A Melancholy Bug - Unusual Insects
The Pessimist's Dream
Certainly no one can deny that the world is facing some great problems, yet we'd had one problem since the beginning, that may prove to be the greatest problem of all. Physically, we must master the insect, without killing ourselves in the process.
About a hundred years ago, there was a gloomy dream presented to all who would listen to William Jacob Holland (author of "The Moth Book" in 1903), when he wrote:
"When the moon shall have faded from the sky and the sun shall shine at noonday a dull cherry-red; and the seas shall be frozen over, and the ice-cap shall have crept downward to the Equator from either Pole, and no keel shall cut the water, nor wheels turn in the mills;
When all cities shall long have been dead and crumbled into dust, and all life shall be on the very last verge of extinction on this globe; then, on a bit of lichen, growing on the bald rocks beside the eternal snows of Panama, shall be seated a tiny insect, preening its antennae in the glow of the worn-out sun, representing the sole survival of animal life on earth -- a melancholy bug."
Know Thine Enemy - Friend Or Foe?
Well, I'm sure some serious thinkers have gravely asked whether the last and great of man's fights for the mastery of the earth is not yet to come, and whether or not he will win.
There was a time when we genuinely believed that we have beaten all the great beasts of the forest, the jungle, and the plain. We thought we'd gained steadily against the strongholds of all the venomous reptiles on the planet. Yet, here we are, stuck in a world where insects remain unsubdued, perhaps more terrible than ever before.
They affect us in more than one way. They kill us by rapidly spreading fatal diseases. They weaken us and make us ill. They shorten our food supplies, both in our cops while they are growing and in such supplies after they are harvested and stored. They ruin our waning timber supplies. They incapacitate and kill the cattle and other animals on which we still rely for food and labor. They war against our comfort, our clothing, and our homes. They are closely related to our lives and affairs in ways we seldom think of.
In many ways they are better fitted for existence in this world than we are. They multiply rapidly and man increases but slowly. They have great powers of concealment, and have developed a defensive armor. We lack such defenses.
Of course, all insects are not foes of man. Some of them on the contrary, act as our friends, finding their prey in the insects that are destroying our crops or otherwise acting against our peace. For example, among these allies the honeybee ranks high. Were it not for this one insect, wonderful fruits -- peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears, and apples (just to name a few) -- the direct gift of the honeybee would be only available to few, not many. Without that gift, those trees could not be fertilized, and cannot yield fruit. So without many insects like the honeybee, our world would be very diminished in terms of food sources both for humans and other animals that depend upon them and their efforts.
Let's Take A Look Some Interesting Insects
Spanish Fly Warning!
It is illegal in the United States to use Cantharides. The only exceptions, are for use in animal husbandry or by licensed dermatology physicians, in pharmaceutically made topical treatments of certain kinds of warts..
Sir Francis Drake's Joke - The Spanish Fly
The creature known as the Spanish Fly, and from its body the chemical derives a substance so acutely irritant that, applied to the flesh of human beings, it raises blisters -- It is a formidable foe --right up there with the fire ant. Yet, it has an even more sinister well-deserved reputation, than the fire ant. However, a handful of the uninformed will still argue that it is friend, rather than foe.
In one variety of this is an iridescent emerald-green blister beetle, (Cantharis vesicatoria or Lytta vesicatoria), and is naturally found in the southern parts of Europe. For hundreds of years it has been used as a powerful aphrodisiac. The dead Spanish fly is crushed into a yellow-green and brown powder that still reflects the iridescentness of the bug. It smells bad and has a bitter flavor.
It wasn't originally intended for human use, but was given to cattle and other animals to encourage them to mate. The powder leaves the body in the urine, and in passing irritates the urethral passages and causes inflammation to the genitals.
Somewhere, some stupid humans got the idea that this would be a good thing for them too. This proved to be a dangerous practice, as the tiniest portion of the powder can cause severe and permanent harm to both the kidneys and genitals. There is nothing romantic about painful urination, fever, and bloody discharges either.
Well, I suppose that since a number of famous people in history were either given it, or ingested it and survived -- maybe it took awhile for word to get out that this isn't such a good aphrodisiac. Humans being the creative dummies they are, soon looked for other uses and medicinal uses.
They say it is a key ingredient for the first-ever stink bomb. The Chinese used it in plasters to raise blisters. It's also been used as incense, to abort unwanted pregnancies, and as a cure for sleepiness. Even though it has been banned for human consumption all over the world, it's still used as a spice in North Africa and Morocco. Mixed in food it is mostly undetectable. None of these are good ideas.
Spanish Fly potions and remedies have been stories of a mind game reputation, that's been known for generations upon generations. The quoted legend of Sir Francis Drake, for instance, runs that when he fought and beat the Spanish Armada, and saw the broken fleet fleeing before him in terrified disorder -- he sent a jubilant dispatch to Queen Elizabeth consisting of one word, "Cantharides," by which he meant, of course, "The Spanish Fly."
Yet, the Spanish Fly (aka Blister Beetle) is no joking matter. Historically, it's most sinister use was to poison people. Just a mere four to six drops of this powder in a glass of wine, is a lethal and torturous death in the matter of hours.
Even today you'll find advertisements for aphrodisiacs made of Spanish Fly. So those inclined to use potions made of it, would claim it is a friend (perhaps not knowing that few modern day Spanish Fly products, actually contain contain any real Canthariides. Most products are cayenne pepper, mixed with ginseng, or other herbals.
Mating Spanish Flies (Blister Beetles)
Ant-Lion In Waiting
Another interesting insect is the ant-lion. In the perfect conditions, it is sometimes hard to tell the ant-lion from a lesser dragon-fly, but in the larval condition, he is like an ant, with jaws like a giant's.
However, it is not there that the wonder resides. It is in his habits. He makes his home in a dry position in fine sand, and in this he excavates a pit. He begins by excavating a circle out of which he casts the sand by means of his powerful head.
That done, he makes a second and a third circle, one within the other, so that by the time the last is finished he has one continuous pitfall, two or three inches deep, spread before the feet of unwary crawling insects.
Then he lies in wait, his body hidden in the sand at the bottom of the pit, only his jaws sticking out. Along comes an ant or other insect. Inquisitive, perhaps incautious, it peers over the edge of the pit and slips. The light sand is dislodged by its feet, and down sand and insect go together.
The prey may seek to escape, but there is no escape from the dungeon of this little ant-lion. The moment the sand begins to topple, the ant-lion jerks up more.
Some observers hold that the insect deliberately throws the sand at its victim in order to unbalance and confuse it in its struggle to return up the slippery slope. We do not know. Be it accident or design, the ant-lion does bombard his victim, does bring him down, and does fix his terrible jaws into him.
The grip must be the counterpart of the insect world in a grip like an alligator's jaw's on a man whom it holds down till his dead in the water. Indeed, it is more than that, for once the ant-lion's jaws make their snap and close, they never relax for a moment until the victim is drained dry of all life in their little pits of death.
Ant Vs. Ant Lion
It's Ladybirds To You
In the United Kingdom and throughout other countries in Europe, they are known as "Ladybirds." Something apparently got lost in the American translation, because they are known as "Ladybugs" here.
Growing up in California, I was aware in my childhood, that we obtained the bulk of our fruit stocks from Old World orchards. California history in Orange County, California was rich in tales about orange trees and their role in far away Australia. You see, the Australians obtained orange trees from our state. Nearly fifty years later, I can remember vividly to this day, the ladybug history our teacher told.
It was a disaster on a grand scale back in the 1880s. There was outward and visible evidence of the presence of a deadly parasite that appeared on the trees. It quickly spread from the oranges to the lemons and to other fruit. It marched across the land, as plagues do march, with terrifying rapidity, and for a time, it appeared as if the orchards of California were doomed.
Once more the farmers, seeing their crops vanishing down the throats of insects, turned to scientists, who found that, though the scale was also in Australia too, it was there kept down without difficulty -- simply because ladybirds (ladybugs) dined day in and day out, on the scale-producing insects.
After many attempts a cargo of ladybirds (ladybugs) were brought in from Australia to America and the welcome immigrants were given their liberty on the orange trees of a scale infested orchard.
The newcomers settled down to a meal of scale insects. They flourished and multiplied. That first year, they were housed and preserved during the winter as carefully as gold, so that they could be distributed about the state where the disease had demanded their presence.
From that time forth in the early years, the collection and conserving of ladybirds (ladybugs) was a great business in California. Each winter men were sent out to places where the bugs were known to have harbored and fed in the summer, and where they hibernate in masses together.
Experts would even go into the snowdrifts in the colder regions of the state, dig down into the snow, and find great balls of life gathered about the nucleus of pine needs and what not.
Until they were well established in California, they collected countless masses of ladybugs (ladybirds) in those winter hunts, stored them in boxes, and took them in cold storage to keep them at a temperature below freezing point for the rest of the winter. When spring and warmth came back and the plagues of scale, aphids, or plant lice were reported -- out again an army of ladybugs (ladybirds) were packed into crates and sent into the endangered areas.
Ally Of The Bees
So years ago, the ladybirds (ladybugs) woke up thousands of miles from the place where they went to sleep.
Thus, these little creatures placed into service against their will and knowledge, with man. They have come to possess an importance in history ranking them as worthy allies of the bee, the silk moth and the lac insects. With them as our friends, the land is a cleaner and greener land.
In the generations that followed of these insects friends that have now spread wide and far across America, there was no real need to take such drastic measures to insure that their population was sufficient to protect our crops. Along with the honeybee, they are one of the most important helpers of man. Like with other insect friends, -- we should continue to have the good sense and initiative to send ladybird (ladybug) armies out on all of our gardens and fields.
Asian Ladybugs vs. Other Ladybugs
As a kid, you couldn't have told me that I would grow to not adore ladybugs. They were one of my childhood delights, right up there with roller-bugs. As an adult though, there is one variety of ladybugs, that are one of my sworn arch-enemies -- these are the Asian or Japanese Lady Beetles.
For fifteen years, our farm's home was invaded each year in the fall and sometimes in the spring, by what seemed to be ladybugs. The locals in West Virginia called them "False Ladybugs." Unknown to homeowners, they wintered inside our homes, and with the first warm days, or the first time we had the heat too high in the winter, they emerged as if from nowhere. They are photo-positive, meaning they gravitate towards light. Millions and millions of ladybugs, in the light fixtures, along the window sills, inside lamp coverings, and in places you couldn't even imagine to find bugs.
They actually can bite, not awful, but enough to let you know you don't want them crawling on you. So there I was each year when they "visited" in full war-on-bug mode -- armed with the hose attachment of my vacuum cleaner -- sucking them up from every crack and crevice. When you kill them they can stain the crime scene. Upon death, these little buggers smell their own distinct odor, and cleaning them out of light fixtures was a prescription for putting me in a grumpy mood. They were every bit as much a nuisance, as field mice when you live out in the country.