it’s a mystery

September 17th, 2006 | Uncategorized

The UK edition of Fun Home was just released, and got a nice review in the Times. Thanks to Pam Isherwood for alerting me to it. I don’t understand why there needs to be a separate UK edition, though. It’s not like it has to be translated. Unless maybe they threw in some spanners or torches. Or puddings maybe.

Another thing I don’t understand is these bugs that keep appearing in my basement. They’re some kind of ants that crawl up through cracks in the floor, metamorphose into winged bugs every night, and in the morning they’re all dead.


45 Responses to “it’s a mystery”

  1. Julie Stahlhut says:

    Can you get a close-up photo of the insects? I might be able to figure out what they are given a better shot that shows details of the bodies and wings. (The more detail, the better — probably easiest to photograph the dead ones, of course!)

  2. Bryce says:


    Actually, something is probably eating the innards and leaving you the husks.

    Probably a spider or something.

  3. Hey, Julie! Are you an entomologist? An exterminator? Or just an ant aficionado? Here are the bugs. Most of them are little, but a small percentage of them are much bigger, about half an inch long. This big one appears to be dancing with the little one. bug closeup

  4. anonymous says:

    um, I hopefully am wrong – you might try looking up termites on Google Images, because that is what they look like to me…

  5. Anonymous says:

    those are carpenter ants. Call the exterminator…they are either actively feasting on your home or they are looking to. Autumn is when they are on the move.

  6. Deb says:

    I wasn’t aware that carpenter ants had wings……but I am not a bug expert. I have seen carpenter ants w/o wings and they are almost scary! Huge, long versions of black sugar ants! Anyway……….bugs………ewwwwwwwwww!

  7. Ellen O. says:

    Here is the UVM Extention webpage for carpenter ants:
    They grow wings. They tunnel. They like moisture. Who knew?

    Digital camera + log = international insect advice.
    Does it get any better than this?

  8. Deb says:

    Better get on this one right away Alison! They will destroy your home in a New York second!

  9. Jaibe says:

    OK, insect lesson. Colony insects like ants & bees typically only have one or a few females who breed (the queen) & a bunch of males (the drone) who do nothing else but provide sperm. But in a way you can think of the colony itself as a breeding organism. Once in a while a healthy colony will create a bunch of princesses and princes who will have wings & fly away. If they find the right place, one queen & a few drones will settle down, eat their wings & start breeding up a new colony. Obviously your basement is not the right place.

    We watched the ants in our garden do this this year — my partner just happened to notice the start. They do it all at once, probably so a few escape the hoards of spiders & birds that come to try to pig out.

    Now the international law lesson — I know less about this, but anyway, *no* book can be sold in both the UK & the US. It’s some kind of scam perpetuaded by the publishers, the importers, the duty people / govt. etc. but the law is hundreds of years old. I’ve heard a lot about this because of how silly it is to need seperate editions for academic books that are only going to sell a few hundred anyway.

  10. Pam Isherwood says:

    I’m confused about the spanners. And torches. How do you undo nuts over there without spanners? And do you all carry jars of glow-worms around for seeing in the dark? Tho you may be on to something – the conservative party here (hisssss….) has just changed its logo from a flaming torch – old style, gripped in fist with real flames – to an oak tree. They’ve bypassed the glow-worms and gone straight to endanged species.

  11. kat says:

    I think “spanners” is used in the UK… dad’s a British mechanic and that’s what he says….is there an American word for them as well??
    Torches are flashlights in British.
    Puddings are desserts.
    …so confusing…

    just to add a few weird differences:
    pavement (there)= sidewalk (here)
    estate (referring to a car)=station-wagon

    actually, could someone more knowledgeable in grammar comment on the last one?? In England, “whilst” is used ubiquitously, whereas here, it’s almost always “while.” Is one technically “correct” or is one or the other country using the correct word some of the time and the incorrect one the other half of the time??

    sorry to get off topic….

  12. --MC says:

    “Spanners” = wrenches.
    Cf. “A Spaniard In The Works”, a great pun that few people get Stateside.

  13. Alex K says:,,1810588,00.html

    Some months back; cursory; and dealing with the American edition, so perhaps the GUARDIAN, rather than the Sunday OBSERVER, will take up, and do fuller justice to, the version published by Cape.

  14. Siena says:

    At the camp in Vermont I went to during high school, one of the cabins is annually infested with those things. Usually one of the maintainence guys comes and exterminates. I don’t think we’ve ever really figured out what they are (termites? carpenter ants? rejected females?) but if it’s any consolation, the cabin is still standing…

  15. DSW says:

    These days we use both wrench and spanner in Britain, and no one says flash-light, it’s always a torch. I actually thought flash-light was the american version.

  16. Pam Isherwood says:

    I thought wrenches were those buxom hussies beloved by W Shakespeare…

  17. Ellen O. says:

    You are right. Flashlight is the U.S. version.

    My favorite British/American English story takes place in Australia, where I was doing frog field work with an international group. Late at night, beside a stream bed, I was recording weights and measurements for the Australian professor, Michael, when I asked if he had a ruler in his supply box.

    “Oh, yes,” he said, “ruler, pencil sharper, a rubber–everything we need.” A rubber? Was this very nice married man coming on to me?

    Turns out a rubber is the British/Aussie word for a pencil eraser. Here in the states, it’s a condom.

    Well, whack my fanny pack and toss me a torch.

  18. Pam Isherwood says:

    Two other favo(u)rites:
    “I was mad about my flat.”
    “Get on the pavement quick, there’s a lorry coming.”
    (apparently leading to near demise of enlish person’s american nephew as he jumped into the road to see the exciting parrot (lori)).
    lorry = truck

  19. Agnes says:

    Well, since we’re on the topic, here’s another favorite US-vs-UK story.

    I used to teach French-to-English translation classes to British university students, who mostly understood my American English. But one translation passage involving a reference to some male character’s clothing left them so baffled that I tried to explain in English: “he’s wearing suspenders to hold up his pants”.

    Ooops… First came round-eyed stares, then a few giggles, before one student could bring herself to explain that the word “pants”, in the UK, refers exclusively to men’s underwear (darn! should’ve said “trousers”), and “suspenders”, well, erm, are worn to hold stockings up, or they used to be. Was that really what I meant?

    No, it wasn’t, but it took a sketch on the blackboard to figure that one out. British trousers, I was told, are held up with “braces”, painful as that may sound to American ears. I made a careful note, to spare myself future embarrassment – as might anyone planning book tours to London in the near future… just in case. 🙂

  20. kat says:

    DSW–thanks! I wrote the flashlight thing backwards….that’s what I get for commenting at 6am before I’ve had a chance to wake up!!

  21. kat says:

    yes, the pants v. trousers issue is really important!!!

    Last year, while living in London, I read a story in the little commuter newspaper about “No-Pants Day” on the New York subway. A friend with a very heavy Welsh accent, who had not seen the picture of men in suit jackets and socks and shoes, looked at me with big round eyes and exclaimed “But how would anybody KNOW they weren’t wearing any pants??!?!?!”

    The quote is great if you imagine the accent with big rolled “r”s and stuff.

  22. Aunt Soozie says:

    Hi Alison,
    Don’t know if you solved the problem yet but I had some similar buggies swarming outside of my house once. I was concerned that they were termites. The exterminator said to squish some and then smell them. They smelled just like citronella candles…she said if they did smell like citronella they weren’t termites but citronella bugs.

    Anyway, whether they’re termites or flying ants or carpenter ants or citronella bugs…the fact that they’re in the house makes me agree with the “call the exterminator” thing.

    This weekend I went to the insectarium at the museum of life and science in Durham, North Carolina. (for the second time!) My daughter adores it, mostly because of my horrified response to its inmates. It’s appalling… centipedes… over an inch wide and more than seven inches long, huge cockroaches, big spiders, giant stick bugs…that looked like they were doing the nasty…does anyone know if stick bugs do the nasty?

    I highly recommend it to all bug afficionados. It’s fabulously repulsive.

  23. Deb says:

    Aunt Soozie……… sounds fabulously repulsive……….I would need to be clinging onto someones arm to go through that place! Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!

  24. Aunt Soozie says:
    I did…hang onto my luhvah’s arm…you gotta.
    some ant info…
    and some more…
    uh oh Alison,
    Your looks like the termites to me…

  25. Nicky UK says:

    so, if you change all the american words into Uk jargon, are you going to change all the town names as well, cos most of them wont be in the UK?
    and then we might as well make the whole family actually british and put them through the UK university system. so that we can understand it over here……….
    in other words, leave the wrenches and facetes (wrong spell I know) cos the book is set in the USA.

    and I can tell the difference cos the UK edition publisher is jonathan cape and mine is by the american publisher

  26. Chloe says:

    I had the same eaxct outbreak of these kinds of bugs in early spring. It was truly weird. They just appeared out of nowhere, and only in one area of the basement. The exterminator was quite confused himself about them. They seemed like termites, but no one was really sure. He did spray something and thankfully, they went away.

    I hope by the time of your next post, they are gone for good.

  27. Leshka says:

    To figure out any type of bug imaginable…

    Warning: Some photos not for the faint of heart.

  28. NLC says:

    Since the bug and brit-american-divergent-english
    topics have been pretty well covered, I’d like to
    go back to the point about the English edition.

    In particular, I noticed that –according to the website– the Brit edition of _Fun Home_
    is a paperback. (I assume this means that it also
    doesn’t include the cool, perforated dust-jacket.)

    Is this the only Brit edition? Will there be a
    hardcover edition “over there”?

  29. Jessica Ware says:

    I’m an entomologist and I have a soft spot for lovely, winged insects like these. I could give you a family, genus and species name if I could see a picture of the wing venation close up, and a picture of the ventral side. But not everyone likes knowing the names of things they want to exterminate, so I’d understand if you pass on the offer!

  30. Deb says:

    WOW! I just love all the diversity of people and opinions on this blog! Look! We have an entomologist! This is just so cool!

  31. Lu says:

    I’ve had a couple of memorable run-ins with the English vs American language.
    The first was when I was visiting a friend in Scotland. It was getting chilly, and I wanted to change into warmer jeans, so there I was on the street explaining to her and her Scottish friends that before we went to the pub I had to change my pants. Yikes.
    My favorite Brit-speak moment was when a man bumped into me on the Underground. Like many people he mistook me for a man and said “Sorry, Mate” but then looked closer and said “OH! Sorry, Luv.”

  32. Ann S in Madison says:

    More Britishisms = Americanisms

    “I’m gagging for a fag” = “I’m dying for a smoke”

    “I’m gagging for a shag” = “I really need to get laid”

    “Chuck the telly in the boot” = “Put the television in the trunk”

    “Do not alight whilst the carriage is still moving” = “Don’t exit until the train has come to a complete stop”

    I’m just going to pop round to the chemist” = “I’m going to run to the drugstore”

  33. TSW says:

    My favorite Britglish/Armeriglish story is from a young American woman in London, who was appalled when a new male friend said “I’ll come knock you up in the morning.”

    He only meant he would knock on her door. She thought he was proposing impregnation.

  34. Jen says:

    Here is how you tell a winged ant from a winged termite:

    In case you want to get all entomological with it.

    I can’t see enough in the photo to tell for sure. I’d be inclined to agree with the people who said carpenter ant though.

    Either way you have nuptial flights in your basement!

  35. CZ says:

    Re: Ellen O.’s comment to, ‘whack my fanny pack’
    Not sure if it was an intended joke or not.

    A fanny is quite a different thing in the UK.

  36. DSW says:

    hehehe, quite!
    i was shocked to find my kid brothers watching a cartoon in which a woman yelled out, “there’s a fork stuck in my fanny!” until i realised that it was an american cartoon and the meaning very different….

  37. KVN says:

    Poor Maira Kalman- what’s she doing in the basement??

  38. Julie Stahlhut says:

    Sorry to take so long. Several folks have already IDd your critters for you — they’re’ indeed ants, ready for a mating flight. I’m a molecular ecologist who works primarily with insects, but I’m not an ant taxonomist, so you should probably take up Jessica on her offer if you want a better ID! They do look like they could be carpenter ants, Camponotus, but to tell for sure I’d have to look at the thorax and abdomen sideways without the wings present.

    They’re not termites — the head and wings are all wrong. Quick way to tell: Pick one up (with tweezers if you’re squeamish) and have a close look. On winged termites, the four wings are all the same length and much longer than the body. On winged ants, the fore and hind wings are different. Ants have a “wasp waist” with one or two scales or nodes between the thorax and abdomen in side view. Termites have a thicker thorax-abdomen connection. Ants have elbowed antennae, and termites don’t. And, if the workers are carrying pupae around, they’re definitely ants.

    The crawling ants aren’t metamorphosing into winged ants. Either you’re seeing both workers (wingless) and reproductives (winged), or else you’re seeing the females after they mate and “de-alate” themselves, which means they pull off their own wings. They metabolize their own wing muscles as a nutrient reserve while they’re rearing their first workers.

    If they’re carpenter ants and they’re nesting in your house, you might want to look for leaks that are leaving behind soggy or rotting wood. Carpenter ants don’t eat wood, but they do nest in it, and they’re more likely to get started if there’s soft wet wood around.

    You live in Vermont, no? UVM’s extension-entomology program has this information about carpenter ants:

    And, yes, I do really love bugs! Just spent my 50th birthday at the Montreal Insectarium!

    — Julie

  39. kate says:

    termites–most definitely–call exterminator quick–behavior is also typical of them (swarming)

  40. Andrew O. says:

    Bugs are our FRIEBDS. In most cases.

    Re suspenders: one of the more nauseating scennes in Winneie the Pooh takes place when Piglet is excited to see that Christopher Robin’s braces are as blue and bracey as he remembered. I was baffled by this for many years, then wondered if there was not an erotic component I’d been missing out on.

  41. JimmiJon says:

    They are the offspring of Rummey! Quick ~ torch them while you can before they try to take over the Middle East!!!

  42. Ellen says:

    It had a good review in this week’s ‘New Statesman’ also! 🙂

  43. kimmie says:

    they’re citronella bugs…squish them and they’ll smell like citronella candles. our exterminator says they are harmless…but they are icky! we have them now and every fall. they come up through our kitchen drain…or around it.

  44. kimmie says:

    we’re renovating our kitchen….so we’re down to the studs in the walls on the ourside kitchen wall. last night there were about 100 of those things…i tried to kill them with hairspray…it just stuck them to the surfaces….

    ok…so last night dh soaked the wall and then today filled in all the cracks etc with expanding insulation foam.

    we were good til about 5:30. i was in mt scrapping room and came through the kitchen to go in the living room to watch tv. went back in the kitchen at 6 and there were 4x more than yesterday…they were flying (swarming) all over the window…you couldn’t see the ledge there were so many.

    called dh and he said to go buy soemthing to spray..well the concentrated stuff didn’t work last night….the stuff that kills flies/spiders etc for months!

    so i broke out the clorox cleanup. it killed them. i need to go back in there and see if there are anymore…it’s been almost an hour….

    ewwwww i so hate this! this has never happened…when the cabinets and walls were in we only would have a few for a week and then they were gone til next year…this is awful!

  45. Robb says:

    They certainly look like bugs I’ve got in my yard, spawning by the million it seems.
    They smell like Citronella candles when I squish them, so I don’t think there a harmful ant either.