Follow Us:
Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Bug’s Life

And why it has every reason to be smug.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Published: October 6, 2013 12:13:01 am

Apart from the fact that they’re really running the world,I often think that one of the main ambitions of insects and creepy crawlies is to make us feel small. Oh yes,we may crush them underfoot without a thought or swat them or zap them or spray them till the cows come home,but that still can’t make us forget that:

* Ants can lift weights 10 (if not more) times their own. They run totalitarian regimes that can make the leaders of the worst regimes of the world only weep with envy. Ah yes,and the ladies would be thrilled to note that the “dear leaders” of the ant society are female — the queens on whom every other ant waits hand and foot. Also,they have armies that clear the jungle in a manner the disbursers of Agent Orange can only envy and bow down to.

* Termites eat and digest wood. We can’t. They build massive fortresses using mud and saliva. We can’t. They then air-condition these fortresses,without using gases which blow big holes in the ozone layer and cause global warming. We can’t.

* Look at fleas. Rat fleas wiped out three quarters of Europe and Asia’s population by spreading the plague bacteria. If we could jump like they did,we’d clear skyscrapers. We can only give vent to our frustration by making Superman and Spiderman films. Even grasshoppers and locusts can jump prodigiously and a squadron of the latter can wipe out a nation’s bread basket in a mere half-an-hour.

* Even butterflies make us cringe. Some imbibe plant toxins that can give cows a heart attack,while they’re still caterpillars — and keep them handy when they turn into butterflies to give peckish (excuse the pun!) birds a nasty surprise. Besides,have you seen how they fly? If any creature looks as though it needs image stabilisation equipment,it’s them. And yet they land on their chosen bloom,or flutter around it,with pinpoint precision and suck up nectar unraveling a filament-thin proboscis. That’s like spooning up honey while bouncing up and down at 80 kmph on Delhi’s Ring Road bypass. It gets worse. The famous monarch butterfly flutters up and down over 3,000 km each way,from Canada to California on migration journeys every year. The answer to how they pull that off is literally blowing in the wind.

* We have two eyes,with two lenses. Dragonflies have two eyes with around 28,000 lenses per eye. Still,you can LOL when you think of what would happen when a dragonfly goes to its optometrist who tells it,“You have cataract my friend,in every lens!” Or simply,when it has to change its contacts every morning and is running late for work. But beware,because dragonflies are the fiercest aerial hunters in the insect kingdom and have a secret submarine history which is the stuff of nightmares (if you were a tadpole or small fish,that is).

* Even sweeter,the praying mantis: Watch it stand up and sway on a leaf,its arms held out beseechingly — please,please come closer and vote for me. Let me hug you at least. And then wham,the barbed arms snap like a gin trap and you’re being eaten alive,scrunched up like a bhutta! Even if you are a gentleman mantis,just doing its thing.

* As for spiders,they can make six or seven kinds of silk,depending on what they need it for,and the stuff is stronger than steel wire. And we’re so desperate to produce it on an industrial scale (for bulletproof vests among other things) that we’re trying peculiar experiments with goats’ udders.

* Nobody,but nobody likes flies,the carrier of all kinds of deadly diseases. But they can land upside down on a ceiling after doing a double barrel roll and triple somersault all at the same time. And as fat wriggling maggots,they can discern between dead tissue and living flesh more skillfully than a surgeon.

* All one can say about mosquitoes is that they’ve killed more of us than our own best efforts have,through our entire history. And they’re still doing so.

* Bees and other insects pollinate. If they didn’t,we’d be dead.

And guess what? Even if we do kill ourselves — humans and every damn living thing — in a nuclear firestorm,who do you think will pop its head out of a crevice and quiver its feelers at a brave new world?The cockroach.

*Ranjit Lal is an author,environmentalist and bird watcher. In this column,he reflects on the eccentricities and absurdities of nature

For all the latest News Archive News, download Indian Express App