down for a few seconds, they look like the insects that they are. They're a little bit, like I said, shriveled or a little bit tightened up and their body parts aren't perfectly aligned because they've, you know, been through a process. But they do very much look like bugs and then you know, when you eat them, it's not quite as the mouthfeel isn't quite the same as eating a nut which is smooth. They do feel a little bit, you know, knobbly, I've been to some markets and seen like, you know, fried spiders and skewered scorpions and things like that. And I know they are eaten in some places. But I most of the most of the markets that I've been at where I've seen things like spiders and scorpions, I think those are probably brought out for tourists as much as anything. Um, yeah, in fact, one of the markets we were at in Thailand, my kids were reminding me that there was someone who was walking through a market with a with a platter of spiders and scorpions to sell. And they were, I can't remember how much but it was, however much the price was to buy and eat them. And then there was a second fee, you could pay half as much to just take a photo of them. So yes, that's how they were making their money.

Christine Malec:

Sure.

JJ Hunt:

So a lot of people like taking Instagram photos with a skewer of scorpions, then put the scorpion back on the tray and walk away without eating them.

Christine Malec:

I remember a documentary about insects in Africa, and you'd have a meeting color of flies and people would just sort of walk through with a strainer and scoop them out of the air and compress them into patties. And so as you say, very practical and in places where the insect life is rampant, you can just scoop them out of the air and there's your lunch.

JJ Hunt:

That's I think, that's more likely if we're going to really be sold especially in places where we've been told how gross bugs are and how terrible they are. I think it's in it's informed like that processed heavily processed, so powdered insect protein, or, you know, insects ground into other foods to make them protein rich. That's probably how we're going to we're going to have insects in our diets. I think it's much more likely that that's going to be the case then, you know, bags of toasted mealworms next to the Frito Lays at the local grocery store.

Christine Malec:

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Beautiful or creepy?
Swarms and seething masses
Bugs in SE Asia
Insects as food