The Genius of Animal Planet

Jordan Lee - Ecuador

April 3, 2013

In the book “The World is Flat”, the author, Thomas L. Friedman, makes a lot of claims about how new business leaders will have to be able to utilize new technologies available to them to bring better and more creative products to their customers, and I think John Hendricks, founder and Chairman of Discovery Communications (the media conglomerate that owns Animal Planet among other networks), is a great example of this. He realized that people really like seeing exotic, strange wildlife, but only if they can do it from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, so he used advances in broadcasting technology to bring that life to his customers. Now, Animal Planet is one of the most viewed networks on television. I’ve never been a huge fan of this channel, but I certainly do appreciate the genius of it’s creation a lot more now, because those creatures are a lot more frightening when there isn’t a glass screen between me and them.

Blattella asahinai. That is the scientific name of a creature that, before I came to the Amazon, to me only existed in the stories of my (U.S.) mom, when this beast nearly attacked a high school love interest of hers. When I tell tourists of its existence, they often don’t believe me. I am talking about large, hairy, flying cockroaches. My first encounter with Blattella asahinai was on my first night in the jungle. As I was talking with my dad over dinner, one of these beasts, both the length and width of my hand (and I don’t have small hands), landed right next to my soup, it’s long, translucent wings casting a glow over it’s hairy, dirt-brown body. While I dropped my spoon in my soup and my eyes grew to twice their normal size, my dad laughed, slid off his shoe, and smashed the pest to the table. In response, it flew away, seemingly unscathed. My dad continued laughing and said “it was welcoming me to the jungle”.

God I wish he was kidding.

That same night, when I went to the bathroom, I noticed the toilet was not flushing. Silly me did not realize that there was just no running water (and would not be for the next 6 days) so I lifted up the back part of the toilet to try and find the problem. Well, I found no problem, but what I did find was a spider that, with it’s legs outstretched, could easily cover my whole face, probably my whole head. Also, people often ask why I don’t have a light in my room. Well, that’s beacause later in that first week, as I was entering my then-illuminated room, I walked though a dense cloud of flying creatures trying to get to the light. I quickly asked to have the light removed. Ever since my first month, there has been a wasp nest outside my room. I would have destroyed it by now, but my family and I tried that once. They rebuilt the hive in half an hour, and that’s when I decided to leave them alone. And it’s not just me they welcome. When my mom (U.S. again) came to visit, we saw the biggest tarantula that I have ever seen. We were both laughing, hers out of hysterics (I believe), while I was just so happy she saw such an authentic piece of the rainforest.

But once I was adequately welcomed, the bugs didn’t go away, they just went back to their normal habits, which was still mroe close to me than I would like.

Although “mosquitos” may be the most famous Amazonian insect, that name in itself does not quite do them justice, because there are way too many blood sucking insects to fit under just one label. You got your standard, bumb-making mosquitos, but then you also have its larger relative that leaves a red dot wherever it bites. And then there are the “floater” mosquitos (instead of flying they just kind of float in the air), the “hurt like a mother” mosquitos, and “I’m gonna leave a huge-wart thing” mosquito. And you can’t forget the “too small to see” mosquitos, which I’m sure you can imagine are just a nightmare. Some come out in the afternoon, some at night. Some live on the surface of lakes (aka our bathtub and washing machine) while others prefer the kitchen.Basically there’s a lot of them. One day, I made the mistake of wearing shorts at night. My legs looked like a topagraphical map of the Andes mountains. Another night, my feet were so itchy I nearly started crying.

But my favorite has to be the ants. I have seen more kinds of ants here than I even knew existed on earth. Small ones, big ones, black ones, red ones, flying ones, biting ones, stinging ones, ones that give you a fever, ones that live in your pants (yeah, I really do have “ants in my pants” now). We even have the infamous Conga Ant, which scores a 4+ on the “Schmidt Sting Pain index” ranking it above the mythicaly-named “Tarantula Hawk Wasp”. The only kind we don’t have is the kind that you eat. What a shame. Not only are they so numerous, their construction ability is out of this world. Right by our front door, there a number of rather intricate ant hills, but there is also a creek right by our front door. So as I’m sure you can imagine, one night, after a rather heavy rainstorm, the creek flooded, destroying all the ant hills but thankfully just missing our house. Where before there were several dirt volcanoes, signaling the entrance to an intricate underground tunnel system, there was now nothing, At least for a bit. The very next day, just 24 hours after they were completely destroyed, all the ant hills were back, with all of it’s small, red inhabitants scurryign around as if nothing happened. How that is possible I have no idea. All I know is that it scares me.

Those are really the big offenders, but of course there a few others that show up every now and then. We got bats flying around when you’re trying to bathe. Flies that leave a worm in you when they bite, which will later burst through your skin like the creature from the Alien movies. Normal, non-flying cockroaches that crawl through all your stuff, including your retainer case. And termites. Termites that will swarm around anything, regardless of whether or not it is wood (like my shoes for example). While I may complain the most about the bugs, my host nephew, Lucas, is defintely the most victimized by them. In the past 6 moths, he has endured both bat bites and fly-implanted worms (there were 5 in his head). Poor guy.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of a bug-related redeeming message to give you all, but I couldn’t think of anything. I really just wanted to tell you that there are a lot of them. But I have something close. Now that I’ve spent some time here, the weirdest thing has happened. The bugs have just stopped biting. I don’t know what it is. I’m still not using bug spray (there are way too many of them for it to be effective), I’m wearing the same clothes, and I’m still (relatively) clean. But as of about mid-January, the itching has largely dissapeared. Of course, I still get a few bites, especially when we go to work in the real jungle, but even my family gets eaten up out there. I like to think it’s just an advanced step in my community integration, but the bugs are probably just bored with me. You decide.

Jordan Lee