I learn a lot about the natural world just hanging out on the patio grilling burgers and drinking beer. This time of the year, the great Pacific dampwood termites swarm, the fertile winged ones rising into the skies to start new homes in the fallen trees and branches rotting in the deep forest beyond our back fence. Their flight seems strained and clumsy on oversized wings.
I watch a dragonfly dart through the air along a straight path then suddenly switch direction looping back and doing it again along the same path. In one instant it deviates slightly from its chosen path, grabbing a hapless flying termite in midair, and then continuing along the same flight path. A few seconds later, the dragonfly drops the termite, which flutters downward slowly at the pace of a downy feather onto the patio, the gossamer wings no longer beating a struggling flight. I examine the fallen termite and observe that it seems generally intact but is missing its abdomen. This leads me to believe that the dragonfly simply eats the tender abdomen and casts away the remaining hard parts that include the head, thorax, legs, and wings.
Trees fall in the forest; they rot in place, broken down by fungi and termites. Termites swarm and take flight, most ending up trapped in spider webs or snagged in midair by the colorful and graceful dragonflies. This is how wood gets recycled in the natural world. Sure, I’ll have another beer. Barley and hops get recycled, too.
This week in creepy science: Halloween edition
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