Interactions with Our Insect Friends

dish o crunchy locustsMay is locust season!
Every spring, kids come around with baskets of these tasty fried locusts. The best way to eat them is to snap off their lower legs (otherwise they scratch up your throat something awful), and sautee them again so they're piping hot!

1. We have noticed a wandering trail across the top of a wall in the kitchen, visible in white against a background of light grime. This trail is used by tiny ants, whose feet have worn through to the paint. Each time ants going opposite directions encounter each other on this trail, they pause for a brief conference.

2. Last week I emptied out my desk drawers, after finding piles of sawdust mixed in with my files and computer disks there. Termites had been eating the structural members of the drawers. Every day I spray them with Shelltox, and fumigate the desk, shutting the drawers with the fumes inside. I find the dead bodies of the termites lying in there. They are surprisingly big--nearly a centimeter long and equipped with mandibles which are still full of yellow sawdust even as they lie in death.
Today I carried the drawers through the art shop downstairs and out to the sidewalk. I squatted on the curb and chipped out the soft wood with a screwdriver. Parts that appeared nearly solid were revealed to be riddled with tunnels through lacelike remains. The termites like to cruise just below the surface, leaving a paper-thin wall of wood on the exposed surface. I caught a couple of them still alive, incredibly, burrowed deep into the wood.
The severed head of a termite can survive for more than five minutes, mandibles chewing furiously on air.

Spot the Bug
Spotted at Phnom Chisor, Cambodia

3. I've run across a couple of oddities in the past week. The first one was racing along the floor behind my bed. I thought it was a roach, and I drew the Shelltox, but something in the way it moved gave me pause. Actually, that's fair, because it already had paws: big front legs with club-like serrated scrapers for hands. It had a huge head, shaped like a lobster's head, and it moved like a mammal, in a nervous twitchy way. I trapped it in a jar. The next morning, it was still. "Oh no, Lumbo's dead," cried Poppy (who had surrounded the jar with plastic animals as night-time friends for the beast). But a breath of fresh air soon got Lumbo back into action, and he was scraping valiantly at the plastic. We brought him outside to a patch of weeds and upended the jar. Lumbo dove like a submarine: front end down, rear end up, and sinking fast.

4. The second oddity made itself known by interfering with my foot's downward descent, yesterday in my room at the fabulous Crystal Motel on Ochateal Beach. Hmm, I said to myself, I didn't leave anything--like a hedgehog for example--on the floor there. I better look and see what it is. It had a round body, and five and a half long legs, each with a spur-like extension. On the front was a small round head with one eye on either side of a long, tapered, downward-curving snout. Halfway down the snout, two little branches came out, made a right angle and ended in a tiny, quivering bulb. It stood stock-still. The animal looked like Snuffeluphagus, Big Bird's oft-invisible friend. It had a mournful expression--like "I know I'm an oddity, but I can't help it. Please, just pretend I'm invisible." So I smashed it. No, actually I trapped it in a glass. As I slipped the paper under the glass, it daintily raised each leg in turn, until it was standing on the paper. I put it out in a potted plant, but it toppled over onto its back, and froze in panic. Oh well, you can't do everything for them.

Bonus for looking this far down the page

Not more that 20 minutes after I wrote about the oddities in 3 and 4, above, a group of people walked up to the table where I was sitting, and asked what I was typing, there on the beach in Sihanoukville. It turned out that they were all from the International Rice Research Institute, and one of them, Gary, was an entomologist. Right place, right time.

He read the above, and pronounced number 3 to be a predacious diving beetle, which breathes through spiracles on its back, and can trap air beneath its shell in order to breathe while underwater. Some of them are big enough to catch and eat fish. Number 4 is apparently some type of weevil.

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