Côn Trùng của Việt Nam (Insects of Vietnam) by Ransome Probert
As we have all experienced, the sheer majesty of Vietnam can be seen witnessed by simply walking down the street. Whether you are smelling the various, mouth-watering aromas of street vendors, hearing the traditional music and glamorous dresses worn by locals, and especially walking through the beautiful forests that are overflowing with life. One of the more overlooked aspects of Vietnam’s rich exoticness lies beneath our feet: the insects. As an avid insect enthusiast, my trip to Vietnam has been very rewarding in my ability to investigate the creepy-crawly beings that people seem to pay less attention to. Within my first week, I was told I wasn’t going to be able to find much information about the bugs of Vietnam. Throughout my search for catalogues or encyclopedias, entomophobia manifested around every corner. Because of this widespread fear or lack of knowledge about our segmented friends, I made it my personal goal to explore the plethora of bugs that call Vietnam home.
Although there are thousands of different species of insects here, there are some who give the rest a bad reputation. If you have ever encountered Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantea), you’ll probably never forget it. Centipedes are glorious creatures with enough pincer power and poison to bring down and even consume other animals that are even bigger than them. While centipedes rule the ground, flying insects should scare you more. Bot Flies (Dermatobia humanis) and mosquitos (Anopheles stephensi) are also quite terrifying because they can transmit horrible diseases such as Malaria and Dengue Fever. Not only are they pesky critters who taunt you with their incredibly quick reflexes, Bot Flies have been known to burrow into human hosts and lay eggs, promoting a whole new generation of pests. Entmophobia is starting to make more sense with every leaf I turn over.
Like many human beings, a few ‘bad apples’ can ruin the reputation for an entire group. This is unfortunate because Vietnamese insects have so much more to offer than carnivorous predators. Whether you are walking by a flowing river, intensive rice farms, or even sitting on your hotel balcony, you will most likely be greeted by friendly, attractive bugs as well. Unlike Montana, dragonflies (Sympetrum flaveolum) fill the skies. As they whoosh passed you, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of their colorful abdomens and unique eyes. If you aren’t patient enough to wait for a dragonfly to land near you for a good view, you’re in luck, because fluttering butterflies (Papilio machaon) seem to always be around. Vietnam’s flying bugs are, in my opinion, the most extravagant insects that live here. They are often found near gardens and flowerbeds, acting as pollinators who help ‘spread the love’. When the sun is too bright to look to the skies, look down to the ground and you’ll still find a variety of appealing species. Although they are very destructive and invasive to the region, the Golden Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata) is a wonderful example of how pretty our crawling counterparts can be. Laying their bright-pink eggs on blades of grass or grain, is pleasing to look at, but terrible for Vietnamese ecosystems, due to their expansive territory and eating habits.
While studying insects is a discipline that requires curiosity, patience and sometimes a strong stomach, I personally feel that people should take more interest in the bug department. As global temperatures rise, the habitats of every organism is at risk. While humans flock inland to urban areas, insects will be forced to take refuge in cities as well. So, do we let our fear of bugs consume us or should we embrace and learn from it? In many countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, restaurants are serving insects for dinner. Bugs are packed with nutrients and vital proteins that we all need to survive. Let me pose a question: which is more productive, cheap insect farms or large-scale beef/chicken farms? Which of the two would be more affordable? Which would be more interesting? Imagine the delicious recipes, inter-species connections and education that we could earn if we just got over our fear of insects! In the midst of climate change, food sources will begin to become more intensive and there are way too many mouths to feed. I may be biased, but I believe that we will see bugs on the menu in years to come. So, although some are scary and dangerous, most are charismatic and can teach us a lot about how to live sustainably.
My parting words: don’t laugh at elephants for being afraid of mice when you can’t handle being in the same room as a moth.