NOVEMBER
1990

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

11-08-90

Bugfolk

We human beings sometimes impart our characteristics to other animals, a habit like anthropomorphism. Through the ages, we have conjured up creatures like the Centaur, which was half man and half horse, and the Mermaid, a combination of woman and fish. We have even humanized insects, producing a creature that Charles L. Hogue of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County calls “Bugfolk.”

There aren't, however, many bugfolk, because it's hard for humans to imagine themselves in something as lowly as an insect. Some of the early bugfolk in human history were merely humans with wings. One of the earliest was the Greek Goddess Psyche who represented the soul. She was depicted as possessing butterfly wings.

Yet Jiminy Cricket is the most recognizable of the bugfolk. Jiminy, that lovable little creature with top hat and umbrella, played a starring role in Disney Studio's film “Pinocchio.”   Except for his small size and his ability to sing, Jiminy exhibits few insect characteristics. However, viewers of the film have little doubt that Jiminy is indeed … cricket.

Modern cartoonists have made good use of bugfolk. Hart uses ants frequently in his B.C. comic strip. Hart's ants live in anthills, are sometimes zapped by anteaters and have insect-like antennae protruding from their heads. When it comes to legs these “antfolk” are more human than insect. Instead of six legs, the insect compliment, these creatures have two arms and two legs. That's probably the way it should be since the ants in Hart's comic strip are beset with all kids of human problems that they address with the full range of human emotions.

Gary Larson is the king of modern cartoonist when it comes to use of bugfolk. Such creatures are commonplace in his Farside cartoon. Larson's insect characters cover a wide range of types and are anatomically correct with antennae, six legs, two or four wings, mandibles and distinct body segments. However Larson's insects are folk, because they walk upright and talk. His bugfolk frequently address issues pertinent to insect life such as shedding of the exoskeleton or food habits, but always with the moral issues that only we mere mortals can appreciate.

Bugfolk are showing up in increasing numbers today to help us see ourselves and even get us to consider some profound truths. Of course the real question of a truth learned from a bugfolk is whether the truth was from the insect or the human portion of the creature.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Elaine Lambert