On your mark. Get set. Go! The IOC declares the imaginary “2012 Pest Olympics” open.
In July 27 the world will watch with anticipation as the 2012 Summer Olympic Games — officially the Games of the XXX Olympiad — begin with the Opening Ceremony. Athletes from more than 200 countries will parade into London’s Olympic Stadium under their nation’s flag, eager to compete with each other in 26 sports.
But imagine if never-before-seen athletes entered the stadium this year — that’s right, pests. Ants, bed bugs, cockroaches, fleas, mice and rats! What if, in last minute, closed-door, totally fictional sessions, the International Olympic Committee made a radical decision to allow pests to participate in the games to demonstrate their amazing athletic abilities? (The pests would of course compete against each other in a gesture of fairness toward their human counterparts.)
Here’s a preview of what we imagine such an Olympics would look like...
Ants. The Olympics’ website says that weightlifting is “…a test of pure strength — the oldest and most basic form of physical competition.” This seems an apt competition for muscle-bound ants, said to have crawled the earth for more than 100 million years.
Before the games began, weight-lifting ants warmed up in open sessions. The crowd quieted as a buff ant contemplated the weights. He bent down and…a collective gasp as the spectators tried to make sense out of what they saw. He was lifting the weights clear over his head using only his mandibles! The weight was staggering — more than 20 times his body weight. A human would have to clean and jerk a car — using only his jaws — for a fair competition. Ants’ impressive weight-lifting ability is purely physiology. Their muscles are thicker than their human counterparts, which allow them to produce greater force and carry larger, heavier objects.
Ants will likely compete in the aquatic sports as some of them can swim and even survive under water for nearly 24 hours. Unfortunately, the latter ability would not make for an exciting competition. The sole survivor would be declared the winner, but as for the rest of the athletes...
Ants were strongly discouraged by the IOC from competing in the wrestling categories, as they often fight to the death.
One question remains — will acrobat ants compete in any of the gymnastic events?
Bed Bugs. Bed bugs trained hard and are ready for their debut in the Pest Olympic marathon. It is more about distance than speed for these athletes, as they are capable of traversing 100 feet when they are motivated to feed. That is nearly 10,000 times their body length, which is only 1/8 inch long. It does not seem to be a great distance when we consider a 26-mile human marathon, but it is a huge accomplishment for bed bugs.
Bed bugs rarely, if ever, miss practice or a meet as they are the only known insects to have a specialized immune organ. They are outstandingly healthy athletes.
Cockroaches. Unable to reach an agreement, each species of cockroach — American, Argentine, Australian, Cuban, German, Madagascar, Nicaraguan, Surinam, and Turkestan — will be competing under its own national flag.
Each species has entered the short distance races. They have a rapid nervous system, making them quick to respond and extremely fast, which allows them to run an astonishing 3.3 feet per second. Instinctively, they run in the opposite direction from approaching threats. So, when the gun fires, the roaches’ coaches stand behind them and give them a gentle poke to get them going — a slight movement of air would prompt the same lightening-fast response. These adept athletes can also change direction up to 25 times per second, although this characteristic can unexpectedly send them scurrying off the track on windy days.
Many of the roaches have also entered a number of swimming events. They can stay underwater for entire races, as they have no lungs and are able to remain submerged for several minutes. Günter, a team-Germany cockroach, can stay submerged in cold water for up to 15 minutes. Unfortunately, if the water were warm, he would only have a few minutes before he succumbs. Günter only swims sprints.
Medics are on alert as the average cockroach has six legs, increasing the chances of blowing out any one its 18 knees during a race. Luckily, if a leg is broken, they can simply grow another and in time for next season.
As talented as the cockroaches are, the coaches are challenged to find the best way to motivate these scampering athletes. Spending about three-quarters of their lives at rest, they are naturally born couch potatoes.
Fleas. Fleas are only competing in the athletics competitions, as their exemplary jumping skills are known worldwide. They are expected to sweep the long-jump events.
For the long jump, cocooned competitors will be rolled one-by-one to the starting line by their fellow athletes. These highly motivated jumpers, despite their poor eyesight, will be eagerly poised to find a warm-blooded host on which to feed. Wenlock, the 2012 Olympic mascot, will stand at the end of the long jump pit. Although the mascot represents a drop of steel, its human escort will be a suitable target. Wenlock waves its arms and, leaping in the direction of the movement, the fleas jump more than 150 times their body length — nearly 13 inches! It may not seem very impressive until one realizes their human counterparts would have to jump a 1,000-foot pit in a single bound.
Unfortunately, Wenlock is stuck with the athletic fleas after the competition. They rarely jump to a new host.
Rats. Rats and mice have decided to enter the Olympics as independent teams as a result of their long-time, highly publicized rivalry. As an aside, both teams’ opening ceremony costumes and athletic wear are disappointing. They are all color blind.
The rats brought their very best to the games, selected from an unfathomable number of worldwide athletes. They will be competing in jumping, swimming and gymnastic events. Several enthusiastic rats, as well as mice, desperately wanted to compete in the javelin throw, but without thumbs, performance at practice sessions was dismal, dashing their dreams.
Rats are cool competitors. You will never see them sweat on or off the field, which may be psychologically intimidating to their competitors. They use their tails to regulate their body temperature, keeping competitors on edge with their steely calm.
A sport was created to highlight the rodents’ unique abilities: the vertical long jump. At one facility, some of the rats were able to jump an astounding 20 inches straight up after only a week of training. After nearly three months of training, they improved their performance by an amazing 50 percent to 30 inches. These same rat athletes were seen clearing four feet vertically with a running start. The rats’ rapid, post-jump descent renders them unharmed, as usual.
The rats should do well in all of their short distance running events. At short-burst speeds of 24 miles per hour, they would actually be able to compete alongside their human counterparts who have clocked similar speeds.
We expect the rats will also do well in their swimming events. They have an affinity for water and during extensive training were seen treading water for more than three days — the rats’ coaches are merciless. Several will be competing in the open water races, demonstrating their ability to swim up to one-half mile at speeds exceeding 0.86 miles per hour. It will be a significantly shorter distance than the human’s open water race, but a likely fan favorite nonetheless.
Combined with their fearless jumping and falling abilities, you will find several rats in the diving competition. Rats can hold their breath for as long as 15 minutes and dive down to 100 feet, making them formidable competitors.
The rats could sweep the gymnastic balance beam competition, as they are renowned for their agility when scurrying quickly across thin ropes and phone lines. The rivalry between the rats and mice will heat up during these events.
Mice. Although smaller in stature, mice will be competing in many of the same events as the rats.
Mice were seen jumping an impressive 14 inches vertically using a cardboard box as a training apparatus. They can achieve distances of up to two feet in the long jump — very impressive for their size.
Efficient swimmers, house mice can mousey-paddle at a rate of .04 miles per hour. Not formidable enough for competition, but you have to give them credit for trying.
Mice are hopeful that the IOC will add a climbing event to the 2020 Summer Pest Olympics, allowing them to demonstrate their innate skills. They are able to scale almost any roughened vertical surface including wood, brick, weathered sheet metal, cables and pipes without breaking stride.
Like their rat competitors, the mice will have a natural advantage in the balance beam event resulting from their keen balance and natural ability to also navigate ropes, telephone wires and similarly thin objects. It will be a fierce competition.
The Final Celebration. We hope the athletes participating in the first Pest Olympics, as well as their human counterparts, compete hard and to the best of their ability. On August 12, with medals tallied and competition and rivalry put aside, the athletes will enter Olympic Stadium for the last time for an international celebration of sportsmanship.
A warning for the human athletes: as the flame flickers out bringing the Games of the XXX Olympiad to a close, watch where you step.
Editor’s Note: Several resources were used in writing this article, including the Handbook of Pest Control, Mallis, 10th edition, and a variety of websites: scienceblogs.com; ten-facts-about.com; webecoist.com; discovermagazine.com; insects.about.com; buginfo.com; oddstuffmagazine.com; and rentokil.com, among others. Facts found in a majority of sources were generally used when conflicting information was found.
Dan Austin is the owner of Perspective Communications in Milwaukee. Learn more about his firm at www.perspectivemke.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.