B.U.N.K. Volume 3, Number 1 (1986)
It has always been my practice as a collector to carefully consider the potential defensive actions of an insect I am stalking. Should it be (a) netted, (b) grabbed indiscriminantly, or (c) gingerly picked up in such a manner as to neutralize such organs of defense as stings and jaws? My "Rule of Thumb" law is to choose either the former or the latter in doubtful situations.
To my ever lasting amusement I discovered during a chance meeting with one of B.U.N.K.'s distinguished editors, Mr. Bob Anderson, in Portal, Arizona, that quite independently, Bob had developed a far more effective "Rule of Thumb" law to assess the pain-inducing capabilities of insects. I might never have been privy to this information had I not observed with interest one night, the varied insect life attracted to Bob's blacklight. My attention was drawn to a large (3 inch) female dobsonfly just outside the glimmer of the lights. With formidable inch long mandibles and a long flexible neck, I quickly applied my "Rule of Thumb" law and classified the beast in the (c) category. Whilst maintaining a cautious grip near the metathorax I offered my find to Bob for his perusal. Thereupon I was introduced to Bob's "Rule of Thumb" law dealing with such situations. "Oh these don't bite" Bob remarked as he slid his thumb between the jaws of the by then agitated dobsonfly. What happened next, I'm not sure, because it all happened so fast; Bob's thumb spurted blood, words were used that can't be printed here, and the poor dobsonfly was catapulted into space by a quickly withdrawn hand. I'll always remember Bob's "Rule of Thumb" and envy its straightforward; approach to a dilemma faced by many an entomologist, but thank you, Bob, I'll stick to my own system.
It is truly unfortunate that so few biologists realize the great joys to be had by interpreting the ways of nature to the members of the general public. This was my summer job as an undergraduate, and for two summers I worked at Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park, at Lac La Biche, Alberta. There, I was given a lovely green uniform, and a run-down green truck.
One fine summer afternoon, I was "roving" along the road ("roving" means walking along admiring nature while wearing a uniform, in the hopes that somebody will ask you what you are doing), when I spied a cluster of Anthaxia aenogaster (small beetles of the family Buprestidae) in a dandelion. Seeing two rather unkempt and seedy-looking cowboy types coming my way, I knelt down to admire these tiny creatures (the beetles that is). Eventually, one of the cowboys asked me what I was doing, and I invited them over to see the beetles, in the hopes that they might benefit by a contrast to the ignorant redneckism which no doubt pervaded their lives. I explained that I was a naturalist, and that I had stopped to admire some metallic wood-boring beetles in a flower. I encouraged them to see for themselves, and they both bent down and peered into the flower. I prepared myself for the usual ridicule, and felt sorry for these two stupid men, who undoubtedly could not even dimly imagine the deep understanding people like myself have of nature's ways. Then, slowly, they stood up, looked at one another while chewing on a couple of grass blades. One mumbled to the other "hmm, just looks like a couple of goddam buprestids to me", and they walked on down the road.
Now, as a purported student of those marvellous nosy little fellows, the weevils, I am, in retrospect, rather embarrassed by an event which occurred in late summer of 1979 while a fellow student, Steve Marshall, of Diptera fame, and myself were baking our brains in the badlands of southern Alberta.
In the badlands, or any arid area for that matter, one of the best places to "beetle" is under those heaven sent [I object... incipient scarabaeodeism in our editorship? - J.H.A.] piles of processed prairie that cows scatter in their daily wanderings. Beetles of all sorts are known to congregate there for warmth and companionship.
But first a few short words to preface the story. At that time I was a beginning graduate student at Carleton University, and looking forward to spending a field season trapping carrion beetles, prepared to head west. But I had not left before that dreaded deluge which preceeds all field trips: colleagues putting in their requests for all sorts of obscure animals to be preserved in some bizarre way, that to make an honest effort to find, would take us miles from our own objectives. One fellow student got in his request for histerids, particularly those that might be associated with ants.
Well, I was flipping over the "beetle brothels of the badlands" scanning the ground for signs of our friend, the coleopteran, when lo and behold..a histerid..and..ants; myrmecophilous histerids, the ones that I had been told to be on special lookout for.... Que milagro! Filling my vials with this incredible find...they were under every cow pat...I shouted to Steve to look for them as well. Fifteen minutes later Steve came over the ridge with a puzzled look on his face that told me he hadn't found any. "No histerids" he said, not to my surprise. "Only heaps of weevil elytra". Frustrated, I slowly began to extricate a vial to show him what they looked like, concurrently berated dipterists for their inability to recognize beetles, when I began to have second thoughts about my find myself. After all, just about the commonest animal in the badlands of southern Alberta is the weevil Otiorhynchus ovatus, a species whose dark brown adults are flightless with the elytra solidly fused together along the midline. Things slowly began to come together....ants....disarticulation....Otiorhynchus ovatus. Sure enough, sixty-three sets of fused weevil elytra do not a good days catch make.
Odds and Sods
"[Man] doesn't fly like an eagle, he flies like a beetle. And you must have noticed how ugly, ridiculous and fatuous is the flight of a beetle."----Joseph Conrad, 1921, in a letter to Bertrand Russell.
"If God is a carabid, why did he make so many weevils?"----George E. Ball, Entomological Society of Alberta Annual Meeting, 1985.
"If God is a carabid beetle, is George Ball a priest?"----Wayne P. Maddlson.
"A Chalcididae keeps the doctorate away."----Daryl J. Williams. (A warning addressed to Gary Gibson while he was attempting to complete his thesis on small, parasitic hymenopterans) .
"A closed mouth gathers no foot"----Traditional.
Letters to the Editors
As a hymenopterist, I was delighted to see that the most outstanding contribution in the first issue of B.U.N.K. was not on beetles per se, but on their universe (in keeping with your first editorial). Let me congratulate you on including this fine article, to be found on page 4 [in the original printing of B.U.N.K. on paper, page 4 is a blank page - eds.]. It certainly eclipses any of the other contributions. Could you please supply me with the author's name and address which must have been inadvertently omitted, so that I can request a reprint.
Sincerely, Jeffrey M. Cumming.
Eds. note: When we first received your letter we questioned your claim to be a hymenopterist; we question it even more now that you are soon to be employed as a dipterist. Surely this must be an oversight on your part. Nevertheless we will provide you with the author's name and address, but we have checked our records and the author's name and address are clearly given in our file copy. They are
Please feel free to contact us if we can be of further assistance.
I was stalking the elusive pronghorn anecdote when a beetle bit me. The doctor prescribed an auntie-dote before I could tell him that my aunties had all been passed over and on to heaven. I cannot locate even so much as a maresy-don't let along a doesey-doe, so if your readers are collecting anecdotes, could they save one for me?
William B. Barr
Eds. note: Ooooookay Bill. Earth calling Bill, earth calling Bill, come in Bill.....
Enclosed are three student memberships. I must add that upon opening my copy of B.U.N.K., the first beetle of spring flew in and landed on the pages. No surprise, it was a staphylinid known to favour dung. Please see that our names are not entered upon any lists that potential employers may see.
Yours, Mike Ivie, Sam Stribling, Rich Miller.
Eds. note: Your staphylinid must have missed its mark. Perhaps your theses were nearby? We olso hope that we got your names spelled correctly.
(passed on to us by Wayne P. Maddison)
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