Insects And Human Culture

Aside from their importance as pests and our academic interest in insects, these creatures, spiders, and related arthropods have considerable influence in that portion of human activity that may be called the humanities—music, art, literature, language, religion, and folklore (fig. 1.8). The study of these influences is a general area of insect study called cultural entomology (Hogue 1987). Examples appear among historical, modern, and indigenous peoples. (Some of the more general are cited below; many other specific cases are scattered through the remainder of this book in the sections on the various insects involved; for Mexico, see MacGregor 1969.)

Insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions appear in the Mayan Codices (Dresden, Tro-Cortesianus, and Peresianus), indicat-

Figure 1.8 Decorative plates from modern Peru prominently featuring images of the fly (chuspi), revered in Incan times and a design motif in Andean art today. (Original, author's collection)

ing an appreciation of their existence and their inclusion in cultural events, such as rituals, ceremonies, and dances. The famous Nasca figures include an immense spider (fig. 1.9). Portions of same are also stylized as glyphs having linguistic significance (Tozzer and Allen 1910). In the eighteenth century, it was believed that a small, red insect (still unidentified but called "coya" in the Orinoco region) caused severe skin eruptions; its effects could only be remedied by ceremoniously passing the body through a fire made from a specific grass ("guayacan") (Kamen-Kaye 1979). Many such curious accounts of insects fill the accounts of early visitors and colonists in the New World (Cowan 1865).

Insects have lent their names to many places in Latin America. Among the better known are Chapultepec, the "hill of the grasshoppers" (chapuiin = grasshopper + tepee = hill) where the Aztec Emperor Montezuma's castle was built in what is now part of Mexico City, and Urubamba, "plain of the insect" (uru = spider or evolved ones; none of the latter has yet been observed in nature.

Scientific names are properly pronounced according to the rules of Latin, but their way of being spoken usually varies according to the native accent of the speaker. This should bother no one except Latin scholars, as long as the name is understood.

Common names, or vulgates, are applied to the insects and their relatives in all Latin American countries. Léxica have been published for Chile (Brücher 1942, Perez D'Angello 1966), Peru (Dourojeanni 1965), Brazil (Baucke 1961, Biezanko and Link 1972, Monte 1928, da Silva 1930-1934) and Haiti (Audant 1941). Many vulgates are adopted directly from indigenous languages, some tribes and local cultures being prolific nomenclaturists, especially in Brazil (Monte 1928). These suffer from frequent spelling and pronunciation variations, particularly in Brazil (where, in general, I follow von Ihering's [1968] orthography). At least partial entomological glossaries exist for the following native tongues: Mayan (Welling 1958), Aztec (= Nahuatl, etc.; Ordoño 1982), Kunza (= Atacameño; Munizaga and Herrera 1957), Jívaro (Guallart 1968), Tupí-Guaraní (Tastevin 1923), and Quechua (García 1976). Vernacular names appear according to no consistent set of standards, varying from place to place or time to time with different origins and related to the nature of the society employing them (Stoetzel 1989). Phonetic variations in spelling are common.

Scientists and educated people often form simple transliterations of technical names (muscids or muscideos, from Mus-cidae) or accommodate names of classic origin (scarabs or escarabajos, from Greek karabos). Laymen and country folk are likely to invent quaint, often descriptive appellations that frequently apply to an insect's behavior (saltamonte = "hill jumper") or stinging abilities (lagarta de fogo = "fire worm"), anatomy (tijeretas = "scissor bearers"), or that are onamatapoetic (cricket, chicharras), or that may be without obvious derivation (gallinipper). Sometimes these are literal translations from modern languages (scorpions, escorpiones) or usages (tarantulas) not common to the region. Mixtures of sympatric languages also occur (sede [Spanish] + ocuilin [Nahuatl] = sedeo-cuilin = silkworm). The only attempt to standardize common names has been made with pest species in English (Stoetzel 1989).

Most languages have a broad term for insects and like animals, roughly equivalent to the English, for example, "bug" ("worm" or "grub"): bicho (Spanish and Portuguese) and ocuilin (Nahuatl).


Audant, A. 1941. Identification des insectes d'Haiti par leur nom créole. Soc. Hist. Geogr. Haiti, Rev. 12(42): 51-55. [Not seen.] Baucke, O. 1961. Os nomes comuns dos insectos no Rio Grande do Sul. Sec. Agrie., Porto Alegre. Biezanko, C. M., and D. Link. 1972. Nomes populares dos Lepidópteros no Rio Grande do Su) (Segundo Gatalogo). Univ. Fed. Santa Maria, Bol. Tec. 4: 3-15. Brücher, G. 1942. Lista de algunos nombres vulgares de insectos. Dept. San. Veg. (Min. Agrie., Santiago) Bol. 2(2): 120-125. da Silva, B. R. 1930-1934. Nomenclatura popular dos Lepidópteros do Distrito Federal and seus arredores. Vols. 1-5. O Campo, Rio de Janeiro.

Dourojeanni, M.J. 1965. Denominaciones vernaculares de insectos y algunos otros invertebrados en la selva del Perú. Rev. Peruana Entomol. 8: 131-137. García, R. J. 1976. Nombre de algunos insectos y otros invertebrados en "Quechua." Rev. Peruana Entomol. 19: 13-16. Goto, H. E. 1982. Animal taxonomy. Arnold

(Inst. Biol., Stud. Biol. no. 143), London. Guallart, J. M. 1968. Nomenclature Jibaro-Aguaruna de la fauna del Alto Marañón (Invertebrados). Biota 7: 195-209. Iherinc, R. von. 1968. Dicionário dos animais do Brasil. Ed. Univ. Brasilia, Sao Paulo.

Monte, O. 1928. Os nomes vulgares dos insectos de Brasil. Almanak Agrie. Brasil. 1928: 228-289.

mrnizaga, C., and J. Herrera. 1985. Notas entomológicas de Socaire (Obtenidas durante la Expedición Chileno-Alemana a Socaire, en mayo de 1957). Notas Centr. Est. Antropol.. Univ. Chile, 1:3-13.

Ordoño, C. M. 1982. Diccionario de zoología Náhuatl. Ed. Innovación, Mexico.

Pérez D'Angkllo, V. 1966. Concordancia entre los nombres vulgares y científicos de los insectos chilenos. Mus. Nac. Hist. Nat. Not. Mens. 10(119): 2-7.

Ride. W. D. L., C. VV. Sabrosky, G. Bernardi, and R. V. Melville, eds. 1985. International code of zoological nomenclature. 3d ed. Intl. Trust Zool. Nomen., London.

Stoetzel, M. B. 1989. Common names of insects and related organisms. Entmol. Soc. Amer. Lanham, Md.

Tastevin, C. 1923. Nomes de plantas e animaes em Lingua Tupy. Rev. Mus. Paulista 13: 687-763.

Welling, E. C. 1958. Some Mayan names for certain I.epidoptera in the Yucatán peninsula. J. Lepidop. Soc. 12: 118.

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