Monday, October 24, 2005

Yuk, yipe, yow

Here's a verse by J. D. Whitney from the October issue of Poetry, one of eight little poems called collectively All My Relations:


You're already
you all seem
to be going.

We all know the whirligigs, those pond skitterers, those little motor boats going in circles. Ready morsels for fish, you would think, silhouetted as they are against the sky. How do they survive?

Just one of the little mysteries illuminated by Thomas Eisner's new book (with Maria Eisner and Melody Siegler) Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. Sixty-nine delectable short chapters on sixty-nine potentially delectable creatures by the author of that marvelous book, For Love Of Insects -- which I sincerely hope I have recommended here before.

When attacked, the whirligig beetle coats itself in a foul-tasing fluid. Any fish that takes a whirligig into its mouth will soon spit it out. Bass have a way of flushing their food by opening and closing mouth and gills to pump water through the mouth. The maximum time a bass will flush before giving up and expelling an unpalatable bug is one minute. Meanwhile, the ever-resourceful whirligig can keep excreting a steady stream of yuk for a minute-and-a-half -- and live to see another day. Intelligent design for the whirligig; bad news for the bass.