Monday, April 15, 2013

`An Old Mariner's Trick'

The only insect I saw during the three days we spent in Canada, not counting the mounted specimens in the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, was a lone ladybug on the window in the bathroom of a family friend’s house in Aurora, Ontario, where we spent two nights. (We did see sandhill cranes, black squirrels and a chipmunk).   The temperature wobbled at 32 degrees F., and one morning I spent ten minutes scraping ice off the windows of our rental car. 

On the flight back to Houston, after a three-hour layover in Minneapolis (where snow was falling), I was looking for the crossword puzzle in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times International Weekly, tucked into the Toronto Star, and noticed a glorious color photograph of a dragonfly, among the organisms I most admire (and occasionally envy) since about fifteen years ago when I interviewed a biologist at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., who has devoted his career to studying these master predators. We spent much of a day together in a marsh, observing dragonflies in action. Reprinted in the newspaper’s Science and Technology section was a Natalie Angier story citing a recent study by Robert M. Olberg, the entomologist I wrote about. I remember him being enthusiastically articulate when talking about his favorite subject, and Angier quotes him as likening the dragonfly’s strategy for intercepting prey to “an old mariner’s trick.”
Back at home in Houston, in the early evening, I counted three butterfly species (including a monarch), two species of bees working the lantana, mosquitoes, a swarm of anonymous flies and a single dragonfly in the neighbor’s yard, perched on the lip of the bird bath. Go here to read Louise Bogan’s wonderful “The Dragonfly.”

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