Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I just love zoos. Have I mentioned that before? I'm sure I have. (I just checked and have an entire article called "Zoos". So, yes, I really love zoos.)

Yesterday, I had the wonderful bounty of going to the zoo with my son, Shoghi. Oh, and with my wife, but I'll tell you (and please don't tell her), Shoghi is what made it real super fun.

I have never been to a zoo like this one. First off, it was small. No, I mean real small. Smaller. Keep going. Smaller. This was a zoo that would fit into your home. Quite easily. In fact, part of it probably is in your home. The entire zoo fit into 2 medium sized rooms, maybe 3 x 6 metres each. It was the Victoria Bug Zoo.

And I'll tell you, it was one of the best zoo experiences I have ever had.

Why? A couple reasons. First, there was a lot of hands-on stuff. What other zoo would allow you, or even encourage you, to have a millipede mustache? Or help arachnaphobes allow a tarantula to crawl on their hands? I saw 3 obviously terrified people do this in just a couple of hours. Besides, watching the parents get over their ookiness at the encouragement of their children was worth the entry fee alone.

The second reason was the tremendous amount of attention by the staff. They were right there. One in each room (a total of 2, for those of you who cannot do the math). They explained all sorts of incredible things about the bugs, and each staff member had different things to share. I know because I listened to three of them (shift change, not poor math skills on my part).

They shared what they knew, and what they found fascinating, and were all very knowledgable about the subjects. They answered any questions visitors had. It was great.

But what did I learn? What spiritual lessons were there?

As usual, I'm not really sure, so I'll only share my impressions, allowing you to draw your own conclusions. (This makes my job so much easier as you do the hard work. Besides, when you draw your own conclusions, it makes me look good, as you think I knew them ahead of time.)

So, what did I learn? First of all, I learned that the smaller scorpions tend to be far more poisonous than the bigger ones. (But don't handle any of them in the wild.) If they have big claws in the front, they can grab their pray and don't need to kill them quickly. If they have teeny weeny claws, then they can't hold on as tight and require the poison to incapacitate their meal. Kind of reminds me of people. Those who are truly big, spiritually speaking, don't have to rely on poisonous gimmicks, like shouting louder or threatening people.

Second, tarantulas are patient. They spread their web all over the ground and just wait until dinner comes up right in front of them. They don't rely on the stickiness, but instead their own sensitivity. They don't waste energy running after things, like food, but rely on patience and awareness, instead. I think we can all learn from that.

The leaf-cutter ants were really cool. They don't forage for food; they forage for leaves to grow their food, which is the fungus they cultivate on the decaying leaves. What struck me about them is how they are given their jobs. The queen begins laying the eggs in her new home, to the tune of 1500 eggs per day. (I asked my wife if she could imagine going through labour 1500 times per day for the next dozen years, and her silent expression was priceless.) From there, each newly hatched egg has all the potential for any job in the colony. What they end up doing all depends on what they eat. Two of the presenters made it sound like it was almost by chance, but a third gave a far more lucid explanation, with only a few words. Here's my understanding of it. If there is only a little bit of food, and the babies don't eat much, they become gardeners or nannies, raising more food and more babies. Both are necessary for more ants. If there is more than enough food for those two jobs, then the babies get to eat a bit more and become foragers, gathering more leafs. This is the start of a cycle. If there is too much leafy matter, and not enough fungus, then the babies go hungry and become gardeners. If there is too much fungus, then the babies get to eat more and become foragers. It's a nice and simple cycle for growth.

But what about the soldiers? Well, if an ant comes into the colony with the scent of a wasp on them, then that scent sends out a signal and some of the babies get to eat even more food than normal and they grow to become soldiers. It is a simple response to an external stimulus.

Speaking of external stimuli, if the conditions are right, like a change in temperature or a shift in daylight, then the queen feeds the babies a special food and they become queens, going out to start their own colony.

I think there is much that we can learn from this.

The last insect I want to talk about is the golden orb spider. It is a slender spider about 4 inches in length and weaves the most beautiful web I have ever seen. The cross threads are a stunningly beautiful golden colour, and have been used to weave a carpet for the Smithsonian Institute. Other tapestries have been done, too, but this is the most spectacular one I've heard about. Oh, and because it is made of spider silk, it happens to be bullet-proof. (How they found out, I don't know.)

When you imagine the amount of single strands that must have been used to weave this wonder, you can imagine the awe I feel at it.

But what really impresses me is the mating habits of these spiders.  Most spiders, as I'm sure you know, lose something like 40 - 60% of their male population during mating. In short, the females gobble them up, which I think is an analogy that I don't care to go into here.

These spiders, however, have a 100% survival rate for their males. Why? Because the males are courteous and patient. They hover by the edge of the web and wait until the female has gorged herself. But even when they are stuffed, sort of like myself after a good Thanksgiving Feast, the guys still wait (after all, she may want a bit of dessert). Then, when they think it might be safe, they tweak the edge of the web, sort of like ringing the doorbell. When she invites them in, with a wave of her legs, then they go in and proceed to do the baby-making thing.

Patience and courtesy. Don't you think more guys can learn from this? (Yeah, I can just see the e-mails flooding in from the many female readers now.)

Yup. Zoos. I just love them.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad these male spiders do not know their fate, or have no sentience to willingly submit to it.