Fun In The Wee World

There's a fairly interesting documentary out there called Microcosmos.  It's a flick on the world of bugs, a subject I've always been interested in.  To all those bugs I inadvertently killed by placing them in glass jars to study when I was a kid — sorry about that.  Shit happens.

The documentary did, in one way, set itself apart from your usual documentary fare.

Here's what the narrator says at the beginning:

A meadow in early morning, somewhere on earth.  Hidden here is a world as vast as our own, where the weeds are like impenetrable jungles, a stone's a mountain, and even the smallest pond becomes an ocean.

Time passes differently here.  An hour is like a day, a day is like a season.  And the passing of a season is a lifetime.

To observe this world, we must fall silent now, and listen to its murmurs.

Those are the last words spoken for over an hour.

Herewith, I present ten of its more magical moments.

That Damned Interdimensional Barrier

At least, if you're a bug.

Here are four scenes dealing with that dreaded interdimensional barrier — at least, if you're a bug — known as adhesion or surface tension.  In the first one, while it probably just looks that way, it appears the ant is having trouble penetrating the bead of water.  Because in the next scene, the ants are lappin' away around the ol' water hole like a herd of buffalo.

That brings us to the third part and one of everybody's favorite critters, the water skeeter.  Now here's an animal that knows how to use adhesion to its advantage.

But the fourth scene poses something of a question.  If the water skeeter is using adhesion to its advantage, what are these guys using?  Reverse adhesion?

Evolution Never Sleeps

The spider in this clip lives under water and carries its oxygen supply on its back.  This is pretty clever when you think about it.  At least, until you stop to think about it.  At that point, the whole situation raises a few evolutionary questions.

To wit:

A.  All sea mammals (dolphins, porpoises, manatees, whales, etc) started off as land creatures, yet although 99% of all land creatures think that living on the land is just fine, thank you, fine, one small branch decided that the sea was (1) safer, with (2) more food, and that's the direction they headed.

B.  Similarly, 99% of all land bugs seem to think that living on the land is just fine, thank you, fine, yet, again, there's one tiny band of renegades who headed for greener watery pastures.

The question is, if living in the water actually is superior to living on land, why haven't more animals gone that route?  And, if it's not, then why haven't those who have given it a try come back?

For something every land creature takes to be as common as breath, look what this dude has to go through just to sit down and enjoy a snack.

Come back to land, little friend, come back!

Invention Of The Traffic Jam

It took me about twenty minutes to travel about a mile through town the other day.  They had closed off one of the lanes to do some construction work so it was the usual merging nightmare.

The local news station had a chopper overhead filming what the congestion looked like down below.

The only thing missing are the honking horns.

Did you happen to notice anything odd about the opening shot of the cracking earth?  Without even thinking about it, we assume it's time-lapse photography, probably over a number of days.  It kinda has to be.  Cracks widening in earth simply don't move anywhere near that fast except in event of earthquake.

Now watch it again and look at the shadows of the plants, and the amount of light the ground is getting.  While the plant moves a tad unnaturally, indicating the film is sped up, the shadows don't appear to move an inch, nor does the amount of ambient light change a flicker, both indicating that this happened in a relatively short period of time, maybe an hour.  If so, then, purely from a geological standpoint, that's pretty amazing.

The Sisyphus of the Bug World

While there are lots of 'great shots' in the documentary, there was one moment that was truly precious for its timeliness.

The poor li'l feller never knew what hit him.

'Plant Intelligence' Is Not An Oxymoron

Bees pick up pollen from plants on the hairs of their legs while doing their honey thing.  Then — if chance favors — they deposit it on other plants when they land, pollinating them, thereby promoting the continuation of both the plants and the bees' source of food; the quintessential example of a symbiotic relationship.

But what if the plant suddenly decides this whole 'leaving it to chance' thing is bullshit?

What if it wants to take an active hand in the matter?

Here's what.

Where There's A (evolutionary) Will, There's A (evolutionary) Way

I'd never thought about how worms propel themselves before.  Offhand, I would have guessed it would be something similar to snakes; some kind of 'writhing' motion.  That's what they do when when above ground.  But then you think it through and realize that method wouldn't work if you're chomping your way through the earth for the first time, since there wouldn't be any 'elbow room' in which to writhe.

In the first clip, we'll see how Mother Nature solved this little poser: contraction and expansion.

In the second, we'll see what happens when a worm finally realizes that it doesn't like hanging around in the slime and muck all day long and decides to take action.  Note how it still has the vestigial 'rings', which are unnecessary at this point, and how this is something of a case of 'nature run amok', in that, rather than spouting four or six or eight good, solid legs when the evolutionary command "grow legs" was given, every independent, disjointed ring grew its own.

A Most Horrific Way To Go

We all know that some plants trap and eat bugs, like the famous Venus Fly Trap.  Its jaws slowly close on the unwary victim and the poor li'l guy is left bewildered and confused.  The plant waits him out and eventually he runs out of gas and dies.  The plant then absorbs the decaying remains into its system.

As grisly as this is, at least the bug never knew of his terrible fate.  So there's some comfort in that.

But then there's being stickied to death.

Even Mother Nature Makes Mixtakes

The Great Horned Beetle!

Be pretty awesome, eh?  In a world of soft, squishy insects, you've got a friggin' horn!  You'd just badass yourself from one side of town to the other.

Except there's a problem.

Unfortunately, your cool horn has a design flaw.

Question:  Of the great horned beasts of the world, what is it about all their horns that's similar?

They're all pointing forward, ready to attack or defend.  That is, to actually be effective.

And then there's this guy.  It just seems odd, is all.  After all the hype and build-up, why is it pointing backwards??

Battle Of The Ages

Finally!  You knew it was coming.

The final showdown.

Yep, a battle to the death featuring two monstrously fierce warriors, each armed to the teeth and lookin' for blood.

There's only one eensy little problem.

The huge pincers they have look like they possess the insect equivalent of One Kitten Power, and against their fully-armored bodies, this is probably the least effective fight in bugdom history.  There are a couple of places where one of them clearly has a 'death grip' on the other, like around its neck, but one twist of the body and it's free of its opponent's One Kitten Power pincers.

I love the very end, though, after they take the big fall and have the breath knocked out of them.  The first one gets up, kicks the other one like "Yeah, take that!" and stomps off.  The second one then gets up with the perfect insect version of a "WTF?" moment.

That little crawly bug with the round shell-like exterior they cut to twice raises an interesting question all on its own.

Okay, so you're upside-down.  You curl up in your circular shell.  In the second shot, the shell has rolled a tad, then re-opened.  Problem solved.

But how do you move around enough inside the shell to actually cause it to roll over rough terrain when you're attached to the shell?

And Then There's The Majesty Of It All

I have a wonderful collection of beautiful bugs here.  Some insects are truly majestic.

I'd put this guy in that class.

With wings, no less.