The Horror… The Horror…

image of a housefly superimposed on a street map of San Francisco

Our ride home from the Caltrain station takes us through the strange, anarchy-prone intersection of Division, 10th, Brannan and Potrero streets. The other night, as we gasped for air while sprinting for the green light on our 40-Year-Old Virgin-style commuter bike, we had an unfortunate encounter with a bug.

Bitter experience tells us that when a cyclist feels the splat of a gnat on the back of the throat, there is little to be done but swallow and hope that it is a gnat. This happens more often than you’d think; as the U.S. Army’s standard survival manual puts it, “insects are easily caught.” Yes, very easily.

San Francisco is remarkably bug-free, of course. In some parts of the country, cyclists have no need of energy bars–they’re like bats, subsisting on the high-protein content of the insects they catch on the wing. Here, though, it’s a surprise to find one’s self suddenly eating a bug, especially at 8:30 p.m. in November.

What kind of bug was it?

We asked the friendly entomology enthusiasts at the Bay Area’s own about the likely identity of our little snack. It seemed gnat-like to us (diptera uvula is the scientific name), but “gnats don’t fly much when it’s cold” and “most of the swarming insects would have retired” by that hour. “Chances are it was a mosquito,” the Bug People tell us. “Mosquitoes fly the second hour after dusk.”

“Turnabout is fair play,” the Bug People console us.

The Bug People also inform us that “According to Vernard Lewis, a UCB Cooperative Extension Specialist, the average American eats about 2 pounds of bug parts each year. Insects and their parts are very light. So, two pounds of bug parts is quite a lot” — more than a gallon, they say. To find out what you’ve been eating, consult the California Academy of Sciences list of Bay Area insect species.

We take solace in the knowledge that we’ve now shared an important experience with Marlon Brando. The most treasured moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) isn’t actually in the movie itself; it’s in Bahr and Hinkenlooper’s “making of” documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991). Brando, in the midst of a rambling soliloquy on blood lust, suddenly gasps, grimaces, pauses, and then announces in a hoarse whisper, “I swallowed a bug.”

Brando’s big scene is on YouTube, of course: