World's Largest Bug
Providence, Rhode Island
While giant cockroaches may be biding their time in a bid for world domination, America has been infested with other giant bugs for a long time; a huge praying mantis here, a humongous horse fly there, a titanic killer bee way down there. And shocking numbers of VW beetle "spiders" scuttle in the margins.
But for decades, Providence, Rhode Island has been home to the biggest creepy-crawler of all.
The "Big Blue Bug" of Providence is a termite, 58 feet long, which is 928 times actual termite size. It was built at a cost of $20,000, made of steel and fiberglass, and weighs two tons.
The termite nests on the roof of New England Pest Control (which renamed itself Big Blue Bug Solutions in 2012), as if scanning neighboring Massachusetts for something large, tasty, and wooden. The termite was originally painted purple, the color of a swarming Reticulitermes flavipes. Then the paint faded to blue and everyone started calling it the Big Blue Bug. This had a catchy ring, and New England Pest Control wisely began referring to itself as "Home of the Big Blue Bug" and repainting the termite a vibrant blue every few years. In 1990 a local radio contest rechristened the bug "Nibbles Woodaway" -- a clever name, but most folks in Providence still call it the Big Blue Bug.
David Pontes, general manager of New England Pest Control, told us that 35,000 people a day drive by the termite, which is only a few feet from an elevated section of Interstate 95. "The bug is what brings the business in," he said. "We do way over a million dollars a year in termite work alone."
What's perhaps most impressive about the bug is that it's acquired the status of a national celebrity. It's made appearances on Oprah! and in the movie Dumb and Dumber. It's featured on a big map of wearily familiar attractions at the airport in Denver, Colorado. David told us that fans from around the world have requested (and received) over 50,000 8x10 publicity photos of the big bug.
Closer to home, Nibbles Woodaway is such a beloved civic symbol that it was featured on a Rhode Island scratch-off lottery ticket. It left its perch in the summer of 2002 while its legs were being repaired, and took a goodwill tour of Rhode Island and Massachusetts on the back of a flatbed truck. An engaged couple once asked to get married next to the bug, but New England Pest Control vetoed the idea for safety reasons.
The roof on which Nibbles stands is windswept, and the big bug's legs are bolted to the building's I-beams, making it the only hurricane-proof giant termite in the world. "The whole roof would have to blow off before Nibbles would blow off," said David. Other attractions in Providence have not been so mindful of New England weather, and have suffered the consequences.
Nibbles often gets dressed for the holidays: in an Uncle Sam hat and beard on July 4; a witch's hat and broom on Halloween; and a red blinking nose, antlers, and 5,000 twinkling lights during the Christmas holidays.
Testifying to the popularity of the termite, the retail store at New England Pest Control has at times sold Big Blue Bug pens, jar openers, plush toy replicas, hats, and t-shirts (It was only selling chemicals when we visited). One of the collectibles, a shaky-shaky Big Blue Bug plastic lottery number picker, had us wondering if perhaps the whole linkage of gambling and termite had gone too far -- but, then, it's difficult to imagine a spirit guide more fun to follow than a burrowing Big Blue Bug.
We asked David if New England Pest Control had ever considered building a second giant termite on its roof -- a Mrs. Bug or a Nibbles Jr. -- to boost visibility and multiply the love. David said no; there was plenty of affection for Nibbles, and a second bug would only eat up prime roof real estate that's reserved for advertising signs. Thanks to the eye-catching Big Blue Bug, said David, "We get tens of thousands of dollars a sign, and they're booked two years in advance."