Warning: The following is semi-educational and not intended for the faint of liver. Cuteness overload ahead.
Salutations, hairless hominids!
It’s officially springtime, and the Early Bird is here to sing the bountiful praises of mother nature in all her muddy glory.
Ah, spring. The promise of rain. Of lots of rain. Of sunshine. Intermittently. Of flowers blooming and brooks burbling and warm breezes blowing. And perhaps most famously and hackneyed of all of spring’s glad tidings: the promise of new life. New life in your fingers flying across the keyboard as you bang out that essay you had all of break to finish. New spring in your steps as you dash from Peirce to Ascension before the skies break out in a torrential downpour. And of course, everyone’s favorite: fuzzy adorable baby animals! So innocent, so pure, so awww-some. That’s right, while you were cocooning in your winter comforters dreading the day when you’d be forced to emerge into the blinding sunlight and return to 8 am classes, nature was getting busy spawning some precious new arrivals, and it’s high time you were introduced.
I give you… the adorable aquatic macro-invertebabies.
A is for Anisoptera: Before taking to the skies, dragonfly pups, spend their formative days trolling along the bottom of ponds and vernal pools, looking menacing and eating everything in sight. Baby dragonflies are called nymphs as opposed to larvae because they don’t undergo a full metamorphosis, instead transitioning directly from bottom-dwelling creepy crawly to majestic aerial acrobat. These young bucks are the top predators of the benthic playground, using their special retractable mouth part called a labium to snatch unsuspecting prey of all varieties, from tiny beetles and worms to tadpoles, fish and other macro-invertebrates, including other dragonfly nymphs. No, they do not play well with others.
C is for Corydalinae, known familiarly as the dobsonflies. In the larval form, they’re known as hellgrammites because they have a face and body only a mother could love, or at least I’m sure she would if she were alive to see them. Like all macro-invertebrates, dobsonfly parents spawn and die long before their children hatch. It’s sad, yes, but it also makes baby insects infinitely more impressive than human children. Within hours of hatching, little hellgrammites are busily seeking out prey with their clacking mandibles. How long did it take you to make Easy Mac without mom and dad boiling the water- freshman year? You may not have heard of this particular wee insect baby before, perhaps to shield you from the horrors of their terrestrial adult form which resembles a large terrifying hell-beast with waxy wings and horns like something out of Dante’s Inferno.
E is for Ephemeroptera, commonly called the mayfly, or even the ‘dayfly’ since their adult lifespan is barely more than a day. Despite what their name suggests, mayflies can emerge from the water anytime from spring through fall, but when they do it is mayday for any humanity in the vicinity because mayflies are swarmers, meaning adults emerge at the same time in massive hordes of millions of insects. Swarming is a clever survival strategy when your reproductive life is so ephemeral, as it’s impossible for predators to catch every last mayfly searching for a mate-fly when they all launch from the pond as one buzzing mob. As functioning adults, mayflies barely have to feed themselves, living only long enough to thrust their genes into the next generation before succumbing to rapid expiration. Like many insects, childhood- which translates to swimming and eating bottom-detritus and filtering oxygen through lots of fuzzy gills- takes up the vast majority of the mayfly life. Lucky ducks.
P is for Psephenidae, called the water penny beetle because someone tossed a penny into a well and wished for a perfectly round beetle bebe and divine providence delivered. Water pennies (not to be confused with land pennies which are hard and motionless and taste coppery) are squishy and docile and so so tiny! Larvae cling to the bottoms of rocks and logs in fast-moving streams and rivers, breathing through gills on the underside of their abdomen and trundling along in search of tasty algae at night. Water pennies are delicate, sensitive infants that require clear, pollutant-free water to grow, making them excellent bio-indicators of water quality. There are 272 species of pennies spread over temperate and tropical zones across the globe, and every last one of them is priceless.
T is for Trichoptera: Caddisfly larvae love to play! Their favorite games are construction and dress-up. Well, technically it isn’t so much a game as it is a survival imperative to cover the wormy, squishy, exoskeleton-less lower segments of their body. Caddisflies will use whatever materials are available to form their cases: pebbles, sticks, leaves, shells, and more, all held together by sticky silk they secrete themselves- so resourceful! Some jewelers have harnessed their sharp eye for design in making caddisfly case jewelry by supplying them with gemstones and gold for arts and crafts time. When the caddisflies are all grown up and leave their cases in search of mates shortly followed by death, their hand-me-down clothes are collected and sold as earrings and beads. The profits should really be shared with the true craftsmen, but they probably don’t care much for human currency, especially since they’re deceased by the time their work turns a profit. Another artist resigned to post mortem fame.
Z is for Zygoptera, the beautiful damselfly nymphs. Damselflies, along with dragonflies, belong to the order Odonata and they are similarly carnivorous minus the labium of legend, but while dragonflies are horrifying monsters preying on anything that moves, damselflies are delicate little nymphs with feathery gill-tails and sweet, gentle eyes that will knock you dead. Of cuteness.
Moral of the story: human babies are pathetic.
Never grow up, macro-invertebabies- it’s a trap!