Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nasty, brutish, and short: the violence of bugs' lives

Milo and I visisted Montreal's Insectarium last weekend. It was really cool. Not a comprehensive collection of insects, nothing to please the real entomologist, but a greatest-hits display including even non-insects like the (arachnid) tarantula. Actually about a dozen different hairy tarantulas. There is a very disturbing display of a taxidermed tarantula and pepsis wasp engaged in a battle to the tarantula's eventual, agonizing death. The pepsis wasp stings the female tarantula, paralyzing her. Then the wasp lays HER eggs inside the alive-but-paralyzed tarantula's oviduct, then the eggs hatch and the wasp larvae CONSUME the tarantula while she is still alive. Until she isn't. And you thought you were having a rough day.

What do you call that? It can't be parasitism, because that suggests there is some mutual benefit going on; in the event, it's hard to see what's in it for the tarantula. And how did the pepsis wasp evolve that way? Isn't it kind of bizarre that one species can rely so completely on one other species, not for just for food but for reproduction? And how did that first pepsis wasp, fresh from the primordial ooze, say, in its uniquely waspish language, "What's a safe place to lay my eggs, a place where my larvae can incubate and then feast before venturing out into the world? I know! That huge hairy spider over there looks perfect!" If there are any entomologists among the readers of this blog (fat chance), please enlighten us in the comments.

Other highlights of the Insectarium: the softball-sized, glittering jewel-toned beetles from Africa, who can lift 2 kg with their pincers. The stick insects, who are very hard to find among the actual sticks in their terraria. And the scorpions, slightly bigger than tiger prawns, which have so captivated Milo's imagination with their deadly stingers. We bought him some scorpion socks at The Gap today. The Insectarium is part of the massive Olympic complex, where there's also the botanical gardens and conservatory. So we'll be back there soon, I'm sure.

Milo's new thing is making up gibberish words and telling us they're French. The kid's a card. Don't know where he gets it.

Winter is letting up some. Regular above-zero temps now, sun, glovelessness. Spring is nigh!


  1. Hi Jen!

    I don't know what you call that, but it reminds me of an Octavia Butler story, the first one in her one short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories. Okay, actually, in her story there is some mutual benefit (alien species lays eggs in live humans, but extracts the eggs before human dies; the humans they use were refugees from earth, might have died if not preserved by alien bug-like species....). And I don't know what that process would be called, either....yuck.

    This is the first time i've managed to look at y'all's blog since getting the e-mail--which I am keeping in my in-box to remind me to look at it. What a great idea.

    We in Milwaukee are beginning to warm up, too--lovely on Friday, but rainy since. Darn it, I wanted to take the boys to the park yesterday. Sadly, Milwaukee does not have quite the indoor play possibilities Minneapolis does; we're feeling a bit antsy and caged-in at this point.

    Baz turned 6 two weeks ago! And look at that pic of Milo--he is so big! How did that happen (note to self: stop feeding children, or they will grow....) Max is now big enough to eat a whole slice of pizza himself at dinner, which means no leftovers for anyone from one pizza. How soon till we have to order two?

    Sadly I don't think we're going to get to visit y'all in Montreal. We have lots of research to do this summer....we cannot wait for the semester to be over. We like our department, but the regimen of classes, faculty meetings, meetings with advisees, and so on--and then the occasional sick day home with Max-- when to get research done? not to mention actually writing about it. argh, the tenure-track treadmill...there are many days when i wish i were at a teaching institution, but having gotten jobs, we aim to keep them.

    Got to go, my work time over, so I've got to take the boys from Ryan. Play-dough, anyone? or perhaps Baz will play with Star Wars Legos, his current obsession.....his birthday party had to be themed: he wanted Star Wars and dolphins as the theme. Go figure. it involved a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-whale (aquatic mammal that rhymed), and a dark side/light side cake, so each partygoer could choose his side (and yes, all boys invited-?!?!? Party of 10 little boys in the house. was better than previous year's party in which we invited the whole class and then needed to reserve a room at the library to hold 25 kids.....)

    Say hi to Dave! all best wishes from us!
    Kristin Sziarto

  2. Hey, great to hear from you and get your news. I love the double-themed party and the cake sounds awesome. Our lives continue to run oddly parallel, except only one of us is an academic, thank god.