Bug Nicknames

- National Pest Management Association
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I am a big fan of nicknames. I have gone by one my whole life.  My given name, Melissa, just doesn’t seem to be me. (Sorry, mom and dad.)  I am definitely a “Missy”. People often assume nicknames that are reflective of their personality, looks or features, a life experience or some other fitting reason. But people aren’t the only ones to be given fitting monikers. For instance, when I was in school, we had “smelly trees”. I am pretty sure botanists would refer to them differently but to the students, they were the smelly trees that necessitated holding your nose when passing by, or sometimes, even taking a different path to class. Bugs, too, are often identified by distinguishing characteristics rather than their more formal names.

Cockroaches, for instance, have a host of names, such as palmetto bugs or water bugs (though that’s actually a totally different bug). Whatever you call them, they are still disgusting. Pillbugs are better known as rollie-pollies because of the defensive rounding curl they perform when frightened.  And whoever calls those "jumping crickets” by their given name, camel crickets?

While some nicknames have been commonly accepted by the public, others are just affectionate (?) names families have created for pests that have troubled them.  One of my colleagues noted her family always refers to boxelder bugs as “Halloween bugs”, a logical connection since the orange and black bugs generally appear close to the arrival of pint size ghouls and goblins. Our Facebook page, heavily trafficked by homeowners, is filled with references to familial names our users have coined for pesky pests. Recently, one desperate soul was hopeful for guidance in dealing with “sugar ants”. Well, there’s actually no such insect but it’s easy to understand the reference! Ants love sweets and are often drawn to the kitchen table sugar bowl.

Has your family developed “pet names” for pests? I’d love to hear about them. While entomologists refer to insects by names connected with their order, family, genus, and species – the rest of us generally take practicality into hand and call them by something more familiar or meaningful, including pests!


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