Rock Creek, Montana How many of us ever have good thoughts about most insects? We keep busy swatting mosquitos, shooing flies, stepping on cockroaches, tiptoeing around caterpillars, and gingerly keeping an eye out for the whole host of little buggers. Granted, we might let a ladybug crawl over us, remember spending hours playing with doodle bugs as kids, admire a butterfly as it passes by, or root for a dragonfly helicoptering in on a bug, but for most people that’s about the extent of it: live or let die.
On the creek we’re outnumbered by nature’s life. A deer will stand ten feet away, and if we’re quiet, eyeball us from time to time, while pulling at some high grass until one of us moves or another deer comes along and chases us away. We drive by mountain goats on the road. Sometimes we fish across from moose. The chipmunks are bold this season, after having been almost invisible last year, and they are on the hunt. We’ve roosted a couple of out the garbage can when the lid wasn’t on tightly enough. One ran across Chaco’s lap while reading outside. Another somehow got in the trailer, ran behind me, and gave us a chase for a minute until the broom encouraged her out the door. A mother and her brood of baby mice were found in a child’s dollhouse in the shed. They had moved in. Another reminder that we’re just visitors here.
And, another reminder about how little we know about the millions of other species of animal life sharing the space with us. I read an interesting obit in the New York Times several weeks ago about a naturalist named Howard Ensign Evans and a book he had written almost forty years ago called, Life on a Little-Known Planet, so I got the book and crammed it in my bag for a look on the creek. Wow, did I learn a lot!
Lightning bugs, glowworms, or whatever you might call them are actually beetles.
Flies on short bursts can get close to forty miles per hour.
Having been stung by wasps twice before leaving home in one week, I read the chapter on wasps carefully. Evans was a wasp expert, so he was partial to them, and he told story after story of parasitic wasps, almost smaller than the eye can see, and how they were ant-slayers or used ants to carry their eggs or virtually fill up some other larva with their eggs. Or as Evans says,
“…without parasitic wasps and other insects that keep leaf feeders at moderate levels, the course of evolution might have been very different: whole groups of plants might have become extinct, other poisonous plants might have flourished, and the vast hordes of herbivorous mammals and their predators might have never evolved. In a sense we owe the miracle of humanity to the wasps.”
Like I said, he’s got a wasp-bias, but he makes a point about how little we know and how much we take for granted.
So I learned more than I’ll likely remember about cockroaches, locusts, and even bedbugs, but the tidbits I’ll retain were worth the read, like the information on coloring and mimicking by various insects. Some species of butterflies have a white spot or distinctive marking in order to trick birds that might attack them into going for that spot where they can either sustain the injury or give them a bad taste. Because some butterflies emit chemicals that deter birds from killing them, there are whole species of mimetic butterflies that have developed similar colors and patterns in hopes of fooling birds the same ways. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
There may be a million stories in the naked city, but there are at least that many, if not more, in nature all around us, if we’re willing to look and learn.