Search This Blog

Monday, 30 April 2012

Some thoughts about insects

Well, the new book is out tomorrow, and today I tramp the media trail, yacking about it on radio.

As a goodly part of Australian Backyard Naturalist is about insects, here are some odd thoughts on insects from my quotes file. It will be two or three days until I have time free to do regular posts here.
I believe that our very concept of beauty, necessarily relative and cultural, has over the centuries patterned itself on them, as on the stars, the mountains, and the sea.  We have proof of this if we consider what happens when we examine the head of a butterfly under the microscope; for the greater part of observers, admiration is replaced by horror or revulsion.
— Primo Levi, 'Butterflies' in Other People's Trades, p. 7

Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away.
— Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), Russian ballerina.

 It is said that the famous British biologist, J. B. S. Haldane ... asked by a churchman what his concept of God was, answered: 'He is inordinately fond of beetles'.
 — Primo Levi, 'Beetles' in Other People's Trades, page 14

It appears, by the dung that they drop on the turf, that beetles are no inconsiderable part of their food.
— Gilbert White (1720 - 1793), The Natural History of Selborne, (1789), Letter XXVII, about hedgehogs.

March 28.  A neighbour complained to me that her house was over-run with a kind of black-beetle, or as she expressed herself, with a kind of black-bob, which swarmed in her kitchen when they get up in a morning before daybreak.  Soon after this account, I observed an unusual insect in one of my dark chimney-closets; & find since that in the night they swarm also in my kitchen.  On examination I soon ascertained the Species to be the Blatta orientalis of Linnaeus, & the Blatta molendinaria of Mouffet.  The male is winged, the female is not; but shows somewhat like the rudiments of wings, as if in the pupa state.  These insects belonged originally in the warmer parts of America, & were conveyed from thence by shipping to the East Indies; & by means of commerce begin to prevail in the more N. parts of Europe, as Russia, Sweden &c.  How long they have abounded in England I cannot say; but have never observed them in my house 'till lately. [They had probably been there since late in the 17th century]
— Gilbert White (1720 - 1793), Journal, (1790), MIT Press, 1970.

 When the servants are gone to bed, the kitchen-hearth swarms with minute crickets not so big as fleas.  The Blattae are almost subdued by the persevering assiduity of Mrs. J. W. who waged war with them for many months, & destroyed thousands: at first she killed some hundreds every night.
— Gilbert White (1720 - 1793), Journal, (1792), MIT Press, 1970.

And you should never own to a mosquito.  I once unfortunately stated to a Queensland gentleman that my coat had been bitten by cockroaches at his brother's house, which I had just left.  'You must have brought them with you then,' was the fraternal defence immediately set up.  I was compelled at once to antedate the cockroaches to my previous resting-place, owned by a friend, not by a brother.  'It is possible,' said the squatter, 'but I think you must have had them with you longer than that.'  I acquiesced in silence, and said no more about my coat till I could get it mended elsewhere.
— Trollope, Anthony, Australia and New Zealand, London: 1873 and Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1967 (edited by Edwards and Joyce), page 67.
  And some taxonomy thoughts:
 Taxonomy, the most underappreciated of all sciences, is the keystone of historical disciplines.

— Stephen Jay Gould, The Flamingo's Smile, Penguin 1991, 19.

All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you.  There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground.  Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.  But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest.
Holy Bible, Leviticus, 11:20-23, New International Version.

The fact that we are able to classify organisms at all in accordance with the structural characteristics which they present, is due to the fact of their being related by descent.
— Ray Lankester (1847 - 1929)

There are really only individuals in nature, and genera, orders and classes exist only in our imagination.
 — Georges Buffon (1707 - 1788).

I suspect much there may be two species of water-rats.  Ray says, and Linnaeus after him, that the water-rat is web-footed behind.  Now I have discovered a rat on the banks of our little stream that is not web-footed, and yet is an excellent swimmer and diver. . .
— Gilbert White (1720 - 1793), The Natural History of Selborne, (1789), Letter X.

Modern biologists sometimes do less than justice to the genius of the men who, behind the bewildering variety of morphologies and modes of life of living beings, succeeded in identifying, if not a unique 'form', at least a finite number of anatomical archetypes, each of them invariant within the group characterized.  It was of course not difficult to see that seals are mammals closely related to carnivores living on land.  It was much harder to discern the same fundamental scheme in the tunicates and the vertebrates, so as to group them together in the phylum Chordata; and it was still more a feat to perceive the affinities between chordates and echinoderms; yet it is certain, and biochemistry confirms it, that sea urchins are more closely related to us than the members of certain much more evolved groups of invertebrates such as the cephalopods, for example.
 — Jacques Monod (trans. Austryn Wainhouse), Chance and Necessity, Fontana 1974, p. 100.

A plant should be mutually known from its specific name, and the name from the plant, and both from their proper character, written in the former and delineated in the latter.
 — Carl von Linné (Linnaeus) (1707 - 1778), The Elements of Botany (1775), quoted by Francois Jacob, The Logic of Life (1973).

It is a folly to use a great many where few words are sufficient.
— Carl von Linné (Linnaeus) (1707 - 1778), The Elements of Botany (1775), quoted by Francois Jacob, The Logic of Life (1973).

Life has come to be regarded by the majority of biologists as forming one vast genealogical tree, the roots of which are buried deep down in the lowest fossiliferous strata, and the tops of whose branches, constituting the life that now exists on the globe, are alone seen above the surface.
— John Gibson, 'Fossil fishes of Scotland' in Science Gleanings in Many Fields (1884).

... each pollen was very beautiful and specific: one could distinguish its separate granules, delicate and elegant architectures, small spheres, ovoids, polyhedrons, some smooth and shiny, others bristling with ridges or thorns, white, brown, or golden.
— Primo Levi, 'The Invisible World' in Other People's Trades, page 50.

No comments:

Post a Comment