I Know an Old Lady Who Killed a Fly…


My wife looks up and says, “There’s a big bug over here.” To her credit, she says this very matter-of-factly. But there is the implicit, “… and you better deal with it ’cause that’s your job, boy.” Which I do of course, but not without pointing out that an ant hardly qualifies as a “big bug”. You’d think I’d know better by now – the point is moot both to her and to this post.

In our house dealing with insects consists of chasing them down until they crawl up on one’s hand, and then walking outside with them so that with a puff of breath or a flick of the finger are sent on their merry way into the wilderness. Other options include chasing flying insects out the nearest door or window, or, for creepier stuff, using a bit of tissue to gently capture and convey. Swift and sudden “death from above” is only the option of last resort and, quite often (if Chris isn’t around), I’m content to merely let things be, knowing that they’ll probably crawl away to live out their brief lives undisturbed and undisturbing.

In this case, the ant had crawled about halfway up my forearm before I made it to the back door. In the scant few moments we had together I grew rather attached to him and the way he struggled valiantly through the enormous jungle of arm hair. After a fond farewell, I walked back to the office thinking about the many folks who would simply squash out these little lives with nary a thought rather than go to the trouble of dealing with them in a more gentle fashion.

The problem with killing ant or fly is that it requires one to draw a line on am ethical spectrum. At what point do you start to feel bad about the taking of lives? Attempts to answer that question make for a rather ugly little voice in one’s head:

“Ants are fair game for sure. And spiders, oh yeah, definitely spiders. And mice, yeah, mice too.  Oh, but what if it’s one that escaped your kid’s Habitrail™?  After how many days on the lam does it stop being a cute pet and become an all-too-killable pest?  Gophers and moles ruin the garden so they’re probably on the “okay to exterminate” list, but rabbits?  They sure are cute. Then there’s bigger stuff, like raccoons and deer. Endearing yet villainous reminders of the nature just outside our back door.  And what about people’s pets? The neighbor’s cat is killing all the birds in the  bird feeder ‘might be nice to take a potshot at it someday.  And, oh, what about that disgusting mongrel that keeps crapping on the front lawn? Wouldn’t mind running that mutt over with the car, that’s for sure.  But, actually, it’s really the fault of the owner.  Maybe he’s the one who should be  in the crosshairs of my hood ornament …”

And just like that you’re at the top of the food-chain, making headlines for being “that crazy guy who killed his neighbor for no good reason”.

It seems a lot simpler to just take the high road with the little stuff and not think too hard about the rest. But even that can be a bit tricky;  I’ll admit I’m not exactly sitting upon the highest ethical horse here, by the way. I do, after all, have a can of bug spray I keep handy to deal with the wasps nesting in the eaves. And mosquitos! If ever a species deserved a wholesale fiery death, they’re at the top of the list.

I wonder how many pro-lifers own flyswatters.

[Picture by Broofa, composited from images at here and here]