Is The Air Really Full of Bugs? Thursday October 6, 2011
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ballooning spider

ballooning spider

Fascinated not only by its’ ambitious title, but also by the breathe of topics within entomology, such that I had never before encountered, I grabbed Insectopia from the Barnes and Nobles shelf and “platzed” myself down on the floor for a good read. (I did buy the book). Insectopia, authored by Hugh Raffles, approaches entomology from the highly unique perspective of an anthropologist, who tries to make sense of the “complex connections among people, other beings, and ‘inanimate’ phenomena.”

With Insectopia, Hugh Raffles takes us through a A to Z review of some unusual and thought provoking topics crossing entomology and anthropology. In his first chapter, Air, Hugh concludes “Stop. If you’re inside, go to a window. Throw it open and turn your face to the sky. All that empty space, the deep vastness of the air, the heavens wide above you. The sky is full of insects, and all of them are going somewhere. Every day, above and around us, the collective voyage of billions of beings…Too often, we pass through them unknowing, seeing but blind, hearing but deaf, touching but not feeling, contained by the limits of our senses, the banality of our imaginations,…”

With beautiful elloquence, hard facts and connective tissues to logical conclusions, Raffles describes the activity of airborn insects. Raffles first takes us back in time to the early period of human flight, when researchers began to study insects in flight from the altitudes that airplanes provided. He reports studies conducted that found thousands of insects, massive varieties of insects, in winged and wingless flight, that travel through the skies, not just near ground level, but as high as 15,000 feet! He explains how some of these insects are lifted with the air currents uncontrollably, but that others have clear flight patterns, whether they have wings or not. He mentions specifically ballooning spiders, not one particular species, but a characteristic of certain smaller spiders that will move toward the edge of a flower or some other peak, as a spider might view it, spread out their fine silk webbing (or gossamering) and legs in such a way as to be intentionally lifted aloft to be flown a few meters or thousands of miles.

Hugh Raffles poses a question that should sit for a while with any individual, pest control customer, pest control company, environmentalist or government agency that is involved in the good fight to balance, … dare I say control, the multitudes of insects around us. Simply put, how can we think clearly about “invasive species” when arthopods are flying about the world, even across oceans and to environments as diverse and the deserts and the polar ice caps? The unstated but obvious answer is that arthropods from over there are already here, sooner or later, but inevitably so. What might be the implications for infectious diseases and disease control? Think about it!

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