Friday, September 26, 2014

Three Insects I've Met

Genus Tibicen

"Sorry about that," I told Hannah. "I was holding the receiver to his butt, but it seems to have made him a little shy."

I was speaking to her over the phone outside of a laundromat in Silver Spring, Maryland. "He" was a cicada sitting in the middle of the parking lot. Seconds earlier he'd burst out in song, even though it was maybe ten o'clock at night—a warm night, and in the sodium vapor high noon of the parking lot, it's understandable that the fellow's cicadian rhythm might have been somewhat phase shifted.

(Cicadian rhythm. See what I did there?)

(Pausing for laughter.)

(I've got all night. I can wait.)

I hope I can be allowed some clemency for my misapprehension of the source of a cicada's noise. I knew that they don't produce their sounds with their legs (stridulating), and I knew that the the operative organs (the tymbals) were located in the abdomen, but they're actually on the sides of the abdomen rather than the posterior. (No wonder the guy was suddenly so bashful.)

Actually, what's real interesting about the tymbal is that while they do initiate the call, the resonated clicks are actually projected outwards via the tympana—the cicada's "ears," located a little further down and back on the abdomen. I found a fascinating but very technical paper on the subject that really makes me want to take a course in acoustics.

I'm gonna miss these guys. I always wish they'd stick around for longer than two or three months.

Mantis religiosa(?)

Another fellow I found in the parking lot at the laundromat. Maybe it's a female? Who knows?

It's hard not to be intimidated by praying mantises, or by any other creature that bears itself with such an imperturbably pugilistic swagger. Every time I approach one, it takes a stance and seems to size me up, and I can't help fancying that it's thinking yeah, I could totally take this guy. Even though I'm probably at least a few hundred times more massive, I have to wonder if it isn't right.

It's not clear in the image, but this specimen had a bum forelimb—a big chunk was missing from it, and all that remained was the "bone," if we can call it that. She probably didn't have long to live; full-grown insects can't really regenerate damaged limbs. I figured my new acquaintance would prefer that this passage of her final chapter consist as little as possible of being harassed by some pushy mammal, so I left her alone after I noticed the state he was in. (According to some of the literature on bugs, it seems that mantises' eyes turn black when they're malnourished—this one must have been well along on its way out.)

One of the tragedies of being human, I think, is our possessing the capacity (and indeed the inclination) to experience curiosity and empathy toward other living things that are incapable of reciprocation. If I'm not prey, if I'm not a mate, and if I'm not a threat, I must be just some extraneous feature of her environment to be regarded with a mixture of avoidance and indifference. I'm looking for some sort of meaningful correspondence with creatures foreign to my being; the creatures have no use for nor interest in me. I reckon it's a lot like following a celebrity on Twitter or in the tabloids: the object of your fascination has no awareness of the essential you, and it has no reason to care, being who/what it is.

If he were capable of wishing, she'd be wishing I'd let him be.

Unless one lives as a part of nature—steps forward from observation and into the fray of seeking, feeding, and fending for oneself in the open, unanthropized spaces—nature can be an impenetrable and aloof acquaintance.

There are times when a loincloth and a sharpened stick take on an undeniable appeal.

Family Acrididae

A few years ago I was weeding a flowerbed at my folks' place and found a maple sapling. It was a weed where it was and had to be pulled out, but it had managed to grow to about six inches and I thought it would be a waste to just uproot it and toss it away.

When we moved into the house in 1987 (from Maryland, incidentally), at least a dozen trees grew in the backyard. Then came the blight, and after twenty years or so, only four remained. So I planted the sapling, bringing the number up to five.

Whenever I was in town, I cared for it as best I could, pulling weeds out from around its stem, pruning broken branches, watering it during dry periods, flicking away Japanese beetles, and so forth. It's really miraculous that it survived, what with so many dogs with so many bladders hanging around the place.

When I visited the neighborhood last spring, the tree had grown to about my height—just under six feet. When I stopped by last week, it had shot up to eight or nine feet. Would it be silly to say I'm proud of it? Is it ridiculous to love a tree? (Probably, but would be totally consonant with my character. I'd be the last to allege that I'm anything but ridiculous.)

I found this grasshopper clinging to it last week. Doubtless he intended to make a meal of its leaves and I should have brushed it off—but I've got a soft spot for stridulators, and the tree has proven itself as a survivor. It will last longer than the grasshopper, anyhow.

Happy Autumn, incidentally.

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