Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chance Favours the Prepared Mind

When I was very little, my mother would take me to parks to play. One day, I ate an ant. I just picked it up and popped it in my mouth. My mother was horrified! What if I got sick? So she ate one, too. If I got sick, then she would get sick as well and be able to tell a doctor what had happened.

Of course, neither of us got sick.

I recall a few years later my dad and I out walking around the neighbourhood. We came across an ant hill and dad and I bent down to take a look. Little ants going about their business. Dad said "Watch this" and he let a big gob of spit fall from his lips onto the opening of the ant hill. They went nuts! "They think it's raining" Dad said "so they're trying to get everyone back inside".

My dad's father, my grandfather Frank, was a lover of nature. He'd sit in his swinging couch out in the tiny backyard of his house and watch spiders and bugs of all sorts. I can honestly say I was not fond of spiders, still get a little creeped out by the bigger hairier ones, but I would sit with him and I did learn how they went about their business, gruesome as it is.

The first incident demonstrates an early attempt at replicating results from an experiment. Not that that's how my mom or I saw it, but in retrospect, that's what it was. The next incident showed another experiment that was repeated many times over the years, with identical results. And the last scenario was simple observation, again repeated over the years.

I continue to be fascinated by creepy crawlies, no doubt in part to my early education in the scientific method and the results obtained from those experiments. I have handled all sorts of creatures in the wild, including bees, with no fear, and only a healthy respect for stingers and possible bites. I have never been stung or bitten. I suspect that's only due to luck, not that I'm a sort of entymological Dr. Dolittle.

I pick up worms in the parking lot and put them somewhere safer. I catch spiders and other critters in my apartment (not often) and release them to the outdoors. A month ago, I found a flour beetle larva, in my rice (so maybe it's a rice beetle larva), and put it in my bug container which has a couple of magnifying windows on it. I forgot all about it until yesterday. I took the top off the container and prodded the little thing. It began moving so I put a little flour in there with it and am hoping it becomes an adult beetle.

I have a bug kit I take with me when I'm on the bike. It has a number of baggies and a couple of glass jars in it for specimens and a little fish net to catch the elusive ones. "Chance favours the prepared mind". Of course, Louis Pasteur wasn't thinking about collecting bugs when he said that, but it applies.

I prefer to find and take home intact dead creatures, though I have been known to put living ones in the deep freeze for a couple of days to put them to sleep. Last summer, the Wookie and I went to a beach about a half hour from where I live. We left our lunch and towels on the beach and went for a long walk. At one point I had no less than 3 species of long horned beetle on my hand and a gorgeous (non-stinging) wasp. I managed to keep all four of these creatures crawling on my hands until we made it back to our towels. While rooting around for baggies, one of the beetles and the wasp flew away, but I still managed to take two of them home.

I have been known to go to a local gas station late in the evening with a bigger net and baggies. There are some pretty big moths and other winged wonders that hang around the lights and if I'm lucky will sometimes find intact dead ones around the pumps.

"Then what?" you might ask. They go in the deep freeze. And after a couple of days I take 'em out, thaw them, and then mount them. No stale cardboard and pins for my bugs though. I put 'em in clocks, watches, or wooden shadow boxes. It's more artistic. Science and art together.



Synchronicity said...

oh wow...that is so great! i used to collect bugs as a kid...i had a butterfly net and would delight in chasing butterflies in the field near my house. insects are wonderful to study and appreciate. except cockroaches. i just can't share any love for them. nor ticks.

Lisa Emrich said...

Just stopping by to say "hi". I'm not much for a bug fan, even more so spiders. Probably has to do with a certain Brown Recluse which decided to munch on my derrier once upon a time. Bad spider.


Hmmm...looks like we're both feeling a big "buggy" today. Although mine is steroid induced! LOL

Great photos, BTW...

Linda D. in Seattle

Charles-A. Rovira said...

Well, I was going to say that you were an odd child, but I just realized that I have some butterflies in some frames in my living room and some others mounted on a branch inside a clear acrylic cube in my dining room.

I also have some seashells mounted in the same way and a "beach scene" (of seashells and sand,) under glass as a coffee table in my living room.

I am coming to the realization that either I'm weird too, or this is just part of growing up and being connected to nature in some way.

Unknown said...

I, too chase after things with the net...I don't care how foolish I look. We don't have the humongous type cockroaches you folks have....well, maybe in Ontario. And the cockroaches are a food source for many wasps. Ticks are simialr to spiders for creep out factor, but they're not too bad.

Lisa! Hi back at ya'. If you sat on me I think I'd take a bite out of your arse, too.....I hear they are nasty bites.

I feel buggy every day. I remember the burning itching ants-crawling-under-my-skin feeling, too. Much prefer the real bugs.
I took the photos this morning as I was preparing this post. You may even see a bit of me in the reflection on one or two of the shots.

I was an odd child. But you're right about the connecting to nature thing, too. Maybe it's a Canuck thing.


Nervus Rex said...

I love this love this love this. Thanks for the great post!

I started collecting great horned beetles in New Guinea when I was 4yo, to keep the neighbours from eating them :) And I liked the way that they "sang" to me.

I am fascinated by insects. So much detail in such little bodies! My kids are the same and adore watching orb weaver spiders dine or collect caterpillars and watch the cocoon/butterfly cycles...

And ants actually do taste good -- the black ones, anyway! I remember that from grade 5 wilderness camp when they made us try them. They taste like Vitamin C!

Thank you for the smile and the creepy crawlies.

Unknown said...

Maybe it is a Canadian thing....

I would have loved to have seen the great horned beetles....and the stag beetles. I know we have stag beetles in Canada but I've not seen them. You probably are a little closer to them. those and praying mantis. We don't have tehm in Nova Scotia as it's too cold and wet.


Jeri Burtchell (TickledPink) said...

How fascinating!! I love the story about your different family members and how they introduced you to the creepy crawlies.

If I were on a diet I'd wish to have your freezer in my house. It would help to open the door in search of ice cream and only find bugs. Instant appetite squelcher.

Unknown said...

Thanks for visiting.
I lucked out in the parents and grandparents department, that's for sure. Though my grandfather didn't finish school, he was well read and a keen observer. I cherished the time spent with him, feeding the neighbourhood strays, watching the bugs in the backyard, or picking and eating wild strawberries at his cottage.
My dad and I share the same bizarre sense of humour, which can drive my mother nuts.
And my mom and I share the same sense of justice and good will.
I think there may be a future blogpost on my folks at some point soon.
You wouldn't want to eat at my dining table right now. My collection of bugs is sitting there waiting for appropriate mounts and the flour beetle is sitting in its container with a little bit of flour thinking it has died and gone to flour beetle heaven. I have even named it Guy LaFleur. Although fleur is French for flower and not flour, I thought it appropriate.

Nervus Rex said...

We don't have praying mantis's (how do you pluralize that??) here either on the Prairies.

We have lots of big mosquitoes, though! (I know... it's just not the same...)

I hope that you will take pictures when you get your display done!

Unknown said...

I used to collect the praying mantises (mantids?) when we lived in Toronto and Montreal. I really miss seeing those.
I will post pictures when more bugs are mounted.


Cath said...

Hi! Came over via Nervus Rex. That is fascinating and a lovely way to observe nature. Perhaps I should try it and with my children too - takes the fear out of bugs!

But I like the sound of none stinging wasps...

Nice to meet you.

Unknown said...

Thanks for stopping by. I had a quick peek at your blog and am bookmarking to go back soon. I loved the piece on your dad, the rhubarb tart.
I'm glad you're getting back into the nature scene and with your kids especially. It's an easy and inexpensive way to spend time with them and teaching them without them even knowing it. And with the internet at your fingertips, it's easy to identify any creatures you're unfamiliar with.