Time spent with grand daughters is surprisingly valuable


I knew it would be fun to spend a week with my grand daughters, I just never realized how much smarter I would be after a week with them. I learned a lot.         I mentioned in my last posting, how  they expanded my horizons about music. I also learned a lot about bugs. Yes bugs. We took them to the zoo and there we visited the bug exhibit.  the girls participated in a scavenger hunt and they learned a lot on the way. So did I.

Did you know:


All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. “Bug” is  a word we usually use for the creepy crawly creatures. Actually scientists use a specific term to refer to bugs–arthropods. True bugs have a specialized mouth part called the  proboscis, which squirts digestive enzymes into their prey to turn them into a liquid so they are easier to digest. The bug juice is then slurped up through their proboscis like a Slurpee straw.

Bugs are more formally called arthropods and they include 80% of the species in the animal kingdom and are found nearly everywhere on earth. They can be found on land, sea, and air. They can be found on the highest mountains and the deepest oceans. Bugs include ants, bees, wasps, spiders, centipedes, cockroaches, grasshoppers and especially beetles. Beetles are the most successful animal group on the planet. There are about 350,000 different species of beetles.  In California one special type of beetle—ladybugs–, gather in groups of up to 40 million on the same mountains each year. They practice communal hibernation to keep warm. They can live up to 9 months in logs or trees.

Another type of arthropod, Dragon flies have compound eyes with up to 50,000 lenses! This gives them extremely sharp eyes that allow them to see in everydirection at the same time! That helps them catch prey instead of becoming prey. I wish they would catch even more mosquitoes than they do.

When moths leave their cocoons they no longer eat or drink. They spend their entire adult lives looking for mates to produce offspring. They have no time to eat or drink because they only live for about 14 days. Of course, how long would you live without food or water?

Bugs sometimes gather in extreme numbers and that can disconcert us. Swarms of bugs are very scary.  But bugs live in a world of giants—like us.  Gathering in extreme numbers gives bugs a chance to defend themselves from enemies like us. Extreme numbers also allows them to function like a super-organism. I learned that from E.O Wilson, one of my favorite scientists. Large numbers of bugs sometimes give them a better chance to find and kill prey. Swarms of bugs can appear out of thin air. Messages in chemicals, sounds or even colour changes can indicate to their friends to head somewhere else. I know we had an amazing swarm one night at the lake this summer. I estimated there were billions of mosquito-like bugs that normally hover far above us, but this year for one night, came down to visit. Thank goodness they did not bite. They were just annoying. Bugs in such large numbers are very disconcerting. It felt like armageddon. I thought it might have been the smoke in the air from BC forest fires more than a thousands of miles away that drove them down. I don’t need to have that many visitors again.

By now the migration of monarch butterflies is well known. It is one of the wonders of nature how it can take 3 or more generations to return to Canada from Mexico and then one super generation, goes all the way back in one migration even though they have never been there. Somehow, they follow the flight patterns of their ancestors. Most monarch butterflies fly up to 2,500 miles away to Mexico for the winter, though some migrate to Florida or California. They are not the only butterflies and moths to migrate however. Some moths hitch on to jet streams and have reached speeds of 90 km (56 mph). Last year at this park I saw painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) that had come from the north. They can migrate as much as 15,000 km (9,000 mi). They like to fly high where they catch favorable winds.

Ants are particularly interesting. I knew that because of what I learned from E.O Wilson. Ants have about 10-20 “words.” At least that is all we have discovered so far. They communicate by sending out chemical instructions that can summon a few mates from their colony or thousands to help them out. Cockroaches also communicate by sending out chemical signals. They can tell others where the dining is good, or when its time to mate. They can send signals through saliva, feces, or airborne pheromones.

Ants, bees, and wasps can act jointly like a team that enables to achieve a “win” for their team, which is the entire colony. When they perform as a collective they act like a single or super organism and achieve things cooperatively that would be impossible any other way. Humans, in some sense, also cooperate this way, though they also compete with each other. Acting together they can achieve enormous successes.   Siafu ants  work together in colonies with 20 million members in which they knit themselves together to form ladders  and bridges out of their bodies so that they can move safely in a march. Leaf-cutter ants, which we saw in Costa Rica a few years ago can live in colonies of up to 5 million members. That is a pretty big city! The ants are incredibly strong. A leaf-cutter ant can carry up to 50 times its own weight.

In a honey bee colony the bees get together to survive a winter. They use honey that they produced in summer and which oxidizes in winter giving off heat energy. In an amazing demonstration of teamwork 60,000 pairs of wings then vibrate to circulate the heat through the colony. Honeybees contribute between 3.1 and $ 4.4 billion to the Canadian economy in 2013. Without honey bees there would be no apple, blueberry, cherry or canola harvests. Life would be a lot more boring without honeybees.

Amur tigers unlike most other cats, love water.

Stellar sea eagles, like bald eagles and brown bears, depend on salmon runs for their survival.

If it had not been for my grand daughters I probably would not have gone to this exhibit and I would be even more ignorant than I am. There is an important lesson here, I must go out with my grand daughters more often!

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