Thursday, October 10, 2013

It's beautiful, it's gruesome, it's the circle of life.

A few weeks ago I was walking a long a trail taking photos of some dragonflies. The day at the banding station was pretty slow, so learning dragonflies...why not! I had taken a few shots of a FINALLY still black saddlebag, those guys just never, ever sit still long enough!

Black Saddlebag Dragonfly
I turned around again to see if there were any more and heard rustling amongst the vegetation. Excited, and curious I started poking around to see what was in there making such a ruckus. To my surprise I saw the dragonfly, that I had just taken a photo of, had been caught and was slowly being eaten by a praying mantis! Alive!

I'm sure many of you know what a praying mantis is. But in case not, they are these awesome green, "tall", sticklike bugs. Their main diet consists mainly of  other bugs. They are perhaps most known for their sexual cannibalism where after mating the gleams will often decapitate the male. Cool isn't it?

So, while I was taking photos of this a tour group came by and wondered what I had been looking at. The vast majority of them were very excited to see this, curious, and feveroushly trying to take a photo and find out more about the praying mantis. One particular lady was the one who caught my attention. Once she found out what we were looking at she screamed in disgust and said to me that it was "entirely gruesome and disgusting. It is horrifying that it would be doing that".

The only response I could come up with at the time was "Well mame, that's nature. It's beautiful, it's gruesome, it's the circle of life". Unfortunately, praying mantis don't have the option to become vegetarians!





My mind immediately shot back to when I watched the lion king and the part where Mufasa says "the antelope eats the grass, we eat the antelope, and when we die...we become the grass. That is the circle of life".


It then struck me. That entire concept has been lost on quite a few people in today's time. Similarly to this lady, the frame of mind is that nature is all butterflies, daisies, it's peaceful, and animals are in harmony with one another. In reality, sure it is beautiful, but nature is also gruesome, it's dirty, it's mean, it's a fight for survival and a strive for evolution. Animals eat other animals, and many times while their prey is alive...some big cats even play with their food before hand. Praying mantis decapitate their mates, turtles lay eggs and leave their young to survive alone, individuals fight to the death to protect their territory, some birds are known to "nest hop" and mate with other already paired birds, ducks have a screw-like penis while cats have a barbed penis so their mates can't remove themselves until their genes are passed. Its a tough world out there! 

I think that many times people portray nature in a human light and evaluate by a human point of view. As humans, we have the ability to set values, to have ethics, to choose how and what we eat, to choose how and who we love. Many things in the animal kingdom, such as this praying mantis eating a dragonflies head off while it's still squirming alive, could be a disgusting thought to humans as we (except for lobsters) eat only dead meat (if meat at all).  Now, although humans are able to have morals and ethics, we still do a lot of horrible things to others, whether they be human or animal.  Perhaps, through all the portrayals of nature in books or through Disney, we expect nature to be a refuge from these things, a pure place where everything lives in harmony. When we place this ideology onto the animal world it can suddenly become "revolting and horrible" when we see things like this, but when we don't evaluate nature in a human lights and say to ourselves "yeah, that's kinda weird, but it's the circle of life, it's their means to survival" a whole new world of wonder and curiosity can open up.

How did a slow moving praying mantis catch a flighty dragonfly!? Why is it eating head first, does it always do that? Will it be able to eat that whole thing? What other bugs does it eat?

Nature can be pretty gruesome when evaluated by human standards. But...it can also be pretty damn neat!