Don’t misunderstand me to assume that I am unadmiring of insects. They will surely survive us, if only because of their evolutionary decision to produce multiple offspring. One of my favourite Larsen cartoons shows a praying mantid addressing a host of babies - hers of course; standing at a podium reminiscent of a graduation ceremony, she is dryly reminding them that virtually all of them will shortly be toast. (Another cartoon gem shows two mandids facing each other. One has just said “You slept with her, didn’t you?” and at that point you notice that the other one is missing his head. Don’t get me started on mantids. Did you know that they, unlike other insects, can turn their heads? But I digress…..).
Although Kafka mined the horror of waking up as a cockroach, the miracle of metamorphosis just blows my socks off. I once and only once witnessed a dragonfly emerging from its armoured nymphal stage; on a rocky riverbank, the soaking wet juvenile crawled out of the water to shed its skin and proceeded to steadily pump up two pairs of gossamer wings. What a sea change — from aquatic grazing to aerial hunting within an hour. I wondered at the time if that new helicoptering adult might have been experienced a sense of surprise and thrill at the speed of flight (over 30 mph) and the huge field of vision afforded by composite eyes. I certainly felt it and would be surprised that this new grownup had not.
This magic hour was surpassed only by the great luck of catching a Monarch emergence. That miracle happened during an Eid celebration which we were attending so I herded up the kids to come and watch with me. There are so few Monarchs left that I had almost forgotten the exquisite turquoise transparency of the chrysalis which was surpassed only by the jewel tones of the new adult. Again, it took less than an hour for this miraculous metamorphosis to complete. Appropriately, the kids watched with something akin to reverence.
This ancient watercolour of Gussie is a reminder of how he loved to stay outside, luring anyone from chipmunk to butterfly into his cage for a visit. Though Gussie's eyes are soft with happiness I doubt that his feelings were shared by the butterfly, who, judging from its immediate exit, was probably more persuaded of the likelihood of being devoured. Any insect in our back yard must be sharing the same mortal worry these days. We live in hope of returning soon to our preferred model -- The Peaceable Kingdom - though we do notice the lambs are getting less and less cooperative about lying down with the lions. After all, they belong to different voting blocs, don't they.