tinkll1 (tinkll1) wrote,
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A New Icon - A Very Odd "Spitfire," the Sawfly, Haley and Internet Serendipity

Oh, that fabulous internet! What a portal to the world!

Weevil larvae and stinkbug showing a defensive formation. Photo taken from the site of Dr. Terrence Fitzgerald, on Social Caterpillars, as explained below.


Recently, I have been corresponding with a professor at the State University of New York, Cortland, who disproved the most famous story in the literature about social caterpillars, by the famous naturalist, J. Henri Fabre. It seems that Fabre conducted an experiment with the pine processional caterpillar, known for traveling in social groups on foraging expeditions through the pine forests of the lands adjacent to the northern Mediterranean, including Spain and Corsica. Fabre placed a number of beetles on a flower pot and aligned them nose to tail as they customarily align in their "feeding procession." He then moved the lead caterpillar head to the tail of the caboose caterpillar, and they proceeded to march around the lip of the flower pot for seven days. (I must re-read the original that my new friend supplied, and I will link if there is one other person in the LJ world, besides me, who demonstrates an interest in social insects.)

Well, it seems that this experiment has become a metaphor for the evangelical community, and I suspect that is how a link in Wikipedia got me to the reference to a sales entrepreneur who quoted the same experiment, this time to enhance his new marketing approach. I guess, in terms that neither he, nor the evangelicals would choose, it became a call to "Get your head out of someone's ass," or stop blindly following the misguided steps of those ahead.

Trouble is, as Dr. Terrence Fitzgerald has demonstrated, the behavior was observed because of an unsuspected physical restraint. It is best described in this excerpt of an e-mail:

"I too was intrigued by Fabre's study of the pine processionary, so much so that that I decided to redo his classic studies of the caterpillar. I traveled to Spain during my last sabbatical, studied the caterpillar there and then brought it back to my isolation facility at the university to study its behavior in my laboratory. In short, I found that the great naturalist got it wrong, but understandably so since nothing was known of trail pheromones in his day. The caterpillars mark their trails with a chemical trail marker rather than silk as Fabre reported. But, as regards another matter, what I suspected to be the case was indeed. His description of caterpillars circling a flower pot for days is perhaps the most famous of all caterpillar studies and has become a religious metaphor, as quick google search will reveal (see, for example: http://www.walkingintruth.org/Walkingintruth/devotions/WIT2003/WIT010303.htm But the truth is, the edge of the pot formed a mechanical barrier to dispersal; the caterpillars were physically trapped on the edge of the pot rather than blindly following each other. I arranged for caterpillars of the age and size that Fabre observed to move in a in circular procession by placing them under an inverted glass bowl on a table top. The caterpillars moved to the edge of the bowl and began to circle around the edge in a processionary formation. I then removed the bowl and observed that the caterpillars continued to follow each other in an endless pathway for an average of slightly more than 2 minutes before breaking out of the circular pathway and marching away together....a far cry from the 7 or so days that Fabre's caterpillars circled. So, they are far from the mindless automatons that Fabre portrayed them to be... and perhaps the metaphors are in need of revision."

I enjoyed reading some entries on the site that Dr. Fitzgerald maintains on Social Caterpillars, and would link it if I hadn't already failed three times in the effort!

Tucked away was an article on Sawflies by James T. Costa. And this article had a reference to chemical defense, and what must be the earliest mark of a Spitfire. Of course, I'm mixing all kinds of metaphors, but look where my granddaughter, Haley's, fear of spiders has taken me via the internet and serendipity. Dr. Costa now takes me into the world of aposematism, unrelated, as the linguists will know, to "antisemitism."
Tags: entomology, internet seredipity, sawfly, spitfire
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