Dead leaves cover the ground, and in a month of drought, the forest stirs with restive energy. The water had retreated so far that a broad shore of thin shells had emerged to bridge the trees and their palpable thirst. On our way out from this parched land, a more dogged soul than duck spots a scarce lizard clinging to a waif of a tree. The black eyes are what distinguishes her from the blue-eyed boys. Sensing attention neither flattering nor fruitful, the agamid granted us mere minutes of her time before making a sudden leap into a clump of twigs where she melded her body and regained the invisibility she briefly lost.
On another day in a wetter moon, the damp erupts from the forest floor to feed a growing farm of mould. I arrive too soon and find little of what I seek. Plodding feet silence the mid-morning chorus and drive away the waves of song and feathered fury I had hoped to hear as they crash through the trees and feast on fleeing things. I listen in vain and very nearly miss a swoop of slender movement that lands on a trunk ahead. The dragon swiftly ascends to a safe height, where he gains enough assurance to flash his colours and snack on passing ants. I crane my neck, lose my sense of stability and give up hope of getting closer on a day when you refuse to meet my eye, forcing me to look down and out while you lose yourself in a cloud of naughty dreams.
One surfs in a seep, riding the tensile strength of still waters. Striding and skating, the bug is ready to stab and suck the life out of every flailing body that escapes hungry damsels only to fall into its realm and unleash a shockwave of tell-tale ripples.
The second clings to a reed by the edge of a lonely forest and the wild fringe of a vengeful pool. Flaps bedeck its legs and the wings end in a crude dress of crinkle cuts. The bug's colours seem a little bold for a beast with neither stink nor sting, but hop springs eternal in its joints when it needs to resort to swift and evasive action.
On a roomy blade closer to the woods, a bug in loud garb and stiff akimbo shows scant concern over our invasion into its routine. Perhaps it trusts a little too much in the fearful respect accorded to hunters with curled feelers and extended to half-winged pretenders with feet in similar postures. I have no idea what these three are called, and even if I do, expect no reward or recognition from creatures who refuse to stick around and cannot return a love that offers you nothing more than a pledge to be true and the patience to see you through, for as long it lasts.
A plot of pipewort by a miniature oxbow provides half-foot high perches for one of the world's smallest dragonflies, a pint-size flyer only a fraction larger than a close cousin from Borneo. Little more than half an inch in length, these scarlet hunters defend compact territories in shallow marshland, where they woo passing females and guard them to secure their genetic payload. The ladies come in smart brown, but are drab creatures beside the males who glow with stiff intensity and boldly hold their ground against the rampant intrusion of larger relations and giant interlopers.
A coat of dappled green helps a nearby female Asian pintail blend into the grassy bank by an exposed stream but still fails to shield her from sorties by fellow libellulids. Decked in brighter shades and more fond of higher lookouts, her would-be mates were nowhere in sight and would have in any case offered but pale resistance to a persistent squadron of skimmers. Named for a passing abdominal resemblance to a genus of scorpionflies, these thick bodied dragonflies have taken the low route to conquest, turning up throughout the Old World wherever marshes still remain and the land runs wet and not a little wild.
Strange insects and mixed messages invade my room at odd hours when the air is unbearably warm and you are out there, in the dark and in the grip of feelings you wish to hide and can't stand to lose. This happens often enough that I know better than to fight this sense of dread or brush away the tiny bodies that land on my hand and toy with my head.
It was a little too late to invade the personal space of this hyperactive visitor, and so it spent the morning in a pod of plastic comfort. Placed on a sheet of pale paper, the insect displayed an exceptional ability to switch gears, hurtling forward and dashing back with equal speed and indiscriminate ease. In appearance, the bug bore more than a hint of earwig and vague suggestion of termite, but with undersized cerci and visibly swollen fore tarsi.
A lonely game of cluedo fingered the order Embioptera, a group of obscure insects that spin webs and weave hidden chambers to escape the attention of humans and higher arthropods. Seldom spotted and less studied, embiids enjoy a live of seclusion on trees, rocks and in leaf litter, where they graze on simple plants and decaying matter. Whereas webspinners in a rival city state have enjoyed a decent measure of documentation, local species have eluded much notice until recently, although at least two genera have been recorded: the bark-dwelling Bulbosembiaand Oligotoma, which contains a number of 'weed' species dispersed with the aid of man. They are also mysteriously credited with damage to the fruit of a
weed gone wild. It is not unlikely that many casual observers have simply taken the wandering males to be alates of undesirable colonies and so missed a chance to pin down a gap in what we know of the smaller majority that dwells in our midst and far from our hearts.
When she drinks, she drinks deeply. The average blood meal amounts to 2 1/2 times the original weight of the insect. Picture Audrey Hepburn sitting down to a steak dinner, getting up from the table weighing 380 pounds, then, for that matter, flying away.
– David Quammen (1985), "Sympathy for the Devil," in Natural Acts.
She took a long, lazy sip. It didn't hurt. Neither did it itch much, unlike the stabs of urban bloodsuckers that easily outstay their welcome, turning from scratches of pleasure into painful scabs. What lasted far longer than this trifle of a walk was a sense that you still care enough to pin me down where you think it matters most. I can bear the bite, but not the buzzing silence and piercing glances that follow this withdrawal from words that break off when they are barely skin deep. You leave me with a fever that shows no symptoms and a thirst to drink to your health and my sanity, just for while and only until we stumble again to sink our teeth in a meal of mock bewilderment and bemused frustration.