Category: "Bugs"


by Don  

At Christmas my niece played a tune by Owl City called “Fireflies.” I'm not into synthpop, but it touched me for some reason, and as my heart was bathing in the song's disconnected melancholy, I suddenly realized that I didn't know the word for firefly in any language but English. I didn't even know whether fireflies existed in Russia. It turns out that they do, and the formal word is светляк.


A quick trip to Russian Wikipedia gives us this:

Светляки — семейство жуков, насчитывающее около двух тысяч видов. Fireflies are a family of beetles that numbers about two thousand species.
Известно благодаря необычной способности излучать в темноте фосфорический свет. It [the family] is well known thanks to its unusual ability to emit a phosphorescent light in the darkness.
Распространены практически по всему свету. They are distributed over practically the entire world.

Although the formal word is светляк, when Russians casually discuss the insects, they use the diminutive form светлячок:


I think fireflies were put in the world for just one purpose: to teach us wonder. “Wonder” is one of those words that doesn't translate well into Russian. It is the feeling of surprise and admiration that stuns the soul when encountering unexpected beauty, that leaves our hearts momentarily still and simple and ready to know joy.

В долгие летние сумерки в поле недалеко от нашего дома играли мои племянник и племянница, и вокруг них летали десятки светлячков. During the long summer twilight my nephew and niece played in the field near our home while dozens of fireflies flew silently around them.¹
Во сне я танцевал в сосновом лесу перед светлячками. In my dream I was dancing before the fireflies in a pine forest.
На мою руку сел светлячок. Время от времени он светился, как будто хотел мне что-то сказать. A firefly landed on my hand. Every once in a while it glowed as if it wanted to tell me something.

¹ The word десятки actually means “sets of ten,” not “dozens.” Since the purpose of the word in this context is to indicate approximate quantities, “dozens” is the best equivalent.

deder Leuchtkäfer
frla luciole


by Timur  

Комар is translated as mosquito; комары is the plural form of the word. Here are some example sentences:

В лесу меня укусил комар. A mosquito bit me in the forest.
Комариные укусы сильно чешутся. Мosquito bites itch badly.
Не знаю, где мне укрыться от этих надоедливых комаров. Don’t know where I can hide from these annoying mosquitoes.
Здесь очень много больших комаров. There are a lot of big mosquitoes here.

The Moscow countryside is a fine place for freeing oneself from the constant stress and never-ending chaos of daily city life. It’s a place where people seek refuge on weekends and holidays to clear the mind and find some peace. Many Russians living in cities have country homes called dachas. But trying to reach a Zen-like state of relaxation can sometimes be quite difficult. I’m talking about the one loathsome neighbor that doesn’t mind his own business and wants to make your life just as miserable as his, the pointless calls from the residential council chairman asking for more money, occasional airplanes that happen to choose the one particular route that passes right above your dacha; but all that is nothing compared to the evil that a “комар” brings.

If your home is near the woods or a swampy lake of some sort, consider your evenings and nights ruined by these tiny vampires. Of course there are ways to keep the bloodsuckers away, but they are not too pleasant either. For instance you can stay in the house behind a closed window and enjoy the lovely evenings that way, but then what’s the point of even going out to the country? Then there is the mosquito repellent, but that chemical fusion can at times be so toxic that even humans will keep away. You could end up with an allergic reaction that is far worse than an itching “комар” bite.

Unfortunately, the only true, efficient way to stay unbothered is to have a certain natural quality that will keep them away. Don’t know what this quality is or how to acquire it. When my brother and I are out at night he rarely gets bitten, while I am basically eaten alive by the parasites—unless I'm wearing long sleeves. There also have been stories of people desperate enough to dig out deep ponds in their backyards and throw in fair-sized fish that can supposedly feed on the bloodsuckers.

Come to think of it, there actually is one plus for the weather being cold three quarters of the year.


by Don  

I have never had this conversation in Russian, but I can imagine having it:

— Боря, как перевести на русский «centipede»? “Boris, how do you translate ‘centipede’ into Russian?”
— «Сороконожка». “‘Сороконожка.’”
— А «millipede»? “And what about ‘millipede’?”
— Тоже «Сороконожка». “That's also ‘Сороконожка.’”
— Правда? Как русские их отличают друга от друга? “Really? How do Russians distinguish the one from the other?”
— Разве их нужно отличaть? “Do you really need to tell them apart?”
— Ещё бы! «Centipedes» больно кусаются, а «millipedes» не кусаются вообще. “And how! Centipedes have a painful bite, and millipedes don't bite at all.”

Being from the crazy American West where little ol’ ladies own pistols and any self-respecting plant has thorns and a self-respecting river should be dry, I seem to have always known the words centipede and millipede. The difference is vital. A millipede you can drop down the back of your friend's blouse, and she'll squirm and shout and hate you for a week, but she won't go to the hospital. If you drop a centipede down the back of your friend's blouse, the centipede will bite like crazy, and she will want to go to the hospital and will hate you forever.

The stem сорок- means forty. The stem нож- means leg/foot, and the -ка suffix makes it a noun. Thus сороконожка literally means forty-footer. Cool, huh? Russians apply the word to any creepy-crawly that has a whole bunch of legs. There's a more bookish word that has the same meaning, which is многоножка, which means many-footer. We have a calque of that word in English, myriapod, but I've only heard entomologists use it. Certainly ordinary people in the US don't know that word. There is another word, сколопендра (borrowed from Latin scolopendra) which means centipede exclusively. Here are some sample sentences:

Многоножки De Blainville — сапрофаги, питающиеся в почве растительными остатками (Russian Wikipedia) The De Blainville millipedes are saprophagous, feeding on plant remains in the soil.
Известны случаи нападения гигантской сколопендры на птиц, ящериц и жаб. (Russian Wikipedia) Giant centipedes have been known to attack birds, lizards and toads.
В Крыму есть популяции только самок сколопендр, они размножаются партеногенетически, без участия самцов. (source) In the Crimea there are centipede populations that are exclusively female; they reproduce partheno­genetically, without the help of males.

Эта сороконожка не кусается.
Она — твой друг.
Эта сороконожка кусается.
Она — не твой друг.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


by Tanya  

Image courtesy of
Wikimedia commons

I guess the world of insects is not well known to широким слоям населения the general public :), unless you are a biologist or smth. Myself I got a little exposure to the insect world when I visited my Ukrainian great-grandmother during my childhood. There, I got acquainted with creatures like божья коровка (lit., God's little cow), жуки-солдатики (lit., little soldier beetles), колорадский жук (lit., Colorado beetle), and the most interesting one, медведка, which literally means “little bear thing” but in English is translated as mole cricket. My great grandmother had a big orchard and garden and a big potato field, I used to help her tend the land. To rid the potato bushes of the насекомое-вредитель “insect pest” колорадский жук “Colorado potato beetle” (which we threw in jars with kerosene). Sometimes we saw a nasty creature that looked like a black crawfish coming out from their земляных норок burrows, and that юрко проползало между картофельных кустов scrambled nimbly amidst the potato plants. Seeing them always gave me a nasty feeling. My grandmother usually перерубала их мотыжкой или тяпкой chopped them in two with a hoe or hand rake. it seemed to be the only way to kill them.

Медведки - dangerous creatures, they harm клубни картофеля potato tubers и другие корнеплоды and other root vegetables. They eat them up underground, and if there is a colony of медведок, they can consume the whole potato crop, leaving people without their food supply for the winter. If there is a conventional way to destroy their colonies - I don't know it. Do you? I am wondering if медведки exist in the US? Or are American potatoes safe? :)

Jan. 12, 2011, Don adds: here's a video that will really give you a good idea of just how gross those медведки are. The video is from


by Don  

The word бабочка means butterfly or moth.
Вампир is one of several words that means vampire.

So the obvious question is how would you say “vampire moths”? That would be «бабочки-вампиры». The even more obvious question is why the heck would you want to say such a thing? The answer: blood-sucking moths have been discovered in Siberia. Really. I'm not kidding. Now we Americans have another reason never to leave the safety of our monolingual homes.

You can read about the critters here (mirror with translation).

1 2