Always with the Bugs!

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I’m guilty of this myself, but there’s something about bugs being used as obstacles and monsters that goes through the ages.  Flesh-eating beetles, giant spiders, worms of various terrains, so many flies, and other creepy crawlies simply litter fiction.  You have them on other planets and invading Earth.  Not all of them are alien in nature since humans have been responsible for some.  The list of origins and creatures are so vast that you’ll inevitably miss a lot.

I have to wonder why we gravitate so much towards bugs as threats.  At first, I thought it was our aversion to slimy things, but not everybody has that.  On the other hand, we could focus on the fact that humans are animals and we all have instincts.  Those habits that are locked into our nature can hold some clue.  Specifically, a fear of getting stung and swarmed.  I’ve been bitten by ants and leaped on by spiders, which sent me flailing about like an idiot.  Then there are times flies get into the house and drive me nuts by buzzing into my face when the lights are off.  Don’t even get me started on mosquitoes that seem to hit both issues.

The probably stems from phobias and bugs, specifically spiders and yes I know they’re arachnids, tend to be the big ones.  Snakes are pretty common threats too, but I think bugs take the championship.  If you consider that every monster stems from a primal fear then I guess it makes sense.  Keep imagining what ancient man would think if they came across a pit of worms after a rainstorm or were chased by a swarm of locusts. It would have been unnerving, especially if you were barefoot on that first one.  Not to mention the fear that would happen after a person was bitten and died.  I doubt anyone knew right off the bat that some bugs could kill a human, so there would be a lot of ideas in regards to what happened.

The more I write about this, the more I wonder if this is a personal preference.  I used to gather bugs in a pail with dirt when I was a kid.  Mostly pill bugs, snails, centipedes, millipedes and ants.  Tried earthworms for a bit, but they weren’t very interesting to watch.  Flying bugs were out of the question since the most common ones were wasps and gnats.  Don’t even get me started on my attempts to catch spiders, which usually resulted in me getting jumped on.  Fed them ants though because I had a fascination with watching them hunt.  Not a big fan of spiders these days, but their love of getting on my face might have something to do with that.  Anyway, I wonder if this early interest is why I gravitate toward bugs when making monsters and other threats.  That doesn’t explain why they show up in other people’s fictions though.

I’m going to open up the floor and see what people think.  Why do you think bugs are so common in fiction when it comes to threats?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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34 Responses to Always with the Bugs!

  1. Maybe because there are so many different species, and they seem to survive no matter what happens. Drought, floods, Armageddon 🙂 it doesn’t matter, they thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If you want to live in Florida you can’t fear bugs. Worms and bugs are a natural part of the cycle of life. After all, we’re all just food for worms. When I fist drove up to my new FL home from GA, there was a giant grasshopper on my screen door to greet me. Not the fat, black locust kind, but a ten inch, long, slender, lime green grasshopper. I thought, “Damn, they grow big here.” But that didn’t frighten me as much as the gecko on my face when I awoke the next morning. I thought it was a rubber band when I reach up to brush away the tickle on my face. My hand caught the gecko and I screamed. I love them now, but that was a rude awakening.


    • Probably why I retreated from Florida. 🙂 Bugs do seem to be bigger in the tropics, but there’s something to be said for the urban ones. They might not always be huge, but they are very stealthy. Geckos really need to learn personal space. Always crawling on faces, getting into cupboards, and bugging people about insurance.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bookwraiths says:

    Their appearances are so different from humans. Eyes, legs, wings, exoskeletons. Everything about them screams alien!


    • The eyes and body structure are definitely factors. I wonder if so many of them being poisonous or simply stinging/biting is a factor too. I mean, fish are very different too, but they don’t get this kind of treatment. Do they?


  4. I think we use them because the aversion is so widespread. In SF and Fantasy we can create our own stuff, but bugs work in mystery, romance, and everything else. I’ve been wanting to write about a swarm for a long time. I haven’t nailed down the fine points yet. It might even be tiny space ships. I wrote a wonderful scene in one of my trunk novels about two men locked in a crypt by the bad guys. They were knee deep in water and frog spawn. I’m going to recycle that one some day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The idea of bugs gives us all the creeps. Having a bug big enough to look us in the eye has to be terrifying. Having a bunch of spiders crawling on us gives the willies. They are the greatest monsters and they are right here. *hits a gnat with the paper*

    Liked by 1 person

  6. N. N. Light says:

    I think it comes down to the unknown when writing bugs into fiction. What do we really know about bugs? What makes them tick? Is there a hierarchy in the exoskeleton kingdom? How do they see humans? Plus, there’s a universal dislike for bugs. No matter where in the world you reside, you have to deal with bugs.

    There’s not enough butterfly monsters, though. I’d love to see “Attack of the Monarchs” published. No one would see it coming…


    • Guess most people don’t know much about bugs. I’ve met people that can answer those questions, but it takes a lot of curiosity and a desire to get beyond the dislike. Bugs are everywhere, but people seem to take their existence for granted.

      Butterfly is a tough one. Kind of hard to top Mothra though. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll admit that I don’t like guys, never have really, I don’t know why.
    Two things, first, remember the episode of Star Rek The Next Generation with O’Brian and his pet spider at the end? Poor Barclay.
    Second, have you read about the ant super colonies? No wonder people have deep seat dress of bugs.


  8. L. Marie says:

    I also collected bugs in jars when I was a kid: pill bugs, grasshoppers, ants–whatever I could find.

    Perhaps they appear in fiction often because there are so many of them. There are close to a million kinds of insects. Though small, they sting and bite. Red ants are a menace in some areas.

    According to human standards of beauty, many lack the appeal of animals like birds or rodents like squirrels. While horror movies have been made about attacking birds, I don’t recall one being made about attacking squirrels. That would be novel.


    • I had a pail with dirt that I would put pill bugs and millipedes into. Sometimes earthworms, but those were always hard to find. Kept losing bugs to spiders and earwings.

      I guess it’s becoming a consensus on bugs being chosen for their high populations and ‘ugly’ appearance. Probably why it’s usually praying mantises, ants, spiders, etc. As was mentioned in another comment, you don’t see butterflies getting this treatment.

      Look up ‘squirrels horror movie’. Apparently it’s coming.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think it’s that bugs are everywhere, in our world. There’s no habitat anywhere that doesn’t have some form of bugs. Even under water, there are shrimp and such that look a bit insect-like. So no matter how fantastic the world you’re writing about, insects/spiders can credibly be there. Credible = less work for the writer!

    Also, many people do have that visceral fear, so you don’t have to work so hard to make them be dangerous or frightening. Again, less work for the writer.

    You also can get subtext with bugs. For instance, a palace with immaculately groomed garden. Then you see a bug. The subtext could be that this place isn’t as perfect as it seems. Or that there’s ordinary life under that exterior. But if there are absolutely no bugs? Then the setting is maybe a bit sterile and that creates a different kind of tension.


    • Arctic might be the only tough place, but I think there’s a movie about ice spiders. Obviously, it’s a SyFy b-movie. That visceral fear definitely helps get the point across with minimal description needed. I know it doesn’t take much for me to get creeped out by a spider scene.

      Never considered the subtext. It could come down to the bug too. That immaculate garden would be enhanced by butterflies and ladybugs, but adding aphids or grubs might change the atmosphere.

      Liked by 1 person

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