atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#414: Fascinating

...I can't stop watching the bugs.

In 1990, as I recall, I was utterly revolted by Brood XIII of 17-year cicadas. I wanted nothing to do with them; after seeing a couple I lost interest.

This time, though, I find myself going to the tree in the front yard every so often to see if anything new has developed.

If the digital camera was working I could show pictures of what it looks like now. About sunset I had a look at it, and there were a whole bunch of the things either moulting or starting to. I watched one climb 6 feet before I got tired of watching.

It made me wonder how they decide when they've climbed high enough, too. I mean, what's the mechanism? Is it an instinctual behavior, or do they just climb until they're too tired to go farther?

Anyway, one of the things I find interesting is how much bigger the bug is that comes out of the old shell, than the shell it's leaving. Where does it put all that bulk? Have bugs mastered dimensional transcendentalism? (See also: TARDIS)

More likely they just do a kind of "inflating" thing: all the innards have all the voids squeezed out of them as the thing grows, and when it moults, the voids re-expand. That would make sense.

Maybe it's because of this interest that I've seen so many "defectives"--bugs that didn't moult successfully and died halfway out of their old skins, or ones which got out but didn't get their wings extended, or ones which look perfectly healthy but drop dead for no apparent reason.

I only remember seeing one that failed to moult, and otherwise I didn't see any "defectives". But as I said, last time I didn't go looking for the bugs.

And today--Thursday, that is--I could hear them singing, two different kinds of song. One sounded much like the "dog day" cicadas, the ones which come out in late July and August. The other was a kind of raspy sound which I can only describe as sounding like a strangled scream, sort of.

Thursday morning, when I got home from work, I went into the back yard to see if that tree had much of any activity. There were a few of them near the base of the tree, and the early morning sun was shining on them, and I thought, "Hey, that's the first time you've seen the sun in 17 years! How do you like it?"

Well, if the thing had any capacity for thought at all, I expect it would not be all that happy about it. Coming out of the ground and moulting means it has about a month left to live, after all.

Thinking on that, the life cycle of insects seems spectacularly wasteful to me. A lot of energy is consumed on surviving just long enough to breed, and no longer. (Of course this applies to insects from temperate zones. I know nothing about tropical insects.) Particularly when the insect's pre-adult life cycle is years long.

But a cicada which has entered its adult phase cannot burrow underground; the wings make that impossible, and the adult must have wings in order to be able to fly to mates. And without being able to get underground, the cicada will die when the weather turns cold. Also, the "machinery" required to replenish breeding capability would make the bug even bigger, and as they subsist on dilute sugar water (thus taking 17 years to mature anyway) I don't see how the bug would have the energy budget to make more eggs or sperm and survive predation, disease, etc.

And what's a bug going to do besides breed, anyway? Insects don't even have central nervous systems; the bug's control system is more like a distributed network than a mainframe with peripherals. This improves the bug's ability to survive but it means the bug has the intelligence of...well...a bug.

I could go on about this but I think I'll stop before I get into "chicken vs. egg" and "Darwin vs. Intelligent Design vs. Creation".

* * *

On a completely unrelated note, then, the beginnings of actual text for Methuselah are starting to percolate around in my brain. I'm pretty sure this means I'll be starting to post chunks of text soon. I had hoped to write it out before posting any of it, unlike Singularity, so that there would not be problems with forgotten names and such--but Methuselah is overall a simpler story than Singularity was, so maybe that won't be an issue.

Anyway, that's about it for now.
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