Created By: Lavalyte on October 29, 2011 Last Edited By: Madrugada on May 27, 2014

Back Arach

Hey, is there something on my back?

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Page Type:
Trope
Turn around
Insects are creepy.

But what's particularly creepy is having one clambering across your back, where you may not even know it's there.

A Back Arach is often used to show how scarily exotic and potentially deadly to Western audiences a locale is. Someone will ask someone else if there's something on their back, only to turn around and have one or more giant insects or spiders there.

Sometimes the second person will casually say, 'turn around', show the audience the spiders, then brush them off.


Examples

Comic Strips
  • A The Far Side cartoon has an entomologist holding a jar labeled "Brazilian goliath spider" (the bird-eating ones), approaching a fellow scientist while telling him not to move. The tip of a spider's leg is visible on the other man's head.
  • Calvin and Hobbes has a strip where Hobbes tells Calvin not to move, since there's a bee on his back. As Hobbes casually mentions that since Calvin's tied up, he might as well go and read Calvin's comics. Calvin demands to know if there is one or not, Hobbes says no, but Calvin gets stung as it turns out it's Opposite Day.
  • Another Calvin example:
    Calvin: Is there a bee on my back?
    Hobbes: No.
    Calvin: Oh good...YEOW!!!
  • In one Garfield strip, Garfield watches a spider walking up Jon's shirt and wonders if he should point it out. He's still deciding when the spider reaches Jon's face and he screams.

Film - Animated
  • Blu in Rio manages to get a spider on his back, which Jewel brushes off, pretending it's a leaf so he doesn't get even more freaked out at the jungle.
  • Alex in Madagascar gets a good-sized spider on his back which freaks him out.

Film - Live-Action
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark. While Indy and Satipo are exploring the tunnel Indy gestures to Satipo to turn around. When Satipo does so, it's revealed that his back is covered with tarantulas. Indy then brushes them off with his whip.
  • Happens to Will Ferrell's character in Land of the Lost with a giant blood sucking tic.
  • Predator: Mac (seemingly) stabs Dillon in the back. It's revealed that he was actually aiming at a scorpion that was crawling on Dillon's back.
  • In Galaxy of Terror, one crew member is stalked by a big spider-like creature in the wrecked ship, and just when he thinks it's gone for good, we see its clawed legs rising behind his back, killing him.

Folklore
  • Kids rhyme:
    Ten knives in your back, blood running down,
    ten spiders crawling up, snakes all around.
    Cool Breeze, tight squeeze; now you've got
    the chills.

Live-Action Television

Video Games
  • The stock image of the Harvester race in Master of Orion III inverts this... sort of. The Harvester itself is a large bug-like creature, with a lifeless-looking humanoid pictured on its back—but that is apparently how the Harvester feeds on the humanoid, or whatever other type of sentient creature it's currently feeding on.
  • In World of Warcraft there's the Sabotage debuff applied by some huge insectoid enemies attacking your character from behind. The buff description? "Don't look now there's a mantid on your back!"

Western Animation
  • South Park. This happens in the episode "Rainforest Schmainforest," proving Cartman is right about the rain forest being a scary, deadly place. This is one in a series of events which leads the rainforest-loving Miss Stevens (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) to decide that she hates the rain forest instead.
  • A Crying Wolf short in Dexter's Laboratory involved Deedee annoying Dexter by constantly asking him "Dexter, what's that?!" and pointing dramatically. Dexter would look each time and see nothing, getting more and more frustrated. The third time, Deedee actually gets worried and says it again. Cut to Dexter smugly closing his eyes and saying "Oh no, I'm not going to fall for that again" while a gigantic mutant beetle crawls on his face.

Community Feedback Replies: 41
  • October 30, 2011
    HandsomeRob
    Donna Noble in Doctor Who, with the twist that not everybody can see it, and when they do, it's not Played For Laughs
  • October 30, 2011
    PaulA
    Doctor Who has also done sinister back arachnids in "Full Circle" and "Planet of Spiders".

    I'm not sure any of the Doctor Who examples are actually this trope, though; title aside, they don't really fit the description.
  • October 24, 2012
    Lavalyte
    other examples?
  • October 24, 2012
    Chabal2
    Not sure if they fit the "exotic locale" part, but:

    • Azumanga Daioh has a scene where Tomo tells Yomi not to move, as she has a cicada on her back, which Yomi has a crippling fear of.
    • Calvin Andhobbes has a strip where Hobbes tells Calvin not to move, since there's a bee on his back. As hobbes casually mentions that since Calvin's tied up, he might as well go and read Calvin's comics. Calvin demands to know if there is one or not, Hobbes says no, but Calvin gets stung as it turns out it's Opposite Day.
    • A Far Side cartoon has an entomologist holding a jar labeled "Brazilian goliath spider" (the bird-eating ones), approaching a fellow scientist while telling him not to move. The tip of a spider's leg is visible on the other man's head.
  • October 24, 2012
    Arivne
    Edit: Edited by Arivne to put a line underneath a picture that was breaking YKTTW. OP was Sonof Roj Blake. Sonof Roj Blake, to put your name back on this post just edit it in any way, such as by deleting this paragraph.

    You're not sure Doctor Who has any examples of this trope?

    That could practically be the page image.

    How about:
  • October 24, 2012
    Chernoskill
    A great trope-in-the-making. Sadly I have no immediate ideas for further examples. Keep it coming!
  • October 24, 2012
    shimaspawn

  • October 24, 2012
    dvorak
    ^^^ provide a link to the image you suggest, the image itself causes problems.
    • In Drow Tales, giant tame spiders sitting on one's back are used as fasion accessories.
  • October 25, 2012
    PaulA
    SonofRojBlake, that image is from "Planet of Spiders". You will notice that I explicitly mentioned "Planet of Spiders" as one of the Doctor Who stories that I don't think fit the trope description.

    This being my point: I can think of plenty of Doctor Who stories that fit the trope's name, but none that fit the (more specific) trope description.
  • October 26, 2012
    NightNymph
    • South Park: This happens in the episode "Rainforest Schmainforest," proving Cartman is right about the rainforest being a scary, deadly place. This is one in a series of events which leads the rainforest-loving Miss Stevens (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) to decide that she hates the rainforest instead.
  • October 27, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Video Games

    The stock image of the Harvester race in Master of Orion III inverts this... sort of. The Harvester itself is a large bug-like creature, with a lifeless-looking humanoid pictured on its back--but that is apparently how the Harvester feeds on the humanoid, or whatever other type of sentient creature it's currently feeding on.
  • October 27, 2012
    Psi001
    Work noting the South Park example was a Running Gag, with the same enormous bug crawling on her at least three times.
  • October 27, 2012
    GKaiser
    In World Of Warcraft there's the Sabotage debuff applied by some huge insectoid enemies attacking your character from behind. The buff description? "Don't look now there's a mantid on your back!"
  • August 26, 2013
    Lavalyte
    I'm extending the trope to basically "bugs on your back! Ick!"
  • August 26, 2013
    randomsurfer
    All the examples in the OP are 99% Zero Context.

  • August 27, 2013
    Arivne
    Expanded the Raiders Of The Lost Ark example in the OP.

    Namespaced and italicized work names, grouped examples by media.
  • August 27, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Film
  • August 28, 2013
    Shnakepup
    Not sure if this applies, since it's not the back, per se, but...

    • A Crying Wolf short in Dexters Laboratory involved Deedee annoying Dexter by constantly asking him "Dexter, what's that?!" and pointing dramatically. Dexter would look each time and see nothing, getting more and more frustrated. The third time, Deedee actually gets worried and says it again. Cut to Dexter smugly closing his eyes and saying "Oh no, I'm not going to fall for that again" while a gigantic mutant beetle crawls on his face.
  • August 28, 2013
    TonyG
    ^Actually, Dee Dee is flicking Dexter's nose when he looks.
  • August 29, 2013
    Chernoskill
    • In Galaxy Of Terror, one crew member is stalked by a big spider-like creature in the wrecked ship, and just when he thinks it's gone for good, we see it's clawed legs rising behind his back, killing him.
  • May 6, 2014
    JonnyB
    The first Doctor Who mention, regarding Donna Noble, should be added. The episode was called "Turn Left".
  • May 6, 2014
    dalek955
    • Another Calvin example:
      Calvin: Is there a bee on my back?
      Hobbes: No.
      Calvin: Oh good...YEOW!!!
    • In one Garfield strip, Garfield watches a spider walking up Jon's shirt and wonders if he should point it out. He's still deciding when the spider reaches Jon's face and he screams.
  • May 6, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Namespaced and italicized the examples, removed a Circular Link, moved the Rio and Madagascar examples from Western Animation to Film - Animated, and rearranged the media sections alphabetically.

    EDIT: Both the above mentioned examples need context added by the way.
  • May 7, 2014
    Chabal2
    Whoops, never mind.
  • May 7, 2014
    Arivne
    • Examples section formatting.
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Blue Linked media section titles(s).
      • Added a space between the * and the first word following it.
    • Added blank line(s) for readability.
    • Capitalized (hobbes).
    • Corrected spelling (it's -> its, convinient, rainforest -> rain forest).
    • Namespaced and italicized work name(s).
  • May 7, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ I take it someone overwrote my edit?
  • May 7, 2014
    Tiiba
    In Gullivers Travels, Gulliver had to fight wasps half as big as himself. After he killed one and pulled out its stinger, he realized that there's another one crawling over his shoulder. He picked a good moment and impaled it with the stinger.
  • May 7, 2014
    SharleeD
    Another reason this trope exists is that, in visual media, the special effects crew needn't create an entire closeup-worthy model to shoot a scene with: they can craft a high-quality leg which can reach menacingly over the endangered character's shoulder in close-up, then swap it for a less-detailed model when the POV pulls back to reveal the whole creepy-crawly.

    • On the second episode of Primeval, a woman is menaced by a giant prehistoric proto-spider as she's leaning in front of an open window on a tube train. The arachnid crawls up the outside of the train and sticks a couple of legs through the window, over her shoulders, ready to crawl onto her back and bite her. Subverted when she slams the window shut, cutting off one of its legs with the frame.
  • May 8, 2014
    AgProv
    on The Big Bang Theory, the episode where Raj and Howard are fighting for the coveted superhero identity concerning arachnids. Raj calls Howard's bluff by putting a tarantula on his back. Which he is unaware of until it moves onto his sleeve, whereupon he starts screaming like a girl.
  • May 8, 2014
    Snicka
    The Doctor Who examples need context. I only saw "Turn Left".

    • In the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", Donna Noble gets a giant beetle-like creature on her back after entering an Alternate Timeline. The twist is that not everybody can see it, and when they do, it's not Played For Laughs
  • May 22, 2014
    PaulA
    ^ The Doctor Who episodes do not need context, because they don't fit the trope description and therefore shouldn't be listed as examples. I listed them specifically to state that they don't fit the trope description, so I'm somewhat bemused to find my list being used as a trope example.
  • May 26, 2014
    Snicka
    ^ Well, Tropes Are Flexible. The basic trope is "Characters notice a scary arthropod on their back" (or as the sponsor put it, "Bugs on your back! Ick!"). The details, like "showing how exotic and dangerous a locale is", someone else brushing off the spider, etc. are only the most common variants, but not obligatory.

    What's the point of suggesting non-examples, anyway? Saying that "X and Y are similar to this, but they don't exactly fit the description so they are not examples" without explaining how they don't fit the description is pretty pointless.
  • May 27, 2014
    Snicka
    Does the following example count? It is an insect on a character's back, but isn't played for scares.

    • In a chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, a beetle named Small is lost, and Pooh and friends search for him. At the end of the story, Piglet finds Small crawling on Pooh's back.
  • May 27, 2014
    lakingsif
    ^^ the description needs to say that, then. The Doctor Who examples are of aliens for plot's sake, not "we visited Australia and the giant spiders climbed on our backs". The one in Turn Left is a signifier of an alternate timeline and is a Time Beetle which I thought was a reference to the Ancient Egyptians.
  • May 27, 2014
    lakingsif
    It also wants a proper laconic and please don't beg for hats in the laconic/title.
  • May 27, 2014
    Snicka
    ^^ The description says "A Back Arach is often used to show how scarily exotic and potentially deadly to Western audiences a locale is", not that it always does. The only part of the description which seems to be non-optional (and thus define the trope) is: "Insects are creepy. But what's particularly creepy is having one clambering across your back...", and despite that I haven't seen the given episodes, I'm pretty sure the Doctor Who examples fit (i.e. the arthropod's narrative purpose is to scare the audience and/or the characters).

    Now for a proper laconic, does "Bugs on your back! Ick!" work?
  • May 27, 2014
    lakingsif
    ^ that laconic suggests that the trope is "bugs on you back are creepy". Well done.

    I know what you mean how the description doesn't exclude any other use of bugs on backs, but that broadens this to simply bugs on backs, which is People Sit On Chairs, as there is no storytelling reason for them. If you're allowing that then I will suggest the example of Kevin in this educational film I remember reading in primary school who at one point had a beetle on his back. Apparently it wasn't even Throw It In, the editors just didn't notice it and it was spring so there were beetles around, but, hey, there was a bug on his back!

    See what I mean, you have to have in the description that "If the bugs on your back aren't there to show off the proximity of the critters in a non-Western country (despite the rarity of this in Real Life) then they will typically be used for shock value whilst serving another plot purpose. Rather than use a friendly cat or an inanimate object for this purpose, the creators have specifically chosen an insect or arachnid because it is creepier, in the same way that a parrot or a koala landing on your shoulder just doesn't emphasise the dangers quite as much as giant spiders." Or something of the sort.
  • May 27, 2014
    Snicka
    ^ Yeah, "there's a bug on a character's back" is Chairs. "Bugs on your back are creepy/scary", however, serves a narrative purpose (creating a creepy atmoshpere), thus it is a trope. (That's why I think the Winnie The Pooh example I suggested does not count - Pooh is in fact very happy when they find the bug on his back.) But if you find the description too narrow, then it should indeed be broadened.

    Is the sponsor around?
  • May 27, 2014
    lakingsif
    ^ not for a few days, and that was asking for hats.

    I agree. The actual description is very narrow, whilst the inference that "or any time there's a bug on a back, because it's not always this" is chairs and defying the trope.

    That Pooh example of yours seems to fall under there's bugs and incidentally they're on someone's back.
  • May 27, 2014
    DAN004
    So what is this, actually?
  • May 27, 2014
    lakingsif
    ^ wouldn't be able to say, mate, sadly not a mind reader. Let's assume it's whatever makes it tropeworthy, and take it from there.
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