Early August. Wax-eyes queue up to take their turn at the fatball hanging from our fence. A southerly blast grips the country, snow has closed southern and the Desert roads. John Key turns 49 today. It is 65 years since the atomic bomb was dropped on Ngasaki. Elena Kagan was sworn in as the fourth woman to be appointed to the American Supreme Court. 43 were killed in a massive bomb blast in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city and in Afghanistan 10 humanitarian aide workers were massacred. Pakistan has colossal monsoon floods. Ghastly pictures of ruin and devastation. China and Poland also have people-killing floods.
Awesome is the power of nature. And the variety of life on our planet. I’ve had out the first disc of David Attenborough’s documentary DVD ‘Life in the Undergrowth’ about invertebrates. Fascinating viewing! For every one of us there are 200 million of them. Without them life as we know it would be unsustainable. The quantity as well as the variety is amazing. The emergence of so many mayfly in one day from a Hungarian river was striking viewing. They mate and die on that day.
The episode that appealed most was the one I least anticipated – spiders. The skill of cobweb construction is impressive. In some species the male has to be careful not to become the prey of the female. The one shown didn’t get away, though it was noted she waited till he’d impregnated her - Attenborough making an evolutionary point. I liked the little wolf spider, a simpler courtship and the young clustering on their mother’s back.
The glow-worms of the Waitomo Caves were shown – one of the loveliest sights I’ve ever seen. I wondered about the insect life for the illuminated larvae to feed on. Apparently it is available because the streams bring in mayfly and other insect larvae from the outside and when they hatch they fall prey to a glow-worm larva.
Last night’s TV showed a thorny devil, an Australian desert lizard, a most unusual animal which relies on camouflage as well as its prickly skin. In the evening it turns olive-green but in the sunshine it’s a mixture of yellow and red, perfect for blending into a desert background.
The one shown was taken off a smuggler in Darwin. The poor animal was suffering in the humidity for they are conditioned to a desert climate. They flew it back to Alice Springs. In the ranger’s house the poor animal laid its eggs. He took the mother out to the desert and let her free and incubated the eggs. His plan was to return them to the wild when they were ready. Her task was done, in the wild her eggs would be left while the young on hatching had to fend for themselves. The spider by our standards was a better mother.
Their skin is completely impervious. To get water they have a series of channels in their skin. These all lead to the mouth. By gulping which creates capillary action it draws the water to its mouth to be swallowed. Mainly morning dew gives the lizard enough to survive. The first thing the ranger did was to spray it with fine water. The animal looked contented as it squatted there absorbing water through its mouth.
According to this morning’s Guardian there is concern in America over a fungus that is affecting bats. Bats destroy an immense number of insects each evening. Scientists think that the fungus was introduced into the continent by travellers. The interconnectedness of things continues to amaze.
Last night’s TV viewing also had a once-over-lightly documentary about science – Galileo, striking shots of Venice, Newton, Hubble. The immensity of space. The complexity of it all, not just out there, but also down here. The Guardian also has a column about scientists talking on the increased awareness of Sahara minerals fertilising the Amazon basin. Up till now they couldn’t understand how the water did not leach out the minerals.
Science enabled the atomic bomb. It also uncovered so many facets of nature. As a species we have an awesome capacity for destruction. We also have an awesome aptitude for kindness and generosity. Pity, the see-saw seems unbalanced.
Science enabled the Ngasaki bomb – a sardine compared with the monster possibilities of today’s weaponry. It also enabled the plane that flew the horny devil to Darwin and back again. As a species we have an awesome capacity for destruction. We also have an awesome aptitude for kindness and generosity. Pity, the see-saw seems so unbalanced.
The 2018 Book Council Lecture
2 days ago