Thursday, June 2, 2016

Earwigs By The Book

 I had a startling encounter in the bathroom last night. In the dark. Something . . . someone? had its . . . his? hands around my neck in a malevolent tickle that gave fair  warning of its evil intent to throttle me to death. Meanwhile, his accomplice was crawling up my leg, pausing to savor enormous bites on his way . . . I took a deep breath,  stilled the panic mounting in my breast, and TURNED ON THE LIGHT!!!

Two earwigs, blinking stupidly (if earwigs do indeed blink, which I think they don’t,) momentarily transfixed by the light. I was seized on the spot by a burning desire to find out everything  I could about earwigs, what they were doing in my bathroom, and most important of all, how I could keep them from returning.

Now, this is where the story takes a surprising turn. The next sentence should read, what with it being the 21st century and all, "I opened up my computer and logged on to my trusty search engine." But this is where the story enters perhaps the realms of anti-science fiction, because the next sentence actually reads, "I was overwhelmed by an irresistible desire to open a book."

Not Google—a book.

The book that was calling me so eloquently, INSECT – Discover the world of insects in close-up – their behavior, anatomy, and important role in Earth’s ecology, sat among the other Eyewitness Books that I had been eyeing as likely candidates for my next run to the thrift store. As I removed it from the shelf it clung stickily to its neighbors as if to say, “Hey, I’ve been sitting here for years – why move me now?” It fell open to the double page, “How to avoid being eaten” (if you’re an insect, that is); there I found the incredible bombardier beetle, who has discovered that nothing deters a hungry predator like a good explosion right in his face. In the top right corner a hawksmoth caterpillar stretches out its unusually large head, tricking predators into thinking the caterpillar is in fact an extremely small but very poisonous snake.   Fascinating stuff!

On the very same page sits the weta, an enormous cricket from New Zealand that filled the role, normally filled by mammals, of ground-dwelling predator; this was necessary since the only mammals native to New Zealand are two species of bats. Once rats hitchhiked a ride with mankind onto the main islands, the weta “meta” sorry end, and today is extinct in all but the smallest islands.

My goodness, but I had forgotten how much fun it is to browse a good book! Look—here's a man with a bee bonnet (looks rather like my Russian ex-boyfriend… I wonder) . . . And here are two entomologists visiting Alexandria, Egypt in 1920 who spent the night collecting bed bugs rather than sleeping. Their tally by morning? Both men had 70 pins with 10 bugs on each. By my reckoning, that’s fourteen hundred bed bugs. Not a bad night’s work . . . Hmm, this browsing business is getting out of hand. It’s as bad as the computer for tempting you to stray off topic.

But off the topic of earwigs in a book about insects carries one into the wonderful realm of compound eyes and beetle antennae. Did you know that each hair around the mouth of a carpet beetle larva has its own “ball and socket” joint, and can probably pick up vibrations? Or that a locust curves its wings when landing to trap the maximum amount of air and ensure a gentle meeting with the ground, in a manner later copied by airplane designers?
Get off topic on Google (worse yet, on Youtube,) and find a world of salacious gossip about the British royal family, and fifteen uses for a used teabag. And those are the least objectionable, that merely waste time and jam your browser. They don’t threaten to lead one into an utterly depraved lifestyle—though mind you, I haven’t checked out numbers 12-15 of those things to do with a used teabag . . .

But earwigs – what about earwigs? Could I come up with enough content for a blog from the (count ‘em) six earwig references in Insect?  Tune in tomorrow and . . . Now, I know I don’t exactly have a stellar record with lead-ins to part two of a blog (the rabbits are still waiting in Australia, though I did much better with How to Make the Perfect Pot of Tea.)

Tomorrow, I will attempt the death-defying stunt: blogging without a net. Relying entirely on those six references to earwigs from Insects, and rosy earwig reminiscences from my youth, I will produce an entire blog! An extraordinary feat – if, indeed, it can be done.

Tune in next time to find out.

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