Posts Tagged 'flies'

Flies

They get no respect, the two-winged insects known as flies. The biters, bloodsuckers, shit-eaters, in-flesh laying parasites, maggot-spawners.

Ooooog, you say, why are you doing this to me on a Sunday morning?

Well, at least they’re not Republicans.

There are an estimated 17 million flies for each and every human. We’d be drowning in excrement and corpses if not for all these flies, or at least the types that do the dirty work. But as Erica McAlister, a curator of diptera at London’s Natural History Museum, tells us, they do a lot more besides. There are also, for instance, vegetarian flies and pollinators. Indeed, chocolate depends on Forcipomyia genus midges for pollination. Paradoxically — or humanly, if you prefer — the expansion of cacao tree cultivation has meant clearing the forests in which chocolate midges live. Uh-oh. McAlister notes that cultivated cacao trees already have a very low pollination rate….

Obviously in love with her life’s work, McAlister’s enthusiasm is infectious.

And speaking of infection (this is a book review by Borscht Belt routine, evidently…) it’s not the mosquitoes — yes, they’re types of flies — who cause trouble; it’s the disease they carry. And they carry those because of the blood they need to produce their young. As vampires know, blood is very rich food; there are even tiny little midges who tap the blood mosquitos fill themselves with.

Cue up Jonathan Swift:

The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.

Memento Mori

Found in the shadowy gully between window and screen of someone else’s fourteenth story apartment, a veritable mausoleum of desiccated Diptera and at least one Hymenoptera.

I’m just finishing up my costume for tonight: I’m going as a landfill full of Halloween garbage.

Flyday

Three-spot Horse Fly (Tabanus trimaculatu). I kid you not.It’s the females who bite; I think this one’s a male. He has his father’s eyes, right?

Long-legged Fly

One of the genus Condylostylus long-legged flies.
A little jewel. Same specimen: the light does wonderful things with the metallic sheen. There are more than 30 species in this genus north of Mexico; they usually feed on smaller insects and mites.

Behold the Imago!

A flesh fly of the genus Sarcophagi. You don’t particularly want to see the larval (stage, part, being) of this insect, since as their name suggests they are carrion-eating maggots. On the other hand, you probably don’t want to see carrion slowly decomposing by bacteria and the weather alone; that would take much too long: the stuff would quickly pile up high and deep.

The adult or reproductive stage of an insect that goes through metamorphosis is an imago, “the image or essential form of a species” to quote Stephen Jay Gould, from whose essay “Glow, Big Glowworm” (in Bully for Brontosaurus) I take today’s sermon. Linnaeus gave us “imago,” as well as “larva” (mask) and “pupa” (girl, doll/puppet). The great namer essentially said the reproductive form was the true being of the animal, the essence, the complete insect; earlier stages are immature, imperfect, juvenile, unfulfilled, and, oh, hey, female.

Linnaeus’s developmental metaphor takes humans as the model (a child is the immature form of the adult) and sets this on other life forms. But there is no reason to think that larval and imago aren’t equal parts of the life cycle of these animals. Both are fly; ladybug; butterfly (the caterpillar-butterfly metamorphosis was long taken as a metaphor for the soul’s release). Gould suggests an economic metaphor instead, a division of labor between the components. “By allocating the different, sometimes contradictory, functions of feeding and reproduction to sequential phases of the life cycle, insects with complete metamorphosis have achieved a division of labor that permits a finer adaptive honing of each separate activity.” (But note that Gould here is still imposing one of our human conceptions on this relationship; sure, that’s we humans do, but is it right? I mean “right” in both the senses of accuracy and morality. Maybe it’s the best we can do.)

[The same essay has a postscript on how faulty our conceptions are when it comes to distribution (of stars, glowworms on a cave ceiling, etc.). It looks to us as if randomly generated things have a pattern because of the clumps and strings that inevitably get created in a random array. A non-random distribution, on the other hand, looks random to us because it lacks the clumps and strings and patterns and constellations we see. We just don’t seem to be mentally attuned to understanding probability. We crave patterns and design. We want origins, order, and above all meaning. Oh, gods, how we demand meaning! Cue the theologies, the conspiracies — yes, even the narratives. We want a story and by jiminy we want to be its heroes.

But life isn’t a story and we’re not the stars.]


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