Why Love a Leech?
Few people love, let alone appreciate, invertebrates. And there are good reasons not to love those creatures who sting us (wasps and bees), bite us (black flies), suck our blood (leeches), transmit diseases (mosquitoes, deer ticks), eat our food (miller moths, agricultural “pests”) and/ or destroy our homes (carpenter ants, termites).
But legitimate concerns about certain invertebrates often cause us to dislike them all (with the exception of the pretty or cute ones, like butterflies and ladybugs). This not only leads to all sorts of environmental problems as we attempt to eradicate them with poisons, but also prevents us from experiencing the reverence that virtually all creatures can inspire if we examine them closely, appreciate them cautiously, and protect ourselves only appropriately and wisely.
I’m no fan of ticks, mosquitoes or black flies, and ever since I was a child and went down to our apartment building’s basement to get my bike, flipped on the light switch, and recoiled in horror as the whole floor moved en masse with giant roaches scurrying to safety, cockroaches have given me the willies. So I understand our common reaction to so many invertebrates.
But I also have noticed my fears have abated and my appreciation has expanded over the years. A big, shiny black cricket made me shudder as a little girl, until an adult let the cricket walk on her hand, and I discovered how harmless this wondrous creature was. June bugs hitting the window screen scared me all night when I visited a friend from school at her family’s summer house; now I regularly head out to see them mating on spring evenings and to catch their reflective, glowing eyes in the beam of my flashlight. Visiting a distant cousin in the country as a child became a terrifying experience as I stood barefoot, frozen in place with bees everywhere around me, appearing so threatening; now I find myself in awe of bees.
The more I observe them, the more I appreciate them, and perhaps what has made the biggest difference is my little waterproof, point-and-shoot camera. Over the past two years, I’ve ventured out regularly with it, and in so doing I have come to not simply tolerate certain invertebrates who would have scared me in the past, but to adore them. Whether nightcrawlers, huge dragonflies or insects who look like they’ve stepped off the set of a sci fi film, I have fallen in love with creatures whom, at another point in my life, I might have carelessly stepped on, ran away from or even poisoned.
Better yet, I’ve come to learn about them as I’ve filmed them. Who knew, for example, that tadpoles eat pollen with their teeny, tiny mouths and blow bubbles and have trouble staying upright? Only when I videotaped them did I come to appreciate this stage of a frog’s life. I even came to love leeches (leeches!) after filming the way they change their body shape and size in the most graceful, fluid way.
And what has falling in love with what are generally despised creatures brought me?
Great joy, wonder, reverence, awe, and the greater motivation to safeguard the ecosystems that support such extraordinary life. We humans tend to protect whom and what we love. This beautiful Earth needs protection. So go out and fall in love. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to turn repugnance into appreciation; aversion into pleasure; terror into wonder, and hatred into love.
Image courtesy of Ryan Wick.via Creative Commons.