In Insect News

Reports from the bug world.

Non-holiday Mondays tend to call to mind various matters that I’d prefer to avoid, so perhaps this is why this morning’s thoughts turn to bugs. Realizing that not since the stories about murder hornets and the coming of the cicadas, have I paid any attention to much in the way of insect news (except for the stories on Monarch butterflies and  other lepidoptera, which hardly qualify, given that both are widely revered for their beauty), here comes a brief attempt to catch up.

In my case, news about insects encompasses many of the stories of the last ten years. Aside from these, I was aware of few beyond mass extinction, a fact perhaps indicative of certain tendencies to accelerate it, if only by ignorance––which is a great way, when you think of it, to accelerate many ills.

I am heartened to learn that those killer bees that recently terrorized Puerto Rico and the United States have relaxed their aggression. Apparently, a decade or so of evolution renders them similar to honeybees, at least on a scale of aggression towards humans. 

Wasps, on the other hand, long considered “degenerate bees”(Plutarch), are in the midst of a makeover intended to highlight their capacities as essential workers, vital for pollination, pest control, and various promising cancer treatments.

In other news, a record-breaking stick bug measures two feet long, and the Dobson fly of China, large enough to cover the face of the average adult, is now considered to be the world’s largest aquatic insect. 

Meanwhile, public officials have issued stomp-to-kill orders on the lantern fly, widely considered a menace to vineyards, fruit trees, and hardwoods across the northeastern and middle states. They feed on sap, and their current tally of destruction across several states is measured in the billions of dollars. 

According to witnesses, an Australian beetle has been walking upside down in a pool of water, on the underside of the surface. “This is new,” one researcher announced with authority, regarding the method of travel.

Arts and culture: in May of this year, Jonathan Balcombe released Superfly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects, in which he reveals the idiosyncrasies, social lives and sensitivities of some common pests, which as Burdensome reads them, have within their short lives more parallels to our own behavior than most of us would care to acknowledge. 

In case you are wondering, as I was, eradication of murder hornet nests is ongoing, and no research has yet delivered emerged with any book of deep sympathy to the particular sensitivities of this species. The stinger is apparently long enough to puncture a beekeeper’s suit–– to agonizing effect, it is reported. I had not realized, until now, that the primary threat of this species has much less to do with the ick and danger of such stings, and more to do with their capacity to wipe out honeybee nests. I can’t help but think that my ignorance here is at least somewhat indicative of yet another problem with the machine that makes Mondays so difficult. Once you are in it, almost every viable perspective is viable precisely because it misses most of what is actually going on. 

***

Inspired by:

Bugs 

Desert Walk

A desert walk, and considerations of the pilgrim in borrowed space.

Forever with your help, reads the desert park slogan. Regarding longevity, consider Pliocene beds of oyster shells and the ancient remains of a coral reef.

Remember the saber-toothed cats, camels, giant turtles, and the condor-sized vultures. Remember the vertical faults, pushing up ridges with each quake. Remember when the river shifted course, filling the basin with two-thousand square miles of now-ancient lake, fringed with tule, arrow weed, willow, mesquite, palm.

Keep walking, keep looking, the names alone like an invocation of what was once understood: creosote, burrow weed, agave, mesquite, cat’s claw, jumping cholla, indigo bush, smoke tree, desert willow, ironwood. 

Watch for scorpions, watch for snakes, watch for ghost lights and the ghost rider, lantern in his chest; watch for bones, holding the wind.

Watch for it: every creature out here arranging itself in creative response to thirst. Watch for hidden water but beware the interior gorge. The ancients knew this as the home of the dead. Of course, it is also the most likely to be wet so there are those that take their chances, hiking down and further until every sound revolves into an echo of its origin, and the only place left to move is back up, or farther along the path you’ve been warned to avoid.

Reverence

Inspired by wild images.

Creation: a milky cloud under a full moon in July, thousands of groupers.

A mountain gorilla in the rain, eyed closed as if to know it in his breath, 

droplets beading over lined face. Polar bear sisters cool in summer waters,

wonders of affection, chimpanzee leaning up to kiss a woman’s cheek,

another curled in her lap, while under a bed a spider the size of a hand

watches her newly hatched brood. Ravens in courtship sing to one another,

passing soft warbles and gifts between them: moss, twigs, stones from

beak to beak over the frozen ground. There’s a warbler in the sunflowers:

listen, she weaves a cradle for her eggs.

Inspired by an article at My Modern Met about the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards

News from the Isle of Cats

Todays news: updates from Cat Island, Aoshima.

Since posting about my fantasy of taking a voyage to cat island, I’ve been gifted with an abundance of virtual news about the island of Aoshima, Japan, which only enhances my appreciation for its magic. Last night, I realized that I had been neglecting updates (these cats have their own Facebook group and Instagram account, for anyone interested), and made a note to resume when I woke. When I refer to “checking news” in the morning, I’m generally referring to updates pertaining to cats, craigslist, news from publications such as The Siberian Times, recipe blogs, and poetry. As for other news, that happens later in the day when I’m sufficiently primed for its assault.  

I was grateful to remember this after hitting snooze for the second time this groggy morning, so that I could wake with a clear and immediate objective to accompany my first sips of coffee. Let’s see what’s new on the island, I said to Buzz, assuming the imagined vocal inflections of a top-tier investor over numbers reports while delivering her obligatory morning helping of Gravy Lover’s Seafood Selections.

Apparently, some of the cats have been getting drunk on matatabi brought by tourists (I’m thinking this is in the family of catnip, but perhaps of the higher-grade variety that only celebrities know). They may fight under the influence, but then they fall asleep. 

Nana-chan’s preferred spot is on the laps of visiting tourists. They call her “sleeping princess,” and her fan base continues to grow.

This is the sort of story I imagined when I first learned of the place: cats wandering around: much loping, lounging, purring and meowing when the Captain and Cat Mom bring food, and engaging in inaudible cat-banter about the antics of these two-legged servants among them, in all manner of motley dress and vocal expression. However, I have since learned that Aoshima, like any inhabited isle, is not without dramatic inflection.

Consider, for example, the tale of Choco-chan, one of the last litters of the island, now that all known feline residents been spayed or neutered (In my original post, I shared that a prior attempt had left a critical mass of cats untreated, and no doubt these continued to mate, argue, and bear litters in a manner that suggested an endless proliferation of cats on the island—but alas, the numbers may witness a decline in coming decade). Choco-chan, a white-chocolate kitten born in 2015, was quickly certified as “The #1 Cutest” of all the Aoshima cats. Reporters and television crews from the mainland came to take his photograph. “Fabulous!” they exclaimed, as Choco-chan posed with a pink feather boa looped festively around his neck and torso. He was spoiled with extra sausage, sashimi, and other delectables while the other cats (many still un-neutered, mind you) grew resentful.

You know the story: to everything there is a season, and the pride cometh before the fall. After kitten season, news crews vanished. Choco-chan, no longer having to be plied for photo shoots with extra servings of cat-delicacies like sausage and sashimi, was escorted back to the common feeding area. “He is middle-aged man cat now” and has survived being widely oppressed by the other cats, who seem to have given him quite a hard time upon his return. Choco-chan no longer attempts to eat in the feeding area, and is presumably fed in a furtive manner by the same adoring cat mom who originally singled him out for preferential treatment. 

October is a hot month, and the cats have mostly been lounging in the shade. “No one is fighting anymore,” one tourist observes. “Everyone has eaten. It is a peaceful world.”

People put great bowls of cool water out for the stars. “The cats are drinking water deliciously,” someone posts, and it is true. They drink, orange heads over stainless steel bowls, absorbed in the ritual, and it is delicious. 

Descent

Into the ocean world.

Mondays tend to offer numerous reminders of the need for an underwater excursion. With this in mind, today’s found poem is an assembly of phrases found in Jacques Cousteau’s introduction to The Ocean World, a stunning volume that featured prominently in my childhood imagination. 

The act of life,

an eye permanently open––

immense, teeming; plankton like haze,

barely visible, monotonous. Now what?

The diving years reveal a thin layer

of sea, fragile––at our mercy, somehow,

this organized crystal of three-dimensional 

nothingness: ocean intelligence buried

under waste. Consider the precariousness

of this third infinity, in the grabbing hands 

of someone unable to think beyond what he

might take: salvation, discovery, the next ride.

Even the next image, and yet, listen at

the edges: what third infinity continues

in constant chorus, inaudible to those

above, still held by laws of degradation

before the threshold of this ancient beyond?

Bathe Like This

To see a baby elephant splashing and take it as a suggestion.

May I know it for answering thirst, and to wash; for cooling feet, brushing teeth, boiling food; for baptism. May I swim to you through it. May I always remember the depths of its substance, the hidden multitudes beneath its infinite unknowns, and the speed at which I might be swallowed whole.

And yet, let me also remember what this little one knows at first touch, when she is feeling only surface, undistracted by depth: how it presses back against skin, against the pressure of whomever leans in. How this willingness to return touch magnified makes it best for splashing.

The first praise song ever uttered goes like this: Splash, tap, tap, splash! Open hand, open mouth, open foot. Again, again! Not to make a point, but for the delight of having none, but this.

***

Inspired by this video of Chaba, a rescued baby elephant, enjoying the water in her new tub, which I encountered on My Modern Met:

Saint of Creatures

On remembering each creature as its own message.

You offered, in your daily practice, some reminders, such as: each creature carries its own message, its own metaphor, and how to recognize the animal soul.

If you have men who will exclude creatures from the shelter of compassion, you said, so will they do with other men.

You would speak with birds, who stayed with you until you said goodbye. You called after a cicada, saying Sister, sing, and she did.

Even worms, moving close to your path, were moved by you. Be safe, you would tell them, setting them back from the approaching feet.

Flash of ferret, oriole oracle, what you remembered with the rabbit; insect insight, iguana inspiration; the vision of vipers; signs and symbols you shared with the swallows.

Wonder of wolf, its terror transcended to peace in your presence; how did you know?

Had you a microscope, I wonder, what might you have made of the tardigrade, its ability to live in what others would call hell. What epiphanies would you have seen in these; about the limits we imagine for the living?

And I wonder what you would have made of the yeti crab, who appears like a child’s pet monster, hovering near the ocean’s hydrothermal vents? The mineral level is poisonous, but she carries colonies of bacteria in her pincers to null what would kill. What songs could you hear in her patient waiting in those depths?

And I’d love to know what you’d make of the sea creature that reverts to infancy after maturity, who renews herself again and again, body without a seeming end. What would you say to her, and how would you learn to listen, over time, to the bass-beat of her endlessly whispered devotion?

Notes:

Inspired by the coming feast of St Francis, as illuminated by Richard Rohr’s Every Creature is an Epiphany, from his Daily Meditations series at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC.org).

and also by Mihei Andrei’s article Meet the World’s Only Immortal Animal on ZME Science

Listening to Lepidoptera

We appreciate the beauty of butterflies, but what else? What of the moths disguised as tree bark, and what do they say with those wings?

For most, a typical response to a tray of specimens can be a ranking in order of beauty. This because, what else? Butterflies and moths cause no marked aversion; they do not sting or make terrible pests. We do not eat them.

What, then? Initially, we have no other means, beyond the appeal of their colors, to appreciate them. 

In North America, there are more species of butterfly on the endangered list than any other insect. Not everyone gets field experience, so look.

Why are the wings so large? They speak with them.

Consider these canvases, painted differently on each side, according to audience.

Where are the moths in daytime? In the day, they become tree bark, lichen, twigs.

Consider one hundred caterpillars, wrapped or naked; cylindrical or bulging, immaculate or marked. See the chrysalis, head down, unclothed, posing as a leaf.

Some ride mice to safety, to lay eggs in an underground den.

One makes no sound, but what about a chorus of millions?

Here is a waterfall.

Patience now. A more complete discussion will be possible after secrets are revealed.

Notes:

This morning’s post is assembled from found phrases in the opening chapter of 100 Butterflies and Moths: Portraits From the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica, by Jeffrey C. Miller, Daniel H. Janzen, and Winifred Hallwachs. I came across it in the used bookstore adjacent to the library in the year before the pandemic, and was taken by the color images. It seemed like the sort of book to keep on hand for future inspiration.  Waking especially groggily this Wednesday morning, I pulled it from the shelf to see what I could find. 

Flight Paths

Considering the migration patterns of birds, and the instincts that teach a body when and how to move.

As weather cools and light shifts, I am remembering the late summer geese. They were molting, apparently, which is why spent several weeks doing nothing but walk around and honk. They were regarded as pests, but I admired their swagger.

Later I learned that they had been hunted to near extinction around the turn of the century. Some measures were taken to protect them. Meanwhile the geese got wise to the fact that hunting didn’t happen in the cities and the suburbs. They liked the lawns. 

When did they fly south for the winter? Many stayed put, but some would have started this month. This is what you learn to do. You can either adapt when things change or fly elsewhere.

The arctic tern goes farthest. At just under fifty-thousand miles per migration year, one of their journeys, tallied over thirty years, is the distance of three trips to the moon and back.

They store fat for the journey. Some birds will nearly double their weight. 

I wonder about those times when they get it wrong, about the ones that think they are adapting while miscalculating either the food or the poison in it. I wonder if there is a sudden moment of collective consciousness that makes some groups suddenly move, and about those times when the impulse comes just a little too late. Consider the flocks falling whole from the sky, researchers scratching their heads the next day. Often no known event can explain these falls––not directly, anyway. How often we want to blame the knowns. This is why we give children books with monsters in them, for the comfort of the danger with a face. That isn’t what gets you in the end, though, is it? It’s almost always what you can’t or won’t see, until it’s too late.

Sometimes the young ones will get confused. I don’t mean just the geese here. I’m thinking of snowy owls, wrens, wheateaters, hummingbirds, godwits, ducks, raptors, and countless species I can’t name. 

When the little ones get lost, or read the signs wrong, they can sometimes start migrating in reverse. These renegades live alone, belong to no known group of birds, and have to rely on their own instincts afterwards. They may struggle in mating season. 

Not all of the ones flying in reverse are lost. Some know exactly where they are, and how, and they know they haven’t stored enough fat to make it. But what internal gauge is telling them when they don’t have enough to make it all the way? How did they learn to hear it, and what happens when two impulses, both related to survival, demand opposite actions? How does it know? I wonder if the most necessary of the two somehow manages to be so loud that it drowns the other one out, the way it is possible–– for the hungry body on another species on edge of exhaustion, to forget food in favor of sleep’s relief.  

Notes

The Migration of Birds – from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website