Around the Bend: Ladybugs give way to spider influx

If you’re looking for a deeply moving opportunity for personal growth, I recommend letting your house get overrun by a plague of ladybugs. It worked for me.

It started in March, when, out of nowhere, hordes of the tiny, black-spotted red beetles showed up like so many miniature Volkswagens at a vintage car show. Within a few days the walls and ceilings looked like dot-to-dot pictures. Ladybugs crawled everywhere and clung to everything; it was nothing to find one perching on the end of the pen I was writing with.

Despite the occasional inconveniences — such as having to check my bedside water glass before sipping to avoid getting an unexpected six-legged midnight snack — I treated our drop-in visitors hospitably. I spared the lives of the mobile ones and swept up the ones who didn’t make it. Any time I found a ladybug in a high-traffic danger zone, I carried her on my index finger to the nearest houseplant, talking to her in soothing tones.

This was interesting. I have been known to sleep in the car at the sight of a single earwig on our bedroom ceiling. Why didn’t the ladybugs horrify me in the same way?

Because society tells us ladybugs are cute, that’s why. They’re tiny and round. They’re the subject of nursery rhymes. Decorators use them on diaper bags and in children’s rooms. Some people even say they’re good luck (although I’m assuming whoever said that never had one fly into the mashed potatoes during dinner). I had blindly adopted a cultural stereotype and assigned positive attributes to ladybugs while recoiling from all other crawling critters.

A few days later, the ladybugs disappeared. I thought nothing of it until, soon after, I saw a wolf spider the size of a small cat sprinting across our dining room floor. A minute later, I saw an identical one zipping into the living room. It could have been a single spider setting a new land-speed record, or it could have been two spiders working independently. Either way, I decided the safest course of action would be to leap onto the kitchen counter and stay there until the spider (or spiders) died of old age.

Funny how I had practically made pets out of the ladybugs but the mere thought of two spiders in my house caused me to shudder uncontrollably. Of course, these weren’t spindly house spiders, but giant, meaty, fast-moving ground-hunters, unfazed by the shrieking woman on the counter. I had a right to panic.

I wondered if their arrival had any connection to the ladybugs’ disappearance. Maybe they had skittered through the house scooping up ladybugs like M&Ms. Or maybe the ladybugs had heard the sound of smacking pedipalps and had thought it best to leave town quick.

What was really bothering me up there on the counter — besides trying to recall in what year I had last dusted on top of the fridge — was whether the spiders, having run out of ladybugs, would move on to human flesh. I mulled over which of the bedroom windows I would jump out of if I woke up and saw, by the light of the moon, a drooling wolf spider crouched on my nightstand, clutching a knife and fork.

Of course, I was being irrational. These spiders had no more interest in attacking me than the ladybugs had in listening to me sing lullabies (although honestly, it did seem to help them fall asleep faster). But from an early age I had learned to think of spiders as repulsive and menacing. You can bet I’d never carry one to safety on my index finger, even on the unlikely chance that spiders do perch. And if I found one clinging to the pen in my hand, I’d need therapy before I’d ever write another check.

How unfair of me. Just because I thought of the ladybugs as cute, I had accepted them as a part of my world and had treated them as though they had as much right to exist as I did. Didn’t I owe spiders the same respect? At that moment I vowed to change my attitude and learn to live in harmony with all creatures, including wolf spiders, without judgment.

I’m going to do it, too, just as soon as I can bring myself to come down off the kitchen counter.

Should be any day now.

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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Fax: 802.388.3100