Tuesday, June 14, 2011


One of the facts of life in Panama is living with bugs. Prior to moving here, I never thought much about bugs except in unusual cases like invasions of lady bugs, Miller's moths, cicadas, or, more recently in Baltimore, stink bugs.

But here in Boquete bugs are constant companions.  And there is a mind-boggling variety of them. Shortly after moving here, I began to inventory the bugs in my garden, but quickly realized this is a never-ending task doomed to be incomplete. Nevertheless, I am still inspired to discuss unusual bug-related events, of which there have been three in the past day:
  • Maggots in my rice. This was the manifestation of a long-standing fear, which I thought was unfounded. Yes, white rice and maggots do have a strong resemblance, and my creative imagination run amok has occasionally thought how horrid it would be to find them together. On Monday, while cooking lunch for me and the gardener, this neurotic obsession became reality. I noticed two unusual-looking "grains" of rice in the folds at the top of the clear plastic bag, which had been opened for a week or so. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were maggots. After cutting off the top of the bag in disgust, I decided to go ahead and cook the rice, for a Panamanian meal without rice would be considered incomplete. I carefully inspected the rice as I put it into the pot and felt reasonably sure that it was maggot-free and ate lunch with more than a little hesitation while re-inspecting every spoonful from my plate. So far so good. Then, while transferring the leftover cooked rice to a storage bowl for leftovers, I found one very well-done maggot in what was left. I picked it out and ate the rest for supper.
Yes, I know this is disgusting. But remember - there are many people all over the world who are forced to cope with such things every day in order to eat.  This story is best viewed as an exercise in cultural sensitivity - or, more precisely, cultural desensitization.

Lesson learned from this experience:  store rice in the freezer if you can, and rinse well before cooking.  Cold storage is also recommended for spaghetti, flour, and any other dried food once opened.
    • Giant walking stick on my favorite bromeliad. Last night I noticed a huge walking stick insect in the bromeliad on the front porch. It was tucked under one of the leaves next to the corner of the house.  This presented a dilemma:  should I try to kill it, or let it be? I checked on it every hour or so, and by bedtime it had moved enough so I could get a good picture of it:

    With its front legs extended, it was eight or ten inches long. (This is a rough estimate because I was afraid to get close enough to measure it.) After consulting the internet and learning that these insects eat plants, I was determined not to let it devour my beloved bromeliad.

    What to do?

    After much thought, I decided to leave it alone and check the next morning.

    By this morning it was gone. I did the right thing to leave it alone.

    There is a larger message in this story:  nature is often better off when we don't mess with it.


    • Green moth on the back porch.  This lovely green moth was on my back porch this morning.  I had never seen one like it:

    It is about an inch long.  I decided to buy a ruler to document such findings better.  Someone said that only about ten percent of all species have been discovered.  With no ruler handy today, this is the best I could do:

    There is a whole new world waiting at my doorstep.  And yours too.


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