I was trying to prevent a death. Or at least an odor.

Our minivan was truckin’ up Interstate 26 as we drove home from a Christmas celebration. Crawling up the side of my husband’s seat was a stink bug. He was driving. The husband – not the stink bug.

At least I think it was a stink bug. It had a gray shield-shaped back and six legs. Two antennae. And a desire to get near my husband. Stink bugs belong to a group of insects called “true bugs.” This would be a good name for a crime documentary about ticks or roaches, which are both demons incarnate. Trouble is, ticks and roaches are not true bugs.

Scientists reserve the term bug for the order, “Hemiptera.” This order does not include ants, bees, beetles, or butterflies. (These are cool insects – often attractive, hard-working. Like the overachievers in high school. If you recall the flick, “Breakfast Club,” these insects are a combination of the Brain and the Princess.) But back to True Bugs, which include cicadas and bed bugs. Not every insect called a bug is a bug. A lovebug is a fly (or a Volkswagen). A ladybug is a beetle. To be a True Bug, you must be able to suck with your mouthparts. I don’t know which entomologist made this up, but them’s the rules. True Bugs are the only insects who can do this.

You may have learned in elementary school that butterflies suck with their mouthparts. They fly from flower to flower and pull out sweet nectar which tastes like Dr. Pepper. But butterflies do not suck with mouthparts. A butterfly curls his tongue and drinks through it like a straw. This is why butterflies get to sit at the cool table in the school lunch room. Why is a butterfly tongue not a “mouth part”? Because “mouth part” sounds so plebian, and butterflies sued in 1984 to ensure that they don’t have to associate with plain ol’ bugs.

“I don’t have ‘mouth parts,’” sniffed the plaintiff butterfly. “I have a tongue. Scientists call it a proboscis, but I call it a tongue because that sounds more French.”

Back to stink bugs and our drive up Interstate 26. They’re called stink bugs because they stink if you disturb them. “Disturbing them” includes killing them. I didn’t want Stinky the stink bug to smell up our minivan. I also sympathized with the bug because I didn’t get to sit at the cool kids table in high school.

I flicked Stinky off my husband’s seat. He landed somewhere in the backseat which was risky. If my daughter spotted the stink bug, she would not hesitate to smash him. Thirty seconds later, Stinky crawled toward the front seats. He ambled up that piece of car furniture between the two front seats that serves as a place for your sunglasses or your Chick-fil-A fries.

I decided the only way to rid ourselves of Stinky without smashing him was to put him out the window. We had a small trash can in the front seat. I used a napkin to steer him into the trash can. My plan was to hold the trash can out the open window, and the 70-mph breeze would carry Stinky away.

You may have heard that if you let a fly or bee or stink bug out the window while the car is moving at high speed, the insect immediately dies due to the change in air pressure or speed or velocity or some other word invented by scientists. I looked it up on The Internet, which scientists use on occasion. (Good scientists learn everything in a lab or from a book and use The Internet only when looking for romantic partners. To be a romantic partner for a scientist, you must like bugs or velocity.) The article I found said, No worries, Stinky would likely survive when he got blown out the window.  

As I researched bugs and insects, I saw a picture of a fly foot taken by an electron microscope. A fly’s foot has pads covered in Tenant Setae, which sounds like an apartment finder website for French scientists. Chemists and biologists in Paris can cruise through the apartment finder with their romantic partners. In reality, tenant setae are tiny sticky body parts that help flies hold on to glass and walls. I’m getting around to why this matters.

Where you will not find tenant setae is on my fingers.

Recall that Stinky was in the trash can. I opened my window, held the trash can out and – whoosh! – Stinky and the trash can went flying out the window. My grip on the trash can was no match for a 70-mph whoosh.

“Oh no!” I yelped. “There goes the trash can!”

“You thought you could hold on to it?” asked my husband.

“Yes! Why didn’t you tell me I have no tenant setae?”


“Yikes!” I said. I craned my neck. “What if the trash can hit the car behind us?”

“It didn’t,” said my husband. “I saw it fly off into the grass.”

“Oh, I hope you’re right. I was trying to get rid of Stinky.”


“The stink bug.”

“You got rid of the trash can too.”

 “Yes, I realize that now.”

Somewhere along the interstate in Laurens County, South Carolina, is a dark gray plastic trash can.

“Do you think that’s how all the trash gets on the sides of the highway?” I asked my husband. “Maybe people who don’t understand physics are trying to save stink bugs?”

“No,” he said, “I think people don’t tie their mattresses down properly.”

“I feel bad about littering.”

“You should.”

I haven’t bought a new trash can yet. Amazon has fancy ones, but all I want is a plain ol’ plastic receptacle to catch trash and true bugs. Next time I’ll wait til we’re at a rest area to release. I don’t want to be a litter bug anymore. Litter bugs don’t get to sit at the cool table.

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