Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Midair, Even.

What's available just out your back door is usually astonishing. Here is Laura's bug collection, gotten mostly right here in Sewanee. Great, you say, bugs. Or you might think ''dang, that is one sweet Coleopteran...round.'' But bugs are people too. Why would I say that? Because one of the insects below practices full-on prostitution. Let me explain.

The Mecopterans (aka Scorpionflies, Hanging Flies) are not true flies, but have a highly derived club scene. These things are weird enough to be of their own order, the Mecoptera (long-winged things). You have to be long-winged to pull off what they do. The male Hanging Fly stakes out a branch and waits for unsuspecting passers-by of eatable size. Using four of his six available legs, he snatches, say, a loitering gnat or mosquito. His other two legs are meanwhile employed, sliging him about under a gravity perch while he dispatches the victim like a nightmare axe-murder trapeze artist.

Now, with those long wings he sets out with the dangling corpse prize and searches out a she-Mecopteran. He presents her with this flaccid exoskeleton full of gifted bug meat, and if she is congruently goth in attitude, she will accept the advance, taking hold of half the carcass as a prelude to hooking up. They unite and fly about towing between them what scientists call, no joke, the 'Nuptial Gift.' But get this: those same scientists have demonstrated that the heft of said gift is directly proportional to the time these bugs spend in each other's embrace. The larger the Nuptial Gift, the more sustained the copulation, the better chance the female gets properly inoculated with the man-Mecopteran's bug sperm.

So the duration of this flying Ménage-à-trois is determined entirely by the size of the dude's hunting trophy. Sound familiar? And this happens in midair. For real.

International expedition planning is on my mind right now. But the right attitude for exploring ridiculous things is the right attitude anywhere.

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