Friday, January 21, 2011

A Year In Review, Part II

Tonight’s Nature London talk is In Praise of Spiders. Indeed, let’s praise all insects. Insects should not be overlooked or underestimated. Arthur V. Evans of the American Wildlife Federation aptly, and I believe reverently, calls them “the silent majority.” Small but significant, insects, spiders and butterflies are key members of a healthy ecosystem and the very foundation upon which all other life forms rely. And in order to protect all life on earth, we must value the insect kingdom. Where, for example, would we be without the pollinators?

My childhood fascination for insects was renewed in 2010. I found myself wanting to look at them “up close and personal.” By really taking the time to look at insects, butterflies and spiders you get to see how extraordinary they are and how really quite breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, everyone would agree with me that butterflies and pond damsels are beautiful; I can see how beetles and spiders might be a harder sell.

But take a closer look. And be prepared to be amazed, astonished and delighted. They are exquisitely constructed and extremely intelligent. Last summer I marveled at a host of fascinating creatures I never knew I shared space with. Ironically, my worldview actually expanded the more I focused on the tiny things. I bought books. I rummaged through the books I already owned. I scoured the Internet, with my descriptions and sketches in hand. What a joy to be able to put a name to some of these creatures! What a thrill to watch them!

I had to perform a number of rescues this summer too. Unfortunately, crickets and other insects end up in the pool on a regular basis. Even with the pool completely enclosed they manage to get in. Daily, throughout the long summer, I would sit for long periods of time with this or that insect on my finger, observing each one methodically drying off damp antennae.

Crane flies, for example, are exceedingly fussy. They make sure their gossamer wings are completely dry before they take flight. They’ll even do little test runs with their wings just to see how dry they are. If not, they keep drying themselves. They do this over and over until they are absolutely certain they can fly right. Then…they’re gone!

All of the tiny bugs and flying insects that I rescued this summer patiently let me carry them to gardens, fields or wooded areas. Bugs, beetles, ladybugs and skippers, they never flinched at my touch. I even rescued a couple of spectacular-looking fellows that I later learned were Bombardier Beetles.

And the crickets were a revelation. I carried one gorgeous big cricket over forty feet to his new home in the garden and throughout the journey he sat poised and erect on my finger, facing forward like a captain on the bridge of an ocean-going vessel, proud, alert. Did he enjoy the trip? I wonder.

And then there was the day of the magnificent Gladiator Katydid, who nonchalantly walked out of the vacuum cleaner that’s kept in the sun room. She let me carry her to the east garden, seemingly confident that she would not be harmed. She reluctantly left my hand only when I set her gently under a leaf.

As for spiders, where do I begin? The decorous Platycryptus Undatus has got to be one of the most interesting spiders we humans could ever encounter. Harmless, intelligent, inquisitive and easy-going, they seem more interested in us than fearful. Want to get to know spiders better or overcome an irrational fear of them? Start with handsome Platycryptus. You will be glad you did.

As for me, I can hardly wait for spring.

(Thanks to Nature London for the picture of Platycryptus Undatus.)

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