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Friday, January 11, 2013

The lack of new contents on this blog has been quite disgraceful as of late. I have had many subjects on which I could have written extensively. I could have described my experiences with a recent Northern Shrike, or reviewed the annual solstice bird count tradition which we observed with our grandfather (quite recently but not, as might be expected, on the solstice) for which we thank him. I could have even put up a post about one of my many recent sighting of Pine Grosbeaks in this most beautiful of winters. 

My only real defense for this lack of blogging covers but the last few days I have spent sorrowfully wallowing on the living room couch with the taste of green apples on my breath, my hands feeling like two balloons. My only enjoyment during my recent illness was the time spent watching of the distant hulk of St. John's Catholic Church. It seems to have a curious tendency of terrifying the local pigeons and swallows which so freely frolic in the airways of this fair city of Providence. Their obvious avoidance of the steeple has puzzled me greatly. Perhaps some raptor has taken it as its roosting spot or maybe some other not wholly terrestrial species has taken up an abode there. Hopefully I can get up to Federal Hill some time soon and come to the bottom of this mystery.

My current state of sanity is not fully thanks to this little puzzle. Some of the honor has to go to the nature books which I have most recently immersed myself in. The book which has occupied my attention and lap the most is my new and wisely-purchased (despite what some might think) handbook to the Simuliidae, properly titled.

The Black Flies
of North America      

Peter H. Alder
Douglas C. Currie
D. Monty Wood"

It is a beautifully in-depth and completely unintelligible masterpiece, an indispensable reference to any "Simuliidaeer" which I plan to become once I figure out what a black fly is precisely and how the range maps work, and what the hell that little black thing on page 2028 is.

In fact these completely unlikable vectors aren't that bad really. They are more like blood-thirsty versions of those jolly, fat dwarfs who sneak into your bedroom at night to leave all the sweet little parasites you could possibly dream of under your pillow for you to enjoy when you awake in the morning. Apart from the horribly sawlike jaws of the adults, the gills of the pupae and the labral fans of the larvae, both of which are just too maddeningly Cthulhu-ish for comfort, they are actually rather beautiful in their own highly evolved sort of way.

One parasite which particularly interested me was the Onchocerca volvulus which spends the first part of it's life in the skin of a human but has to be transmitted to a black fly to grow into its second stage and then, to top it all off, the worm has to find its way back into the blood stream of a human where it can live up to 15 years and grow up to a foot in length.

Even more horrible than the adult worm though are the consequences played out if the immature worm does not reach the fly. It will spend the next, and last, 2 or so years of its short life burrowing through the body of its human host (even chewing through the eyes which causes blindness in so many of its victims).

Chapter 7  on the economic importance of the "bugs" was particularly eye catching. They are, it seems, no friend of the economy. Each season they are responsible for the murder of livestock across the country in an number of equally blood-thirsty ways which generally involve: lack of oxygen, lack of blood, shock and agony. There were even reports of animals tossing themselves off of cliffs and rolling in fire to relieve themselves of the terrible swarms that occasionally spring up.

The species Simulium vampirum has since 1886 killed more than 3,500 animals and far more deaths remain un-reported! Thankfully only about 33 species of North America's 263 have been reported to bite humans, livestock and poultry.

Ahhhh Mother Nature, so loving and kind! 

All I need now is a stereo dissecting microscope and some 18 inch forceps to go with it. Time to start saving.

Next on my reading list: Fleas of the Northwest and Mosquitoes of California.

A completely unrelated photo of a Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis) larvae I recently caught in Petersham, MA.

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