Al Batt: Swarms of humans, and insects

Published 6:46 am Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Echoes from the Loafers’ Club Meeting

Bob is a freelance laxative tester.

Can he make any money doing that?

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He must. He has a house with nine bathrooms.

Driving by Bruce’s drive

I have a wonderful neighbor, named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: A large pickup and a disquieting sound pulled alongside me as we waited for a traffic light to ripen up green. The truck’s sound system throbbed like a heart. Its outside mirror, broken and hanging by a wire, was shaking to the blaring music. I was driving on a busy road as a part of a swarm of automobiles. Some insects also travel in swarms. They are better at it than humans. They outnumber us. There are over 60,000 vertebrate (having a backbone or spinal column) species and over 1.25 million invertebrate (no backbone or spinal column) species, making up 97 percent of all animal species. There are likely 1 million species of insects alone. One estimate is that there are 10 quintillion individual insects in the world. That’s 1 followed by 19 zeroes.

Insects in a swarm tend to travel in the same direction and, unlike humans, at the same speed. There appears to be a swarm intelligence that creates a single, coordinated entity. We do share some characteristics in our swarms. Neither swarm has a leader. Insects try to overwhelm predators with numbers just as we try to confuse police officers.

Bon appétit, y’all

I enjoy grits and okra. I suppose it’s because I was born in southern Minnesota. Southerners have a hankering for grits and okra. I recall the first time I encountered grits as a young man. The waitress, an older woman (probably 35) with long, blonde hair, called me “honey.” I liked that. I ordered breakfast. A dish of grits, made from dried corn kernels ground into coarse bits, came with it. I didn’t know grits. I thought it was Malt-O-Meal. I had to watch how another diner ate it.

I’ve raised okra. It produces like zucchini. I enjoy it best deep-fried. A friend told me the best way to eat okra is with more okra.

Thoughts while clipping my toenails

Is it getting windier or are there more wind chimes?

It’s hard to be anything but humble. My swatter and I are regularly outsmarted by flies.

Friends and loved ones, who are otherwise honest to a fault, will steal your french fries.

Nature notes

There were young cardinals in the yard. I could tell them from their parents because of their gray-black bills. The adults have red-orange bills.

Feathers undergo wear and tear and are replaced periodically by molting. New feathers form through the same follicles as the old ones. It isn’t the Olympics, but molting takes energy.

The mulberry trees seemed lonely. Robins had perched in them, waiting for the fruits to ripen. Now the mulberries were gone.

Canada thistles flower. It’s a European perennial that is invasive, but provides nesting material and food for the American goldfinch, a late nester with the bulk of its nesting taking place during July and August. The female builds a tightly woven cup of plant fibers to hold four to six eggs. Her nest is built well enough to hold water.

A common nighthawk entertained. During the breeding season, the male makes a booming sound by flexing his wings while diving, causing air to rush through his primaries.

Purple martins gathered for migration. Peak migration is typically late July through September. Dickcissels are numerous. A dickcissel looks like a junior meadowlark with a black, V-shaped throat patch on a bright yellow breast. The bird is named for its loud, persistent song.

I strolled down a rural, gravel road on a steam bath of a July day. Achillea millefolium, commonly called common yarrow, was abundant on the roadsides. The genus name, Achillea, refers to Achilles, hero of the Trojan Wars in Greek mythology, who used the plant to stop the bleeding and to heal the wounds of his soldiers. The species name, millefolium, means thousand-leaved in reference to its foliage. The plant has feathery, fern-like, aromatic (spicy) foliage and tiny, persistent, white flowers appearing in dense, flattened clusters flowering throughout the summer. Common yarrow has a number of other common names, including thousandleaf, soldier’s woundwort and stenchgrass.

Insects were eating the day. Japanese beetles have been found on 300 to 400 different plants. There are no easy methods to control them. Picking them from plants could become a fulltime job.

Meeting adjourned

  “Guard within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”

— George Sand