Friday, July 13, 2012

Praying Mantis In A Parking Lot

What do birds know about a store closing?

So what if the neighbors call the cops?
I can explain! I can explain!
Wait till they see
What we’ve caught in our traps
They’ll not be the same after that.
No . . .

Night buggin’
I’m putting on something light
Night buggin’
With that light in your eyes
It’s bright
I brought my great big jar
We could drive off in my car
To find some small cafe
So that Lydia, my dear,
We can go
Night buggin’
All night long

That quote from “Night Buggin’” is part of a song written by Canadian zoologist John Acorn. He used to have a great TV show called “John Acorn: The Nature Nut.” He did shows about all manner of natural history, but his own specialty was entomology. He liked bugs. And he was a musician, too, so for every show he would write a song about the topic and the songs were always great. (FYI, ‘night bugging’ is a phrase insect lovers use to describe night expeditions outdoors where they set up a black light against a sheet—or a similar arrangement—and the bright light, including the strong ultraviolet, attracts all manner of insects for observation and collection.)

Entomologists—professional and amateur—can look odd (sheets, black lights, spelunker headlamps) and sometimes people do call the police. This also happens sometimes to sidewalk astronomers.

Simple things can look odd.

John Acorn once described how you can sometimes find water beetles on cars. What happens is water beetles fly around looking for a pond. They look down and see the shiny paint of a car, they see the antenna sticking up like a plant, and the beetle thinks the car is a little pool of water. Bugs have tiny little brains and they often mistake one thing for something else if the general characteristics match.

Simple things can look odd to bugs, too.

John Acorn mentioned that if you collect water beetles from cars, sometimes a car alarm will go off. Acorn said when that happens it’s best to just get out of there. You can try to explain, he said, but it sounds crazy—“I was looking for a water beetle that mistakenly landed on your car thinking it had found a pond”—and even though it is true, it is easier, Acorn said, just to get away from the car and not try to explain to anyone what you were doing.


A while ago I took some photographs of a grasshopper in a parking lot.

Too Beautiful To Comprehend

I didn’t know it at the time, but a senior citizen fellow who lives near there was watching me. A few days later when I walked past, he yelled at me. He thought I’d been taking pictures of the buildings or cars and maybe I was getting ready to rob someone. He was all red in the face, really yelling at me. I didn’t bother trying to explain that I was taking pictures for a blog (I doubted he knew what the internet was). I just listened politely for a bit, then nodded, waved and walked away. He was still yelling when I walked away.

Simple things can look odd.

A few days ago I parked in the lot of a big store and after I looked around a bit in the store I walked back to my car. At some point I looked down and saw a beautiful, large praying mantis just walking along the asphalt of the parking lot.

I figured the praying mantis must have been flying along looking for a pond, saw the flat asphalt, maybe sensed heat coming up off the asphalt like heat coming up from shallow warm water, and landed thinking it had found a pond.

It was a busy parking lot so I bent down to shoo the bug away, but the praying mantis wasn’t afraid of me at all. It just kept walking slowly along the asphalt.

I thought, I should get a picture of this.

But then I looked around and thought, Hmmm, this is a busy parking lot. People are going to think I’m nuts, bending down to take a picture of something. Do I want to explain that I’m taking a picture of a bug on the asphalt?

So I didn’t take a picture of the praying mantis.

But I did bend down, very carefully pick up the out-of-place praying mantis, and walk it over to the edge of the parking lot where I could put it on the low branch of a tree so that it wouldn’t get run over.

It has bothered me ever since then that I didn’t take a picture of the praying mantis on the asphalt just because I didn’t want people to think I was weird, bending down to take a picture of a bug in a parking lot.

I feel in my old age I am wimping out, conforming, getting beaten down.

I don’t know. When I tried to shoo the praying mantis out of harm’s way the praying mantis didn’t want to give up its illusion that it had found a pleasant little pond. I had to pick it up and carry it to a tree.

I wanted to take a picture even if it would make me look silly getting the photo, but I didn’t do it. I don’t know if I should feel bad, or if I should feel that maybe that was somehow the universe’s way of gently picking up me and putting me on the low branch of a tree where I couldn’t get in trouble.

I don’t know. I’m thinking about it.

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A Life Of Illusion (Happy Thanksgiving!)

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