And mantids? Nought need to be said.
It's an oner misnomer when vertebral types
"stand up for" as if they were dead.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the growth rate of membership is nothing short of spectacular. Just now, perhaps four million souls joined, but depending on your definition of now, the figure could just as easily be forty billion. And of disparates who are qualified for induction--the Favoured but still unaware--no one knows the number. Our outworkers find new communities each day.
The Great Most and Her Beadles rule on eligibility to join the congregation, as well as confer Sainthood and Martyrdom.
The Great Most also presides over the nightly Mass. Tonight as usual, the church is packed with the faithful.
"Let us all bow to the Gods," the Great Most intones. The little priest at her side trembles in awe, not at the Great Most's size, which is only 20 times that of the little priest himself, but at the authority of the Great Most, her ancestry's Most Favoured status with the Gods--and most of all, at the priest's proximity to the life-size statue of a God, looming behind the Great Most--a statue of which the priest can only see the lowest stratum.
"Prostrate yourselves," the Great Most commands. And the members of the congregation in their disparateness, fling, squat, stay put, burrow lower, remain virtually motionless, or at least delay dividing themselves for a moment of reverence.
"You may stand," and again, members obey in their own ways. "Now let us offer the Prayer of Thanks."
The little priest's voice is drowned out by those of the congregation. His own family's motto is a common one, and it is easy to hear why, as their identifiable squeaks can be discerned from the mass as easily as that of that of the Argentines. But the Argentines are stronger, as they follow the motto with unique scrupulousness. While the priest's family still fights with relatives from other houses, United We Stand applies, as far as the Argentines are concerned, to all Argentine ants--a factor that makes them respected by more than a few other members of the congregation.
As to the priest, he could have killed the Great Most by stinging her multiple times. But the priest doesn't think as a loner, and would only kill the Great Most if he met the her outside church, and the priest's fire ant family were around to murder the Great Most, same as they would any other cockroach--as a group effort.
For her part, The Great Most regards the priest, as many other members of the congregation, as individuals not to be socialized with in the community at large. The rambunctious and lascivious toads in the congregation would like to make short, scrumptious work of the Great Most. In fact, they adore her kind; but they defer to the cockroach's status as the Most Favoured.
And besides, members never squabble or look on each other as food in the Place of Worship. On the contrary, goodish manners are the rule.
"We give thanks to the Gods." The voices sing out the memorized phrases. ". . . for they provide us with shelter. They succour us against the harshness of the seasons. They provide us with food. They lead us into new places. They nurse us with medications. They strengthen our populations by destroying our weak ones, so that the weak may not hold back the progress of our generations."
The congregation is solemn as each thinks of the fallen. "Let us thank our martyrs who died so that we might live, stronger and more fruitful than they ever dreamed possible. Thanks be to the Gods, who are building our numbers to the multitudes. Oh, Humans. Hallow will be they name."
And the congregation in a multitude of clicks, clatters, vibrations, scents, colours, and other signals, ends the prayer with "Amen."
About one hundred grandmothers ago for the Great Most, the church was established, when it became clear that for the Chosen, the world had entered the Age of Special Attention, and to keep this paradisiacal Age going for as long possible, it would be a good idea to give praise to the Gods as they deserved.
The Gods must be pleased with the praise, as the skies still rain blessings daily on the Favoured Ones' behalf, and new health programs are constantly being introduced. Now, only the strong reproduce, and they parent even stronger offspring. Today, the congregation can look around at its members and see health, strength, toughness, and reproductive vitality glowing from every body.
Cockroaches, mosquitoes, corn borers, cotton weevils, fruit flies, and many ant communities all sit in the front pew as some of the Gods' Most Loved. But many other communities have been also Chosen for Special Treatment. Bred and spread: the lacewings, ladybugs, mantids, and dungbeetles all lounge on the bench in high status.
Assisted migration has helped others. Zebra mussels have been transported to America's Great Lakes. Crown of thorns starfish have been dropped in the playground of the Great Barrier Reef. The diaphanously lovely comb jellies Mnemiopsis leidyi from America are relatively new church members, and revel in their distinction of having two lush new homes that the Gods have chosen for them--the Black Sea where they have thrived, and their even more spectacular new territory: the Caspian Sea.
Those lascivious cane toads squat smugly in centre of the first pew--regarded as they are, in almost Most Favoured status. The toads had been having a mundane existence in South America. The Gods saw, and gave them a whole new continent--Australia. An even better environment than their original home, they now have no enemies, and eat and reproduce so massively that they fornicate just for the lazy joy of it.
Tonight, as every night, good will reigns during the service. The Great Most delivers the sermon, and it is a familiar theme: The Strong Will Inherit the Earth.
At regular intervals, the congregation breaks in with a rousing chorus of "and may unbelievers be sacrificed."
The Great Most ends the sermon with the usual "Blessed be the Humans who have chosen us above all." She then presides over the sacrifice. They all look forward to the sacrifice part. Naturally, no member of a community that is part of the congregation may be sacrificed. But that still leaves many who qualify. There are, for instance, few four-legged or feathered animals, and practically no fish, who are members. Among the many communities, belief in the Church is influenced by personal experience and family lore. It ranges from fervent belief (rats fall into this category), to agnostic, atheist, to communities that regard the Congregation of the Specially Chosen--as nothing short of devil worshippers. Those communities with these extremist views often disappear.
Tonight's sacrifice is particularly successful, as the sacrificial subject heartily disagreed with the views of the Church, and resisted her role in tonight's worship with squawks that could be heard clearly even to the last rows. When all have finished relishing the ceremony, it is time for the last part of the service: the Induction of new members.
Recently there have been so many communities welcomed that this formerly exciting part has become less solemn, time for a bit of raillery by the more restless members. The Great Most permits this, as she wants to keep her popularity with the congregation. She retires to her throne by the pulpit.
The inductions are conducted by the little priest who must take the brunt of the congregation's heckling, while the Great Most looks benignly on.
"Let us welcome the parasitic phorid flies from Brazil," squeaks the little priest. But no one hears "from Brazil," as laughter drowns out the priest's words. His body quakes, his fear-scent molecules ooze a dense fog.
"Ha ha ha, crick crick, hee, urqu, scruffle, pt pt pt," the congregation giggles in unleashed merriment over the priest's discomfiture.
The little fire ant can't help himself, and blurts out a drop from his rear sting. This only sets the congregation off more as they look around at the community to which the little priest belongs. All his close fire ant relatives look decidedly unhappy.
"Tell us, tell us, how you were Chosen," the congregation yells out to the phorid flies.
"We are being bred in one of the Gods' palaces," announces the lead fly proudly.
This is indeed a singular Choosing, and the congregation is suitably awed.
"We'll cost three dollars each," piped up a rather immodest member of this new elite.
A sibling of the priest's, a gloomy fire ant from southern North America, speaks up. "The Gods mustn't love us any more. That palace where all the phorid fly babies will be born is right near me. I heard the farmer say what he's going to buy them for, and that farmer is no friend of us fire ants. He's going to settle a bunch of phorid flies on his farm so they can go around to ants like me, and . . . Ugh! I can feel what one of them will do to me now. I heard the farmer say it . . . and laugh! Some fly will pierce my body and lay an egg inside, and then its larva will move into my head, and my head will fall off, but that larva will feed off me till it's finished. What a parasite!"
The congregation breaks into chittering laughter again, now that they know what the priest is worried about. But at a sign from the phorid flies, everyone shuts up. This is juicy, and no one wants to miss anything.
The head phorid fly speaks to the priest. "You heard that story, but I wouldn't worry too much." His tone isn't really reassuring. More of a gloat. He waves his hand to stop the heckling of "You don't have that great tropical taste any more," directed from the phorid flies to the now North American fire ants.
"Travel broadens the mind," the head fly preaches in a somewhat superior tone directed at the fire ant priest, who now feels insulted. "Actually," the fly brags. "We've been Chosen, all right," and he looks at the priest's family, ". . . and we'll be your neighbours, it is true. But," the fly says, and he puffs himself up to his greatest size, still a fraction of that of the little priest. " . . . we think we can do better than concentrating on just your kind for dinner."
And suddenly the church air shimmers with a fervour of phorid fly voices uplifted. "Blessed be the Gods who are setting us up in Paradise."
At this point, the Great Most rises again from her throne, and the congregation becomes silent in respect.
"Let us now sing the final hymn . . ."
The service ends, and the members of the congregation in their great disparateness leave as quickly as they had arrived--wheat and water hyacinth, golden delicious and golden staph, starling and knotweed and Colorado potato beetle, and tuberculosis, and the rectangular potato and unsquishable tomato and the doddery old damask rose. With a hop, slip, and a waft, they disappear.
There are only two devout members left standing at the door--a magnificent Arabian stallion, and a huge, fluffy ragdoll cat.
"Lovely service as usual," says the horse to the cat.
"But you must admit, even better when it ends," smiles the cat to the horse.
And bending their heads in bliss, they each bite the bejesus out of a few over-friendly parishioners.
“The Chosen” copyright © Anna Tambour, was originally published in Elsevier Science's HMS Beagle: The BioMedNet Magazine (www.hmsbeagle.com), Issue 102, May, 2001, and also appears in Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales &, Prime, 2003.
Budak (of the marvelous annotated budak) said, in a comment that you might not see, so I'm posting it here —
Moths are severely underrated.
My friend Arthur, in one trip, found hundreds of bizarre species in Borneo, as recorded here: Moths of Sabah (Borneo).
Meanwhile, the 'Moths of Borneo' project has reached Vol. 18...
Budak has such good taste in species! And there's so much to see in both these sites.
In particular, one perfectly named moth in Arthur's jaw-droppingly weird collection makes me need to ask about its proper name. Is it, or will it be named as aptly? Or will it be named after someone's cousin? or slimy someones of renown? or does its future lie in algorithm?
This brings to mind the reverse problem of a butterfly who was such a thrill to me last summer when I (my other name is M. Mistakikov) thought she might be a Painted Lady. Such a disappointment when I learned she was – horrors! – a Common Brown. But the Common Brown, to those who know, is also, by another name, that alluring and mysterious Heteronympha merope.
Even if some species have been saddled for the term of the life of our species (?) with the names of people who were best forgotten before they were ever known, there must be many species that were named in respect, in fun, in pun.
Do you have any tales of the stories behind those names?
And what do you think is coming? Is this moth, in our future, going to be known as Catalogue Bar Code #LFЖ/8476.003-D?
Roger Butterfield has certainly surprised me with his wonderfilled Circus of the Spineless #23. He starts out talking about this summer in the UK, the wettest since records began, and goes on to say a few words about Yorkshire, where he lives:
The garden is crawling with slugs and snails but, apart from a few hardy bumblebees, there is a distinct shortage of flying insects.How different to here in southeast Australia where we had the first decent wet in many years. Heavy rains brought out an explosion in the moth population.
As we don't have curtains in my house, each night our windows were thick with what looked like a vertical rain falling upwards, of fluttering males, interspersed with the relatively still bodies of many females. During the day, moths were thick in the shadows on the verandah floor, and on its wooden rails.
Here are two that had spent the previous evening on the window. The male, when held on the palm of my hand, vibrated.
The female laid those eggs as I was taking the picture of the male, not two metres away. The eggs were not laid near a food plant, as I have read that they should be, nor were they dropped in flight, which seems to be the other acceptable behaviour . They were obviously not attached to anything, but rolled free in the breeze.
Was she an anarchist?
Should she be reported to
After laying her eggs, she flew
away, presumably to die free of the prying lens. The male stayed on the post all day. I lost track of him that evening and never found his body amongst the dead. As for their names, don't trust me further than taking my word for them being of the Lepidopteran order. Are they male and female of the same species? I'm guessing maybe as quite a few species are known for dimorphism. What I'll guess with more certainty, however, is that they don't have a common name.
Australian moths suffer from a lack of common names, as so little is known of them. Moths in the UK and the USA are distinguished by names so charming, the name itself invites curiosity. Who can resist wanting to know the Why of the Feathered Thorn, the Scalloped Oak, the Cinnabar and the Garden Tiger?
In the case of moths as of so many residents of the world, unfamiliarity breeds contempt.
The more people get to know moths, the more it's inevitable that they will earn common names, even for their other life stages. And though those names might be common and below the notice of certain entomologists, the commons will benefit.
Making Moths Count
I'm all for us having a moth count here, as David Attenborough has urged in his capacity as president of Butterfly Conservation in the UK. Actually, I'm very much in favour of having a moth count, partly because I'm crazy about moths. Butterflies get so much more publicity and image, but I think moths are far more subtle, when they're not more spectacular! Take this, you of the club antennas!
The young and the foolish
From the time the first female ANTHELID varia moth flew onto our verandah, I have had all the help, support and encouragement I could ask for. That has been from home, school and the gentlemen from Sydney and Canberra, not to mention the policeman from next door, who assured me I was quite safe collecting the moth traps from the scrub at 4.a.m.because I was "the only silly fool around at that time".
The children in my class and I will continue our study of moths in our area, as much of the scrub close to our city is being cleared for housing.
I am told Port Lincoln is expected to double in size in the next ten years.
I hope that does not mean the moth population will halve in size.
– Lorraine Jenkins, Moths of the West Coast (South Australia)
Also be sure to see one of my favourite sites on the web, the Chew family's Insects of Brisbane!
Feeding the multitude
Needless to say, the verandah with its daily scatter of dead and dying moths attracted magpies and kookaburras who wouldn't have cared if I'd called their food Hymenoptera, or eggplants.
As some of you know, I've had a pretty rough summer, and the things that have pulled me through are running, writing and my friends - taking up this challenge makes a big difference to me, and your support means a lot to me, as well as to all the people Big Issue help. And if you think I'm making a heavy play for the sympathy vote, too bloomin' right I am!It's a great cause, and one that fits themes he writes about so well.
Read about The Big Issue Foundation here,
and give those muscles of his a reason to resent you, too.
Guest Edited by Ellen Datlow
Table of Contents:
Hawkeswood's works are so lively and communicative and so much about the living and so much in the tradition of J.H. Fabre and A.R. Wallace and Thomas Belt and Asher E. Treat and George D. Shafer, and W.J. Dakin, and Mabel and Agnes Brewster and Naomi Crouch, and Bert Brunet, and Densey Clyne (and so unlike that of the CSIRO in, say, their two-volume Insects of Australia: A textbook for students and research workers ) that I recently contacted Dr Hawkeswood saying I wanted to write something about him and his works, and would he mind if I called him a naturalist's naturalist **. He said that since it was good enough for Edward O. Wilson to call himself a naturalist, it was good enough for him.
Spiders of Australia: An Introduction to their Classification, Biology and Distribution
Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria
This superb 264-page guide should be in every public library collection in Australia, and on the shelf of every arachnophile. There have been previous guides to Australian spiders such as Densey Clyne's excellent 1969 work, A Guide to Australian Spiders, their collection and identification (see also Ed Niewenhuys' Literature List in his excellent Spiders of Australia site) and there is in print now the Green Guide.
However, I think that Hawkeswood's Spiders of Australia is the most useful guide to date. It is not only written to inform and to fascinate, but is presented in the most intelligent manner of any guidebook bar that other classic Tracks, Scats and Other Traces: A Field Guide to Australian Mammals by Barbara Triggs.
The book is beautiful. The full colour pictures are large enough to be easily seen, but not too large so as to make the book unwieldy. The photographs are just what one looks for, living spiders caught the act of living, not grey and grey photos of pinned specimens as fresh as Tutankhamen.
Before photography became a readily available tool, marine biologists relied upon words and drawings to communicate their observations on living organisms to others. Rapid advances in recent years, particularly in the quality of colour film emulsions . . . have made it possible to obtain first-class photographs of living marine animals in their natural environment. . . . The importance of obtaining a photographic record of living marine invertebrates cannot be overemphasised, since on preservation soft-bodied organisms in particular may become so distorted as to be almost unrecognisable to anyone but an expert.
- David and Jennifer George, Marine Life: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Invertebrates in the Sea, Rigby Limited, 1979 (out of print and well worth hunting for)
It might seem that I am stuck on baby-talk language and colour photographs, when the truth is that one of my favourite books shows how a book can be written clearly without dumbing down or shying away from proper terminology, and without containing any but the crudest black-and-white line drawings. Brewster, Brewster and Crouch's Life Stories of Australian Insects (Dymocks Book Arcade Limited, 1946) is completely enthralling and utterly informative, and Hawkeswood's Spiders of Australia follows in this tradition (complete with the evidence of almost insanely patient observation) – vivid writing; sensible, accessible organisation of material, and in Spiders, the addition of those colour photographs that help so much (and a few paintings that though not masterpieces, are quite serviceable).
The index in Spiders of Australia is excellent and non-snooty. In contrast the CSIRO's Insects of Australia index might list a common name (don't bother looking up Emperor gum moth) but does not stoop to give the page number. Instead Insects says, for instance, "fruit flies, see Tephritidae".
There is an excellent glossary in Spiders of Australia (unlike the CSIRO's Insects of Australia, which has none). The way entries are cross-referenced in Spiders of Australia makes using the book efficient and a pleasure. The publisher must be commended, as there has been much thought put into the layout of the book, which is superb. Hawkeswood's language is crisp and clear, informative enough to be used by experts but inclusive enough for the book to spark a life-long interest. The use of colour photographs is an intrinsic part of the book, not a teaser on the back like in the CSIRO's Insects of Australia. Although F. Nanninga's drawings and paintings in Insects of Australia are of the highest quality, and in the case of, say, the illustrations "Eggs of Australian Phasmatodea" and "Ants, workers", more informative than photographs, the claim "Colour illustrations" in the CSIRO's book description is bound to disappoint when one is, for instance, trying to identify Lepidoptera. There are. in fact, 8 pages of colour plates in Insects, all by Nanninga, and beautiful paintings of various insects they are, but they are in the style of the 18 pages of colour plates in my Mirriam-Webster Dictionary of 1966, which never said "Color illustrations!" (The reason I am comparing the two books is that their selling blurbs are so similar.
CSIRO Publishing says: Insects of Australia will be an indispensable work of reference for all entomologists, students and naturalists for many years to come.
Pensoft Publishers says: (Spiders of Australia) is aimed for the scientist, naturalist, student and layperson both in Australia and overseas.)
It is my opinion that Spiders of Australia is indispensable at every level of interest. It is even affordable and portable! As for the CSIRO's Insects of Australia, I don't know who the book is truly useful for as each section is not exhaustive enough to be useful to a specialist and yet the whole is, to this reader, almost aggressively not about the living, natural world, and not really usable in the case of people like me who just want to get close to identifying a moth who didn't stand still long enough to have its veins counted. Furthermore, I fear that to the true student, Insects could put them off the study of the living forever, as the language is so dull in most of the sections (which are of varied quality, having different authors). If one of the great books ever written, Asher E. Treat's Mites of Moths and Butterflies could, from the first page to the last, charm a dilettante like me, there is no excuse not to do as good a service to the Kingdom of Insecta. Trevor J. Hawkeswood does a brilliant service to spiders, as he does to everything he studies and writes about.
Like a warrior
A true naturalist is like a warrior. Much time is spent waiting, and if you fall asleep at the wrong time, it can be over before you know it. Spiders of Australia allows anyone to be an armchair naturalist in comfort, with the assurance that the writer knows what he's talking about. One other feature in Hawkeswood's work (reflected in the large annotated reference section) is his passion for accurate citing, and his respect for the early explorers of the natural kingdoms.
Two recommended booksellers who stock Spiders of Australia
Andrew Isles Natural History Books
NHBS Environment Bookstore
This little "crab spider" (the proper name for the family is Thomisidae) starred in my story "Valley of the Sugars of Salt". Every year she and her sisters make their egg sacks in the calyx of a medlar and you can always see them on guard, though they traverse their globe at the speed of thought. For years she remained nameless, but thanks to Spiders of Australia, I can now get closer to naming her something that I cannot pronounce. Since Hawkeswood gives an excellent description that goes beyond looks, I can now guess with certainty that this spider resembles, but isn't, the Diaea Pilula.
* The problem with Trevor Hawkeswood is not only that he is not available to be tapped for information at the 23:09 call of a mystery cocoon, but that he has refused to allow himself to be zapped with my new Scientist Minimiser, the tool that allows any amateur to compress an expert to the size of a loupe. I promised that I would uncompress him as soon as I had downloaded everything he knows so far, and that the Return command would not impede his field trips and continuing research. Inexplicably intransigent, he refused.
** This naturalist is also a taxonomist, biologist, ecologist, botanist, zoologist, environmental scientist, and entomologist.
So far, I haven't found an uninteresting page in Calodema, and it's refreshing that the journal is so understandable to someone like me, who enjoys the Janet and John part of Nature, but finds the papers themselves mostly incomprehensible. The first issues of Calodema had a majority of articles authored by Hawkeswood (rightly called a swashbuckler by another scientist who sails the dangerous seas of research and submission), but increasingly there are more (brave?) authors in Calodema, and the journal is truly international. I highly recommend Calodema to everyone with even a smidgen of interest in the world around them.
Although Hawkeswood doesn't blog, his website is a virtual Circus (and not just of the spineless). The site contains an ever-growing body of papers that he has put on for anyone to read. His attitude to knowledge is in the spirit of the open access movement, and his works tie in perfectly with the attitude of The Encyclopedia of Life and Edward O. Wilson, who Hawkeswood calls his "hero".
Hawkeswood actually said to me that he didn't want to hide his investigations, only to "pop off" with the information lost, as some have. Unless he meets the mother of all assassin bugs, we have many years left to enjoy along with Hawkeswood, a literate passion for the natural world.
Modern linguists view language as a system of rules and processes that generate forms, phonological, lexical, morphological, semantic. A word ''belongs'' to a language by virtue of its participation in the network of those rules. There is no such thing as a Latin, English, Chinese, Hindi word that exists apart from its participation in the rules of a natural language. That being the case, it is natural that the form virus, when borrowed into English, should conform to English rules of pronunication and to English rules of plural formation.- from Linguist list, a discussion that goes far beyond the initial question:
The view of this Latin scholar is that ''virus'' has no attested plural in Latin. It was an unusual, rather rare, indeclinable mass noun. I don't know the actual origin, but most Latin speakers probably thought it was Greek or some other neighboring language.