Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unexpected life in January

My son called me from upstairs.

"Dad, I got a bug for you!"

And he did--a stink bug. And not just a stink bug, a brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys. It's sitting in a glass next to my keyboard as I write, and he'll come visit Bloomfield High on Tuesday.

Outside small mammal tracks lead to the edges of our two fish puddles--calling them ponds would be a lie. In each, a pump bubbles water to the surface, and a small hole remains open in the ice.

Most of the water outside is solid.
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink
If I pay attention, I may see an opossum. (Raccoons wander around winter, too, but have enough body fat to hunker down and snooze during the chilliest periods.) Possums need to wander around to eat, and in winter, may wander during the day to stay a little warmer, dragging their chilled bald tails behind them. Though frostbite is a problem for these critters, starvation trumps frostbite.

I may need to rename the local possum "Stumpy" should she survive.


My stink bug's clan wandered over from Asia sometime in the last 10 to 15 years, likely through
a crate of doodads from China, Korea, or Japan. It was first reported in Allentown, Pennsylvania (where my sister-in-law lives), and has wandered a bit over to Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia.

I couldn't have told you a brown marmorated stink bug from a yellow-faced pink bellied cootie before the internet, at least not without a trip to the library*, and that wasn't going to happen with a the thermometer reading 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius for those in more enlightened countries).

I did step out barefoot to get the paper, but that's as far as I got.

I played around the web, looking for more information about my stink bug. My stink bug is, apparently, polyphagous (poly=many, phage=eat), and a threat to agriculture. It messes with our food, which means our dollars, which means it gets press on the web.

Still, what I really wanted to know was how this critter viewed the world, and I am left to my imagination or more research for that. Imagination is easier.

What "colors" can it see? Do its antennae feel, do they taste, do they smell?

I breathed on him, he responded. Was it the warmth? The carbon dioxide? The faint rush of air?

He seems to be a reasonably mild-tempered stink bug--despite a rough start to his day, he has not yet shown his noxious side. He may still be a bit sleepy from his winter rest.

We teach our children not to anthropomorphize, at least not in science, though I think anthropomorphizing has wonderful benefits when telling stories.

What we should also be teaching, though, is that critters are sentient. My stink bug reacts to changes. It finds food, had enough sense to find shelter in my home, and no doubt will be looking to find a mate come spring.

While I doubt it can consciously do quadratic equations, I bet I spend more of my time in its state of mind than I do in overt consciousness.

(Oh, but how can you know? Bugs can't have "minds"!
The same way I can know you are sentient--which is to say, I can never be sure, but it makes more sense than assuming that you're not. )

We think we know something about life, yet the simple act of standing up requires such a comple
x dance of cardiovascular tweaks that even Einstein would have fallen down if he had to man the controls.

There should be a prayer for our autonomic nervous system.


*Leslie, however, was kind enough to go to the library to pick up Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv's "landmark work" which has "galvanized an international back-to-nature campaign." If you don't believe me, just ask him.

The book came highly recommended by several folks, and Louv has tosses around some of my favorite people (Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson) . I started it last night, and he managed to annoy me the same way Thomas Friedman does--lots of glib references without giving me the sense that he has done more than dabbled with others' ideas-- but today I will hunker down and give it a chance.

And if that doesn't hold my interest, I have a stink bug to contemplate.

The brown marmorated stink bug photo is from the gummint of Maine, via


Kate Tabor said...

Good morning!
Oh, I'd much rather read Aldo Leopold and HD Thoreau. If you haven't read The Sand County Almanac by Leopold, it's a treat. I like reading "Winter Animals" from Walden and the winter months journal entries in the almanac together. One is in Massachusetts and one in Wisconsin, 100 years apart.
Have fun thinking about the stink bug.

Sean Nash said...

Give Louv a chance... after all, he is a journalist. He is a journalist that had a typical sleepy midwestern upbringing full of playingoutside until dark.

For that alone, I give the guy credit in the year 2009.

When you finish, check out the videoclip I referenced in that post- where I saw him speak the day after beginning the book myself. Give the guy credit at the very least for saying: "I'm the guy who writes about those that do..."

ps- your reception of this critter reminds me of my annual gift of a wheelbug or two for my classroom. Those too are quite amazing!

ps- read more and think less. come on, man... can't you just swallow things in the soundbytes they are doled out in? jeeeeeez. didn't you know that science is dead? wait- did someone just whisper something about tomorrow? what's that? a new hope? we'll see.


doyle said...

G'morning Kate!
I love both Leopold and Thoreau, but I have never read them side-by-side, a wonderful idea! I need to dig out The Sand County Almanac.

G'morning Sean!
Louv's book gets much better the next hundred pages. He's more evangelist than journalist, but his work truly does matter, and he got it out there, so he may be just what we needed.

(I do wonder where his editor went....)

He still reminds me of Thomas Friedman, though, but most people adore Friedman, too--people love evangelists.

Ann Oro said...

On the stink bug side of life, I've seen a couple this year in northern New Jersey. This one was waiting for me in my classroom recently.

doyle said...

@Ann Oro,
Yep, that's what we got here!

Rutgers would like me to send it alive to them--it's sitting in science class now with a piece of orange. I've grown accustomed to having the little fella in class, but maybe I'll ship him off tomorrow.