Friday, January 18, 2013

The Swarm

The Critters I Live With #4

It’s over! It’s over! It’s finally over! The swarm is gone at last!

What in the world am I talking about? Allow me to introduce the third creature in “The Critters I Live With” series. I’m honestly not sure what to call them. Indonesians call them laron. They look something like large winged ants. When I looked up laron on the internet, though, I kept seeing references to flying termites. So I am not really sure what they are.

Not exactly the species that swarms here,    but you get the idea. (Clip)

I may not know exactly what they are, but I certainly know what they do. Every year, as the Christmas season approaches here in Bali, Indonesia, we expect swarms of these insects to invade our homes, churches, and any non-air-conditioned place that has lights on at night. 

They swarm around any light they find, drop their wings, and then crawl off somewhere, often in pairs…presumably to get about the task of reproducing themselves.

There is not much you can do about these creatures except to bide your time. They will go away eventually…until the next December.

December 1993…

I remember my first exposure to the swarm. It was my first Christmas in Bali. Along with some co-workers, I attended a Christmas service at a local seminary. The building where we met was semi-exposed to the outdoors. It had a roof and walls that came up about waist-high. Picture a building designed to have large windows all along the walls,…but without the windows.

Several hundred people were packed into the room. It was hot, and pretty much everyone used their program to fan themselves. Actually, the fanning action was as much to keep the swarming insects from flying into faces as it was to keep those faces cool.

So there I sat, furiously fanning myself, and giving an occasional swat at an insect that decided not to fear my fan.

Then it happened. It was inevitable. One of the uninvited aviators slipped past all my defenses. Around the fan...Past the hand...And took a nosedive right down the neckline of my shirt. Of course, it crash-landed right where it could not be easily extricated. 

I tried not to squirm too much as the now wingless flier crawled around down there trying to find a way out. I used my program to hide my attempts to get the critter out. I finally succeeded and went back to still more vigilant fanning until the swarm was finished for the night.

Nineteen years later…

Those spots on the floor are wings. You can't really see the fliers.
I have become accustomed to the annual visit of the swarm. I’ve learned to live with it. The main precaution that can be taken at home is to keep as many lights as possible turned off until about 9:00 PM. (Of course, when out in public in a well-lighted place, a wise precaution might be a shirt with a higher-than-usual neckline. As that is hot, though…well, just bring a good fan and hope for the best.)

As I said, I know to keep the lights off. Rachel, however, had not learned this trick yet. I guess she didn’t remember the swarm coming when she was five-years-old. She left the light on in the bathroom as well as her bedroom, and then closed the door.

At about 8:00 PM, I got up from whatever I had been doing to get Rachel headed to bed. When I glanced in the bathroom, the floor and the bathtub was covered with body-less wings. A half-dozen or so insect couples were heading off to…somewhere.

Then I noticed Rachel’s bedroom. Oh NO! I saw the light through the ventilation openings above the door. “Don’t come in yet!’ I told her. (Rachel screeches at the site of a few ants. I could just imagine her reaction if she saw the swarm in her bedroom. She would no doubt rival the scream my mother reserves for a centipede sighting.)

With some measure of dread, I opened her bedroom door. Sure enough, HUNDREDS of insects occupied her space. Many had left their wings behind. Many were heading off on a date. And many others were still flying.

Great! Just great! I turned off her light, and as many other lights as I could, to encourage as many of the swarm as still had flight capability to evacuate the room.

A bit blurry, but this is part of the pile I swept up.
The white object is a hair barrette.

I got my broom and swept up the wings. In the process, I rudely interrupted quite a number of couples that had not yet found a private spot. If I had measured the pile of wings I swept up from Rachel’s room alone, I estimate it would have come to about two cups worth of wings and insects. I got everything cleaned up and tucked Rachel into bed in her now swarm-less room.

Well, as I said, the swarm is gone for the year now. I don’t miss them. 

I’ll go take a shower in a little bit. How nice it will be not to have to clean a bunch of papery-thin wings out of the bathtub first. I think I saw a moth in the tub when Rachel went to bed an hour ago, but after the swarm…that’s small stuff.


  1. Oh my goodness! I got the willies reading this post. Thank God we don't have those insects here. I'd probably react the same way Rachel does. :)

  2. Well, I'm glad we only have to put up with them for a few weeks a year, and even then for a few hours a day. At least they don't sting or bite. Now THAT would be a big problem.

  3. In Jakarta they crawl under the doors towards the light. Each time I kill about 150 of them with a fly swatter


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